Talking Ballroom Dance with Patti Smith

This year marks the 6th Annual Duke City Dance-Off as Lovelace Women’s Hospital brings together members of community, dance professionals and some of our own Lovelace employees to compete in The Spirit of Women’s Day of Dance February 23, 2013. It is a day recognized across the country to dance, enjoy some friendly competition and celebrate healthy lifestyles.  Dance Instructor and CSP Dance Studio Owner Patti Smith is a contestant, coach and supporter of the Duke City Dance-Off and shares some insight into ballroom dance with us today.

Share a little about the history of ballroom dance.

Until the 18th Century, there was little physical contact between dancers. Everything changed with the Waltz. Waltz is the first known partner dance and was considered very risqué, because of how close the partners were and because they were touching. Waltz dominated most of the European and American dance scene until the First World War. Following this time, many other forms of partner dances began becoming popular, such as the Foxtrot and Tango. Somewhere around the 1940s, dances from Latin America started showing up on the American dance floor like Rumba, Cha Cha, Mambo, and many more. Since then dance fanatics have kept these formalized dances alive and well. About 10 years ago the popular show Dance with the Stars, an American version of the British original Strictly Come Dancing, made these dances much more popular once again.

What are the most popular styles of ballroom dance today and what makes each different?

It depends on where you are in the U.S. and in your own city as to what dance is most popular. I will say that the two most popular genres of dance in Albuquerque are Salsa and Country Western. Let’s say you are ready for a night of Salsa dancing, you will encounter more than just a Salsa. You will also see Merengue, Cha Cha, Cumbia, Bachata, and if you are lucky, you might also spot a Rumba. Now let’s say you have switched gears and are ready for night at your favorite Honky Tonk. You will most definitely see Two-Step and Swing. However, if you are really lucky, you will also see the Waltz, Cha Cha, Nightclub, West Coast and East Coast Swing.

Also, weddings are the place a lot of ballroom dancers like to strut their stuff. It’s a great opportunity to show off the Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba, and Swing. Most wedding receptions play a good amount of classic American music. Big band swing and Sinatra are a favorite of most people and that kind of music is what ballroom dance was made for.

Finally, one of the best places to use your Ballroom, Latin, Swing, or Country Western dancing is your local club dance. Many cities have various organizations that promote partner dancing. In Albuquerque, we have organizations that promote all these genres, such as USA Dance, the Albuquerque Dance Club, Strictly Swing Club, and the Milonga Club.

What style of dance do you like to perform the most?

That’s a hard question, as every dance is different and has its own wonderful and unique qualities. When I go our social dancing, I prefer the faster dances such as Salsa and Swing, because of their liveliness and the music is really great as well. When it comes to performing, I prefer the dances that tend to be slower and more expressive, such as Bolero or the Waltz. However, really when I’m performing, it’s more about the song choice than it is about the style of dance. In every performance, we don’t just perform dance steps; we are also looking to tell a story.

What style is typically the best to learn first as a beginner dancer?

Because we are all individuals and we all have a different natural movement, it really depends on the person as to which dance they should learn first. There is one question you should ask yourself as a beginner and that is, “what type of music do I like?” It may be easy to start with the Foxtrot, but if you don’t like Foxtrot music, you will find it rather difficult. If you enjoy American style music, like Rock & Roll, Swing is a very easy dance to start with. If you like classics like Frank Sinatra, you should start with Foxtrot. If the Latin flavor is what you desire, Merengue would be the dance for you. If country music is one of your favorites, then Two Step would be right up your alley. Bottom line, if you have a great teacher, any dance should be easy to learn and get started dancing.

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