“ We turned our dance lessons into a dinner and dancing date!
It became a welcomed weekly escape from our hectic wedding planning." Cindy Rich, Newlywed and Assistant Editor of Washingtonian Magazine ”
The Wedding Dance Specialists offer instruction in the full range of popular wedding dances including:
Click on a link above for a brief history of each dance and corresponding songs examples and video footage.
The Cha-cha is the newest of the "Latin" dances. It is a true American dance, developed in the dance studios in the early 50s as a mid-tempo variant between Rumba (slow) and Mambo (fast). It is believed to have started as a step in Mambo - a triple step to replace the slow one to accommodate slower musical rhythms. This developed into an entirely new dance. Slower modern music has often inspired the evolution of popular dances such as Single Swing into Triple Swing and Quickstep into Slow Foxtrot. Cha-cha music is slower than Mambo/ Salsa but not much. It it quite a common upbeat musical tempo. The dance is alive and well in ballrooms and studios today. It is flashy, sassy and full of itself. The Cha-cha styling is very similar to Rumba and Mambo. Like most Latin dances, your weight is forward and most of the movement occurs below the ribcage. The steps are small, taken with the ball of the foot first to better execute the hip action commonly known as "cuban motion". Cha-cha music is composed in 4/4 time. The rhythm is danced 2-3-4 & 1 ( "rock step cha cha cha".) Cha-cha is a flirty dance great for couples or just to catch someone's eye!
"Smooth" by Santana
"Oye como Va" by Santana
"My Maria" by Brooks and Dunn
"Super Freak" by Rick James
"Cuban Pete" by Tito Puente
Most Disco dances have strong roots in Swing. The Hustle is believed to have originated in New York in 1970. It went through many incarnations in the seventies, with line dances for groups of people, solo movements that came and went, and partnership dances. These partnership dances included The Basic Hustle, Latin, Spanish, Tango Hustle and the most popular version -- Street Hustle, a three-count or Swing Hustle that originated in California by skaters in Venice and Malibu. John Travolta and "Saturday Night Fever" gave the dance its place in American pop culture. Hustle is danced to contemporary pop, Hip Hop, or "House" dance music over the last 20 years. Most people dance New York style or Swing Hustle. It is a fast and reactive dance with an emphasis on armstyling and numerous hand holding positions. The lady spins almost continuously, while her partner leads her back and forth in a "slotted" linear formation. The hustle is what kept kept partner dancing alive during the lean '70s and early '80s.
"Material Girl" by Madonna
"Last Dance" by Donna Summer
Be With You” Enrique Iglesias
"Ready For The Good Times” by Shakira
"White Wedding" by Billy Idol
D.C. Hand Dance originated in the Washington, D.C. area in the mid-1950s. It is very similar to Hustle or West Coast Swing.The dance style
is characterized by very smooth footwork and movements, and close-in and intricate hand-turns, danced to a 6-beat, 6 or 8 count dance rhythm. The footwork consists of smooth and continuous floor contact, sliding and gliding-type steps (versus hopping and jumping-type steps). There are no lifts or aerials. The partners generally move in a slotted format; to, from, around and/or in front of each other while executing hand-turns and other dance moves. The two partners’ hands (either one or both) are always joined in some way, thereby receiving the name “Hand Dance”. It is basically a “street” hustle dance with an “attitude”, This dance is best danced to rhythm and blues or other sensual-type West coast swing music (such as funk or blues rock and beach music. D.C. Hand Dance has very “sensual” and lanquid qualities. Photo from The Washington Post.
Although often associated with the style of Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers, the Foxtrot was actually introduced into the mainstream by Harry Fox in 1913. Foxtrot is a "Ballroom" or Smooth dance, traveling around the line of dance (the perimeter of the room in a counterclockwise direction). Foxtrot is a lot like walking or strolling. Musically it is very easy to hear the Foxtrot rhythm. Foxtrot is an extremely useful dance socially and can be danced to a variety of jazzy musical styles. American Style Foxtrot has a fun "theatrical" quality because the couples can open up to allow for spinning the women. Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly both used the long, smooth movements of Foxtrot to cover a lot of ground gracefully in their routines. The basic beginner rhythm of Foxtrot is Slow-Slow-Quick-Quick. Higher level is often danced Slow-Quick-Quick.
"A Wink and a Smile" by Harry Connick, Jr.
"L.O.V.E." by Nat King Cole
"Fly me to the Moon" by Frank Sinatra
"You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" by Dean Martin
"Something's Gotta Give" by Sammy Davis Jr.
"World On A String" by Peggy Lee.
Perez Prado is thought to have introduced the Mambo at La Tropicana nightclub in Havana in 1943. Mambo Mania hit when Prado recorded the song, "Mambo Jambo". The dance appeared in the United States in New York's Park Plaza Ballroom, a favorite hangout of dance enthusiasts from Harlem. The Mambo gained in popularity and in the 1950s was taught in dance studios, resorts, and nightclubs in New York and Miami. In more recent times Mambo has also evolved into Salsa. Salsa is a street version of Mambo. Musically the main difference is that Mambo music holds on the one beat and Salsa music hits on one beat. The steps are pretty much the same. Mambo tends to be sharper in the footwork more time is spent in closed hold and the man breaks on 2. Salsa tends to be sexier, characteristically it has little kick like embellishments, more time is spent in a two handed or apart position and the man breaks on 1. Whether you call it Mambo or Salsa, the small steps are taken ball of foot first with the knees flexible to allow for the hip action known as cuban motion. Mambo is the forefather of Cha Cha. It also shares many patterns in common with the other Latin dances Rumba and Bolero. Mambo/Salsa is fun and flirty and socially is a great dance to learn if you like Latino music.
The Merengue is one of the most popular latin dances and the national dance of the Dominican Republic, and also to some extent, of Haiti. There are two popular versions of the origin of the Merengue. The first story alleges the dance originated with slaves who were chained together and, of necessity, were forced to drag one leg as they cut sugar to the beat of drums. The second says that a great war hero was wounded in the leg during one of the many revolutions in the Dominican Republic. He was welcomed home with a victory celebration and, out of sympathy, everyone dancing felt obligated to limp and drag one foot.
The Merengue is a spot dance, meaning it doesn't move around the dance floor so it is ideally suited to small, crowded dance floors. Merengue is a fun dance with simple steps so it is easy to learn quickly and the "1-2" march-like rhythm makes it a favorite throughout the Caribbean, Latin America and South America. It is the perfect dance to learn for those planning a honeymoon in any of these regions of the world. The Merengue was introduced to the United States in the New York area and like the other Latin dances is here to stay. You can merengue any night of the week in any Latino bar in the area.
Song Examples of Merengue: "Suavamente" Elvis Crespo
"The Cup Of Life" Mark Anthony
"Lets Get It Started " Black Eyed Peas
The Polka was originally a Czech peasant dance, developed in Eastern Bohemia (now part of Czechoslovakia). Bohemian historians believe that the polka was invented by a peasant girl named Anna Slezak in 1834 one Sunday for her amusement. It was composed to a folk song "Uncle Nimra brought a white horse." Anna called the step "Madera" because of its quickness and liveliness. The dance was first introduced into the ballrooms of Prague in 1835. The music is played in 2/4 time (1 & 2) and sounds happy and playful. The name of the dance (pulka) is Czech for “half-step”, referring to the rapid shift from one foot to the other.
Polka is danced around the room in a series of small and fast chasses (side steps) with a distinctive hop, turning about 360 degrees every 4 beats. In 1840, Raab, a dancing teacher of Prague, danced the polka at the Odéon Theatre in Paris where it was a tremendous success. French dance instructors seized upon it and Polkamania ensued. Dance academies were swamped and in desperation recruited ballet girls from the Paris Opéra as dancing partners to help teach the polka. This naturally attracted many young men who were interested in things other than dancing. Consequently, manners and morals in the dance pavilions were suspect so many parents forbade their daughters from dancing with anyone but close friends of the family.
The polka was introduced in England in the mid 1800s. When it came to the USA it was taken up by the country western set and is still danced in Country Competitions today. The western style Polka is danced with less turning, with very little hopping and somewhat resembles the two-step in its execution with a lot of turns for the woman. After WW2, American/Polish immigrants adopted the more European variant as their “cultural” dance and it is not uncommon to see it danced by young and old at Polish weddings today. The Polka was standard fare on the Lawrence Welk Show. Most people will remember it as the dance Deborah Kerr and Yul Brynner did swirling around the ballroom in "The King and I".
"The Beer Barrel Polka" by Lawerence Welk
"Shall We Dance?" from "The King and I" soundtrack
"Back In The Saddle Again" by Gene Autry
The Samba originates from Brazil. It was and is danced during the street festivals and celebrations such as Carnival in Rio.. The music has an joyful contagious rhythm which makes even non dancers want to get up and dance. It was first introduced in the U.S. in a Broadway play called "Street Carnival" in the late twenties. The festive style and mood of the dance kept it alive and popular to this day and the rhythm pervades popular music. The South America Samba is slower and more fluid than its American counterpart, which is danced to a faster tempo. Both styles have the basic "Samba Bounce". The beautiful music of the Gypsy Kings epitomizes the addictive Samba style but many modern singers have Samba rhythms.
"Copacabana" by Barry Manilow
"Stop" by Mark Anthony
"La Isla Bonita" by Madonna
"The Girl from Ipanima" by Sammy Davis Jr.
Tango music originated from Argentine, Brazilian and Spanish influences. The earliest traces of the Tango date back to the latter half of the 19th century-to the Milonga, an Argentine folk dance with Moorish, Arabic and Spanish ancestry. Years later, the Argentine Gauchos (streetwise single men) danced a modified version of the Milonga, in the seedy bars and bordellos of Buenos Aires. The dance hold in Milonga is called "close embrace", where the couple are literally dancing chest to chest. This was considered far too risque for polite society.
The dance was later taken on by renowned ballroom dance performers, Verne and Irene Castle. They toned it down so that it could be danced in a socially acceptable manner. The International and American Tango danced in ballrooms today developed from this offshoot. The dance's unique style is expressed in quick double takes with the head and stalking panther-like movements complete with lunges and dips.
"Tangueros" (Tango dancers and singers) did not fair well under Peron period but performance Tango known as "Fantasia" developed in the mid 1950s and sustained interest in Tango in general around the world. As a performance based dance, Fantasia uses many acrobatic movements such as lifts, dips, twirls and ofcourse the characteristic hooking and kicking steps called "Ganchos" and "Boleos". Fantasia can be classified as its own variant, though experienced dancers can carefully execute Fantasis moves while dancing socially.
When the Argentine Tango crowd refers to "Tango", they totally ignore the American, International and Fantasia offshoots. Instead, they are referring to the social dance style used in "Milongas" (Argentine Tango dance parties) around the world. There are three basic types of social Tango -- Milonga, Valtz and Tango. Each of these three has its own distinctive features and music. Milonga, the original, is danced very close, to very fast music and has a lot of staccato foot changes and taps. You dance on every beat of the music. Valtz is danced to Viennese Waltz music, hence the name. It is more flowy and is danced more frequently on the first beat of a measure or the "1" of "1-2-3". Tango is the most sensual of the three, danced to slower, moodier music. It is therefore more precise. Controlled smooth movements allow for the intricate footwork so often associated with this dance. What makes this dance truly unique is that the gentleman can set up situations for the woman to "play" or do embellishments. Whether one dances in the "close embrace" or in the more formal ballroom hold is decided by each couple. Often at Milongas each style are played in sets of three or four and a couple will tend to dance the set together.
Tango has a flavor quite unlike any other dance. The basic rhythm is an 8 count Slow-Slow-Quick-Quick-Slow.
The music itself leads to excess. It is a dance that is ironically both showy, yet very intimate. Tango has also been immortalized in such films as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse"(Rudolf Valentino), "Scent of a Woman" (Al Pacino), "True Lies" (Arnold Schwarzenegger) and "Assassination Tango" (Robert Duvall).
"La Cumparsita/Tango Please"(Medley) Strictly Ballroom soundtrack
"Por Una Cabeza" by Tango Project
"Habanera" from Carmen
"There are no mistakes in Tango.
It's like life, if you get all tangled up, you tango on."
Al Pacino in "Scent of a Woman".
The Viennese Waltz is from the same root as the Waltz below. Currently, the Viennese Waltz is danced at a tempo of about 180 beats per minute and in competition has only a very limited range of figures: Change Steps, hesitations, Hovers, Passing Changes, Fleckerelles with Contra-checks. The rapid pace and continuous circling will make the novice dizzy at first, but with practice it is a lot of fun. The nature of this dance requires both the leader and the follower to maintain a good frame. It is a "Smooth Dance" so it travels counter-clockwise around the room at high speed. Warning to new dancers. The outside edges and corners of the room are considered the Fast Lane and we pass on the outside! Until you learn to move together well you want to dance more to the center of the floor to allow the space for the more advanced dancers move freely.
"Annie's Song" John Denver
"Caribbean Blue" Enya (Shepherd Moons)
"My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music
"Kiss of the Rose" Seal
"I Can't Help Falling In Love" Elvis Presley
Strauss Waltzes (lengthy with varying tempos)
"Have You Ever Loved A Woman?" Brian Adams
The German "Landler", a folk dance, is supposed to be the forerunner of the Waltz. During the 18th Century, a dance developed, which was called the walzen, German for to roll, turn or glide. The Walzen was met with outraged indignation by the older generation when first introduced into the ballrooms of the world in the early 19th century because it was the first dance where the couple danced in a modified closed position-with the man's hand around the waist of the girl. Regardless, the Waltz became popular through many parts of Germany and Austria. The Waltz was given a tremendous boost around 1830 by two great Austrian composers - Franz Lanner and Johann Strauss: they set the standard for the Viennese waltz (a very fast version of the Waltz).
The first time the waltz was danced in the United States was in Boston in 1834 by Lorenzo Papanti. The Boston, a more sedate form of the fast Viennese Waltz, danced at a leisurely 90 beats per minute. It evolved in America around 1870 and by the 1920s had slowed down even more to ¾ time with strong accent on the first beat and a basic pattern of step-step-close. This slower version of the Waltz retained the characteristic traveling and turning figures while allowing for more figures and a dip. It is popularly known as the "traditional American wedding dance" and is often used for Father/Daughter and Mother/Son dances. Its characteristic lilt using undulating rise and fall technique and shoulder sways gives the dance an oceanic or floating quality.
Song examples of Waltzes:
"Rainbow Connection" by Kermit the Frog
"Fascination" by Nat King Cole
"If You Don't Know Me by Now" Simply Red
"Play Me" by Neil Diamond
"Moon River" Breakfast at Tiffany's Soundtrack
"Open Arms" by Journey
"Sunrise, Sunset" from Fiddler on the Roof
The word Rumba is a generic term, covering a variety of names for a type of West Indian music and dance (i.e., Son, Danzon, and Bolero). Although the main growth was in Cuba, there were similar dance developments that took place in other Caribbean islands and in Latin America generally. Traditionally, the music was played with a staccato beat using instruments including the maracas, claves, marimba, guiro, cencerro, and bongo or timbales drums. The native Rumba folk dance is very sexual and danced extremely fast with exaggerated hip movements.
Today's Rumba is danced very slowly and has romantic, flirtatious overtones. The American style version is done in a "Box" pattern to a Slow Quick Quick timing. In the ballrooms we call it either the "Dance of Love" (because you stare into each others eyes as you dance) or "The Ladies' Dance" (because is s
hows off the woman). Many modern Country, Soul and Latin love songs are Rumbas. It is danced using a Slow Quick-Quick rhythm and features an exaggerated use of Cuban motion (hip movements) and fluid arm-styling. The Rumba is a spot dance like most of the Latin dances, which means that it does not travel around the room.
Song examples of Rumbas:
"Falling Into You" by Celine Dion
"Power of Two" by Indigo Girls
"Let's Stay Together" by Al Green
"By Your Side" Sade
"Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" Strictly Ballroom soundtrack
"I Do" by Paul Brant
"Sign Your Name Across My Heart" Tarrence Trent D'Arby
The Foxy is a style of dance that is a hybrid between a Waltz and a Fox Trot. It can incorporate patterns from both dance and the tempo can vary from all slow beats, all quick beats or a combination of both depending on the speed of the song. Like Waltz and Fox Trot, the Foxy travels elegantly around the perimeter of the room and incorporates twirling the lady. However, it is smoother and softer in appearance than Fox Trot and generally danced to 4/4 timing unlike Waltz. Very slow love ballads are the ideal songs for this dance style. Examples include:
"At Last" by Etta James
"What A Wonderful World" Louis Armstrong
Swing is another all American dance which dates back to the 1920s. We have Black Americans to thank for creating the Charleston, Shag and the Lindy Hop (named to honor Charles "Lindy" Lindberg the great American aviator) to go along with Jazz and Blues music. In 1934, Cab Calloway introduced a tune called "Jitterbug" and the name stuck to a 6 count beat variant of the dance. In the 1930s and 1940s, the terms Lindy Hop, Jitterbug and Swing were all used to describe the same style of dancing taking place on the streets, in the night clubs, in contests and in the movies. Swing Mania hit and Swing dancing has enjoyed continuing popularity. Since the late 1940's, many regional variants have evolved: the Push Whip (Texas), the Imperial Swing (St. Louis), the Hand Dancing (Washington, D.C.), and the Carolina Shag (Carolinas and Norfolk) just to name a few. After the late 1940's, the soldiers and sailors returned from overseas and continued to dance in and around their military bases. Many of the films from that era feature swing dance sequences.
The character of the Swing is upbeat and fun. It is a happy and playful dance. East Coast Triple Swing and Single Step Swing tend to be very circular in their movements and work more on a 6-count beat basic. The Single Swing, being the closest to the original form, has simpler footwork and is great for dancing to extremely up tempo music like the old Big Band Tunes as performed by the likes of Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw. The East Coast Swing can be danced to slower, Blues, Rock or Country music. The West Coast Swing and the Lindy Hop are danced more to an 8-count beat and are danced in a slotted fashion - both partners turning 180 degrees during every pattern, to exchange places. West Coast Swing is very smooth and sexy and is quite popular with people who like country and/or funk music. Lindy hop on the other hand can be very bouncy and has incorporated the Charleston kicks and various acrobatic lifts known as aerials and looks a lot like what we see of Swing in the old B&W Big Band WW2 movies.
East Coast Swing Song Examples :
"This Kiss" by Faith Hill
"How Sweet It Is" by Marvin Gaye
"I Feel Lucky" by Mary Chapin Carpenter
"This Kiss" by Faith Hill
"There's Your Trouble" by the Dixie Chicks
Lindy Hop and Single Swing Song Examples:
"It Don't Mean a Thing " by Duke Ellington
"Rock Around the Clock" by Bill Haley and the Comets
"Americano" by Brian Setzer
"Sing Sing Sing" Swing Kids soundtrack