Let’s start with a brief history lesson. Ballroom dancing falls under two main styles – American and International. International style came first and was developed in England. Under the “International style” umbrella falls standard and latin. As partner dancing became more popular in the United States the country put their own spin on the more structured dancing from across the pond and it became known as American style.
International Standard consists of: Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Tango, Slow Foxtrot, and Quickstep
American Smooth consists of: Waltz, Viennese Waltz, Tango, and Foxtrot
When I first picked up ballroom dancing in college, I was taught international style. Team members took pride in knowing international and many were taught to view it as the superior style and American the “easier” version. When we would compete, there were always more competitors in the American smooth category than the International standard category. At the time, we were one of the few university’s in Texas to teach international. When I graduated college and started lessons at a local studio, I had every intention of continuing with latin and standard. However, I learned that most of their instructors only knew basic bronze moves in standard, which was disappointing as I was dancing at a higher level. They persuaded me to give smooth a try and I reluctantly agreed.
Fast forward to today and I’ve now had 3 years of smooth training. So let’s just say I’m pretty equally versed in both. Here are some of my thoughts on the differences and similarities:
- I really like smooth! I like the freedom of being able to dance outside of closed hold. In many ways I feel more like a dancer when I’m doing smooth routines than I did with standard because it has moves that are derived from jazz and lyrical dancing.
- I’m glad I started with standard first. It gave me a firm foundation for body alignment, frame, and moving with a partner. As beautiful as American style is, I think I would’ve been a little overwhelmed and developed bad habits if I started with it. With International I had one less thing to worry about – what to do with my arms, because they stayed firmly in frame with my partner.
- American foxtrot is WAYYY easier than International foxtrot
- The Viennese waltz music is slower in American than International style, and a lot of contemporary songs are a great speed for American Viennese Waltz
- I love quickstep and missed it when I was only dancing smooth
- Smooth gowns usually don’t have as puffy of a skirt, they are might have a slit up the side, and the bodice part may show more skin than a standard gown would. Standard gowns have “floats” or “wings” and smooth do not – they would get in the way with all the arm actions and open frame movements you do in smooth, but when you stay firmly in closed frame in standard the floats serve to visually amplify your movement.
- For the past year I’ve added Standard back into my practice and I think I appreciate it more now after a break for a few years. I’m a stronger, more knowledgeable dancer so I’m able to apply some of the nuances that make standard more interesting to do and more visually appealing to watch. Things like keeping energy through my arms, dancing with more drive instead of passively being along for the ride, getting into my legs, and using my head weight strategically.
I have appreciation for both styles! What about you, are you team standard or team smooth? Have you had training in both?