Social dance is that category of dances that have a social function
and context. Social dances are generally intended for participation
rather than performance and can be led and followed with relative
ease. They are often danced merely to socialise and for
entertainment, though they may have ceremonial, competitive and erotic
Many social dances of European origin are partner dances (see Ballroom
dance) but this is quite rare elsewhere, where there may be instead be
circle dances or line dances, perhaps reserved for those of a certain
age, sex or social position.
Social dance in the west
1.1 20th century America
2 See also
4 Further reading
Social dance in the west
Eighteenth-century social dance. Translated caption: A cheerful dance
awakens love and feeds hope with lively joy, (Florence, 1790).
The types of dance performed in social gatherings change with social
Social dance music of the 14th century has been preserved
in manuscript, though without proper choreography, for dances such as
the ballo, carol, stampita, saltarello, trotto and roto. The 15th
century is the first period from which written records of dances
exist. A manuscript from Brussels highlights the Burgundian court
dance, which spread all over Europe, referred to as the basse dance in
which a large group perform a series of steps in triple time. Italian
courts danced balli, with a wide array of choreographed rhythms, steps
and positions for the dancers. These were documented in instruction
books written by the highly respected dance masters who choreographed
them for the courts.
Social dances of lower classes were not recorded until the Late
Renaissance. According to Richard Powers, courtiers in the late 16th
century continually had to "prove themselves through their social
skills, especially through dance." Recorded social dances of the late
16th century include the pavane and the canario. Thoinot Arbeau's
famous book Orchésographie describes peasant branles as well as the
16th century basse danse and la volta. The peasants of the countryside
supplied new dances to the court as the old ones' novelty wore out.
Scottish country dancing
Baroque Era court balls served to display social status. A
formal ball opened with a branle in which couples stood in a line in
order of their place in the social hierarchy, the most highly-regarded
couples dancing first. The
Menuet and the
Gavotte gained popularity.
Balls often ended with an English country dance. France gained a
pre-eminence in dance, but the
French Revolution created a shift away
During the Regency Era, from 1811-1830, the
Quadrille became the most
popular dance in England and France. The
Quadrille consisted of a
large variety of steps that skimmed the ground, such as chassé and
jeté. Most other dances of this era, such as the Mazurka, were
performed in lines and squares.
The waltz, which arrived in Britain toward the end of the Napoleonic
Wars, was a partner dance in which partners danced more closely than
had previously been considered acceptable. In the waltz, neither
partner led. Individuals danced as equals, which was a new phenomenon
at the time. The
Polka was another dance that arose during ths time in
which partners were scandalously close. According to Powers, the
dances of this time were "fresh, inventive, youthful, and somewhat
daring," which mirrored society at the time.
20th century America
Towards the end of the 19th century, Americans were tiring of the
court dances of their grandparents' era. In the early 20th century,
Americans began pairing Victorian dances such as the Two-Step with
Ragtime music. Other dances included the African American Cakewalk,
and animal dances such as the Turkey Trot (dance). The most popular
social dance of the time was the One-Step. The dance consisted of
couples taking one step on each beat of the music, so even beginners
Rock 'n' roll
Rock 'n' roll in the 1950s brought about a shift in social dancing
toward rebelliousness. This shift was seen especially in teenagers who
did not want to dance the same steps that their parents did. The
dancing was mostly swing based but had a variations in different
regions. Couples began dancing as individuals for the first time,
sending the message that there did not have to be a leader and a
An American Ballroom Companion
List of basic dance topics
List of dance style categories
List of dances
English country dance
Folk dance (or Ethnic dance)
Scottish country dance
Irish and Scottish Céilidh
Dance Terminology Notebook. Skippy Blair. 1994. Altera Publishing.
page 65. ISBN 0-932980-11-2.
^ Jonas, Gerald. Dancing (1 ed.). Abrams Books. pp. 108–126.
^ a b c d e f g h Powers, Richard. "Brief Histories of Social Dance".
Dance at Stanford. Stanford University. Retrieved
Wallace, Carol McD.; et al. (1986). Dance: a very social history. New
York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. ISBN 9780870994869.
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Major present-day genres
Lead and follow
Dance and disability
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