American Versus International Ballroom Dancing

  • Ballroom dancing was being developed on both sides of the Atlantic more or less simultaneously. In the early 20th century American ballroom dancing was primarily styled by the nationwide studio chains of  Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire. International ballroom was developed by the British, and was heavily influenced by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing (ISTD) and the International Dance Teachers' Association (IDTA).  Both styles are popular in North America, but International  is the style danced around the world and in most competitions.

    On the whole, the differences between the two styles are slight and over time each has borrowed from the other. American ballroom was heavily influenced by the style of Hollywood films such as those featuring Fred Astair and Ginger Rogers. The far-reaching popularity of these films spread a bit of American style overseas and American ballroom is currently considering adding a few dances that have so far only been danced in the International style.

    Both are divided into sub-categories that have different names but contain mostly the same dances. The American Smooth category and the International Standard category both describe dances that are fluid and gliding such as the Foxtrot. The American  Rhythm and International Latin categories described jaunty, syncopated dances such as the Rumba.


    Smooth Rhythm
    Waltz Cha Cha
    Tango Rumba
    Foxtrot East Coast Swing
    Viennese Waltz Bolero


    Standard Latin
    Waltz Cha Cha
    Tango Samba
    Foxtrot Rumba
    Viennese Waltz Paso Doble
    Quickstep Jive

    The main differences between American and International ballroom dancing is in emphasis, rather than form or pattern. American ballroom dancing emphasizes creativity and individual expression while International ballroom dancing focuses more on challenging parameters and flawless technique. Although the foundations of both are the same, the two styles differ in specific areas of posture, hold, and the execution of some patterns.

    For example, a closed hold (with at least part of the dancers’ chests touching) cannot be broken in International ballroom. In contrast, many American ballroom dances allow for a variety of open holds and even permit solo movements. Americans may embellish Smooth style dances with Latin-style flairs such as a theatrical opening or extravagant turn. International ballroom is less receptive to such creative touches. International Latin style dances pay close attention to technique and move at a quicker tempo than American Rhythm dances, which emphasize style and creativity along with technique.

    In the United States you may find competitions with both styles of dance, but worldwide you’ll find competitions in only the International style.