The Three Worlds of Ballroom Dance

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Social

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Competitive

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Exhibition

Which one is better?

Yes, that question is intentionally provocative, and is easily answered. All three forms are valid, each enjoyed by their adherents for good reasons. But it's helpful to know how and why they differ from each other. As you'll see in the third section below, it's sometimes essential to know the differences.

First, what is Ballroom Dance?

"Ballroom dance" refers to traditional partnered dance forms that are done by a couple, often in the embrace of closed dance position ("ballroom dance position"). These include waltz, swing, tango, salsa and blues.

"Ballroom dance" is the overall umbrella term, covering all three forms discussed on this page.

Social dance forms are important. The earliest historical dance forms ever described in writing were partnered social dances. Many of today's performative dance forms, including ballet and jazz dance, evolved from social dance forms that came first. And today, noncompetitive social dance continues to be the most widely done form of dance in the world.

The three worlds of ballroom dance share the same historical roots, similar step vocabulary and music, so the three forms are considered siblings, related by birth. Yes, siblings are known to fight, but they can also be mutually supportive.

I.

What is the essential difference between the three?

The main distinction is that they have different audiences. Who are you dancing for, beyond your own enjoyment?

Social Ballroom

Your partner

Competitive Ballroom

The judges

Exhibition Ballroom

An audience

Then looking closer at the differences...

What are your audience's expectations?

  • Your partners want to interact with you spontaneously, for fun, doing steps that are also enjoyable for them.

  • Judges want to see that the steps and styles are done precisely and correctly, with great flair.

  • Audiences want to be entertained, often with a preference for beautiful and impressive moves.