Where to Dance

What is Smooth and Rhythm?

Let’s start with another question. What image comes to mind when you think of Ballroom dancing? For many it is Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers elegantly dancing together across the silver screen in one of the ten movies they made. Each film having a dance routine where he woos her, she resists, then eventually succumbs to his advances. These romantic routines were usually danced in a closed ballroom hold, then opened into work danced side by side and solo.

There are actually two styles of Ballroom dancing, the English, or International style which most people who have learnt in New Zealand would be familiar with, which is danced in a closed hold. Then there is the American style, Smooth which is danced in both closed and open holds much like Astaire and Rogers. Both styles developed around the same time, with many shared similarities in their basic structure. While initially both were introduced as social dance forms, the English style quickly grew into a competitive form and was exported internationally, while the more open American style remained focused on the social dancer before developing into the competitive field.

Likewise, we have what is often referred to as International style Latin American and the American Rhythm. These Latin styles share some of the same dance rhythms but also include some different dances. Both styles have developed from what is often referred to as Traditional popular Latin dances. The International syllabus contains five dances, while the American style has eight.

Over the last decade Smooth and Rhythm have seen rapid growth in popularity internationally, not only with National and regional competitions taking place in America and Canada, but also being included in major competitions round the world like the Blackpool Dance Festival, as well as events throughout Europe and the Asia Pacific region.

So what is Smooth? Primarily Smooth is made up of four dances, Slow Waltz, Foxtrot, Tango and Viennese Waltz. The most obvious difference with this style of ballroom dancing is that it has figures that are danced in closed hold, open holds, shadow position and side-by-side. This allows the dancer more freedom to be creative, while also creating a more open position allowing both the leader and follower space to move with a more natural body alignment. A fundamental step used through the dances is the box step along with many steps which can cross over from one dance to another. This for the social dancer has the advantage of giving them variety even with only a limited number of figures learned. For those that choose to take it to an advanced level the possibilities choreographically are endless.

Rhythm has a broader selection of dances than Latin American. These include Square Rumba, Cha Cha, Bolero, Mambo, East Coast and West Coast Swing, Samba and Merengue. Some of these dances you will recognise as being in the International Latin American style like the Cha Cha and Samba. The Rumba in Rhythm is stylistically different from the Cuban Rumba danced in International and is danced on the first beat rather than the second as in the latter. Bolero is a slow dance and the Mambo you may remember Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dancing in the film Dirty Dancing. Probably the simplest way to describe the difference between the Latin styles would be to say Rhythm has a more relaxed, rhythmic style as opposed to the often faster more poised style of the International.

As a professional I teach both styles and after having finished dancing competitively myself, enjoy the freedom of the Rhythm and Smooth styles. For the social dancer I find the structure and logic of this style a great starting point for the beginner. It also gives the dancer a good foundation if they decide to venture into the International style.

Rhythm and Smooth gives you the joy of dancing with someone, exercise, brain food, is good for the bones and joints, as well as social connection. Hopefully this has given you some understanding of this growing, popular dance form. See you on the dancefloor or in the studio.


Brian Jones
Dancer, teacher, choreographer.

Video and photo courtesy of Dance Vision