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The Two Major Schools of Dance -- International and American Rhythm Styles

by Janet Carlson

extracted from the book Quick, Before the Music Stops, pg. 24, by Janet Carlson, 2008

The hallmark of International Standard [waltz, foxtrot, tango, quickstep, and Viennese waltz] is, I think, its constant and precise connection between partners through the arms and hands, and at the pelvis. All the athleticism and artistic expression have to happen within this nonnegotiable connection. International, which is defined by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing in England [ISTD], also has a strict syllabus of steps divided into levels of difficulty, along with its highly defined and disciplined technique.

American Style is the other method of ballroom dancing taught in the States. It came out of the Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire studios, where the idea was to get people into dancing with a simpler, looser, more flamboyant, and thus more immediately accessible and satisfying way of dancing. Many American Style and social dancers find International stuffy or boring, particularly Standard -- but Standard's stalwart cult following finds their dancing far more challenging and rewarding than the sloppy and, to us snobs, rather dumbed-down American Style. Those of us with a cerebral appreciation of dance tend to gravitate to International Style, whether Latin [rumba, cha-cha, samba, jive, and paso doble] or Standard; I love the elegant expression of Standard -- it's so pared down and essential. Pure isn't exactly the word because, to me, pure could be a reference to street dancing -- spontaneous, uncontaminated, uncodified. Standard is as far from the street as you can get. It's greenhouse dancing.


Reprinted in DRDC newsletter, February 2011



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