Ballroom dancing beginner steps – Part One: Smooth Dances

  • Most beginner ballroom dance classes cover the five most common styles of ballroom dance: Waltz, Foxtrot, Rumba, Cha Cha, and Swing. The very first ballroom dancing instructions you’ll learn in a beginner dance class are the hold(s) and basic steps of each. Let’s examine the Smooth dances.

    Open Hold :

    1. Dancers face each other about six inches apart.
    2. The leader takes the follower’s right hand in his left and her left hand in his right. Hands should be in a relaxed “C” shape.
    3. An open hold may also be performed with the dancers holding only one hand.
    4. Heads are upright and shoulders are relaxed.

    Closed Hold:

    1. Dancers face each other roughly six inches apart.
    2. The leader places his right hand slightly below his partner’s left shoulder blade with his arm held firmly at 90 degrees from his body.
    3. The following partner rests her left arm on her partner’s right arm and gently holds his shoulder with her thumb resting inward, toward his body.
    4. The leading partner grasps the following partner’s right hand in his left hand. Her fingers should rest between his thumb and forefinger. Elbows are bent and hands are held at the eye-level of the shorter partner.
    5. Heads are upright and posture is firm.


    Waltz is a traveling dance with significant “rise and fall action”, meaning that dancers rise to the balls of their feet on the quick steps. It sweeps the range of the dance space and includes frequent underarm turns.

    The Hold

    Waltz is danced in a “closed hold” position.

    The Steps

    Waltz is danced in ¾ time with one slow and two quick steps. A strong emphasis is placed on the first step (slow, quick-quick.) Waltz dance steps have a significant “rise and fall action”, meaning that dancers rise to the balls of their feet on the quick steps. The basic waltz step is the “box step.” The leading partner travels forward and the following partner travels backward in synch with the opposite foot. Side steps are taken in the same direction. Six steps together (or two completions of “Slow, quick-quick”) will complete the outline of a box on the floor as follows. (Leader):

    1. Slow: Step forward with the left foot.
    2. Quick: Right foot step sideways to the right.
    3. Quick: Bring your left foot next to your right foot.
    4. Slow: Step back with the right foot.
    5. Quick: Step back sideways with the left foot.
    6. Quick: Bring your right foot next to your left foot.


    • Keep arms firm, not floppy.
    • Don’t stand toe to toe; instead, stand with feet between your partners’ .
    • Never look at your feet! (That’s when you step on someone else’s!)


    These YouTube videos demonstrate the following: basic waltz steps, waltz underarm turn, and waltz timing.


    The Foxtrot is a traveling ballroom dance with long walking movements and underarm turns similar to the waltz. It has a slight “rise and fall”, although not as steep as the Waltz.
    The Hold

    American Foxtrot may be danced in an open or closed position.  International Foxtrot must be performed in the closed position.

    The Steps

    Foxtrot is danced to 4/4 music, although, with two slow steps and two quick steps, it is performed in three beats (slow, slow, quick-quick). The first and third steps are slightly more emphasized.

    The most basic foxtrot step is the “basic forward” or the “forward walk.” It starts and finishes in a closed position (feet together). The leader’s steps are:

    1. Slow: Forward with the left foot.
    2. Slow: Forward with the right foot.
    3. Quick: To the side with the left foot.
    4. Quick: To the side with the right where it comes together with the left foot.

    The “basic forward” progresses in more or less a straight line (can curve slightly as needed).


    • Keep your knees soft and movements smooth.
    • Try to move as naturally as possible. It really is like smooth and rhythmic walking!


    The following videos demonstrate the basic forward step and deal with additional elements such as changing direction, the corner step, and the promenade.


    The Hold

    Tango is danced in a closed hold. The leader looks to the left and the follower to the right. Spines are very straight and the follower’s head is slightly tilted back.
    The Steps

    The foundation of the Tango is the 8-Count Basic step. It has three slow steps and two quick steps in the following sequence: slow, slow, quick-quick, slow. It begins and ends in a closed position, with the exception that weight is not placed on the closing foot. The leader’s steps are:

    1. Slow: Forward with the left foot.
    2. Slow: Forward with the right foot.
    3. Quick: Forward again with the left, a slightly smaller step.
    4. Quick: To the right with the right foot, using a technique known as "collecting" the foot. (Bring the right foot alongside the left before stepping right, in an L-shape, rather than a diagonal move.)
    5. Slow: Bring the left foot along side the right without placing weight on the foot, in preparation for stepping forward with the left with the next movement.  This step should be almost a drag, a slow, sultry motion.


    • The leader should lead with the heel, not the toe.
    • Movements should be slow and unhurried.
    • Upper bodies should retain tension – Most movement is below the waist.
    • The follower’s right arm appears to rest of the leader’s left arm, she should actually be supporting her own arm weight.


    The following links demonstrate the Basic Walk, Closed Promenade, and Basic Turn.