An American History of Ballroom Dancing

Even before there was “Dancing With the Stars” and “So You Think You Can Dance,” ballroom dance was a hot topic in American culture. In honor of our Independence Day, why don’t we take a look at the history of ballroom dance in our nation? Let’s take a waltz through time and see how ballroom dance evolved throughout pop culture.

Ballroom dancing has existed since the 16th century, but really never arrived in America until the 20th century. As music became less and less formal, it became more and more common for people to dance to music. In 1911, Vaudeville performers Vernon and Irene Castle became famous for their foxtrot routines.

Fred and Adele Astaire

Ballroom dancing’s most famous name hit Broadway in 1917 as Fred and Adele Astaire began dazzling audiences with their brother and sister dance routine. The duo was cast in George Gershwin’s 1924 musical, “Lady Be Good” and 1927’s “Funny Face,” both critically acclaimed.


It was in this period when the movement for “teachable” dance began to grow. Expert dancers analyzed and distilled dances so they could teach dance moves to a wider audience; all of a sudden, everyone wanted to know how. The 1920s saw the growth and categorization of ballroom dances in the United States into either American Smooth (Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz) or American Rhythm (Cha-cha, Rumba, Swing, Mambo, Bolero).


Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers

By the 1930s, Fred Astaire was paired with Ginger Rogers as the two took to the silver screen. Elegant and graceful, Fred and Ginger danced their way through 10 Hollywood musicals, the most famous being the 1936 classic, “Swing Time.” They made their final movie together in 1949, though both dancers continued their careers in Hollywood with other partners.

Though many people think that ballroom dancing made its TV debut with 2005’s Dancing with the Stars, Astaire had several Emmy-winning musical broadcasts in the 1950s and 1960s. The first was in 1958, the self-titled “An Evening with Fred Astaire” that won nine emmy awards. It was also the first major broadcast to be prerecorded on color videotape.

Fabian Sanchez and Marlee Matlin

In 2005, ballroom dancing once again found center stage in American pop culture with the debut of ABC’s  “Dancing with the Stars,” a dance competition reality show pairing celebrities from the world of Hollywood, music and sports with professional ballroom dancers. The show recently completed its 20th season, all of which have ranked in the top 10 in the American Nielsen ratings.


Today, ballroom dancing is a popular as ever. Along with “Dancing with the Stars” competition shows like FOX’s “So You Think You Can Dance” and PBS’ “America’s Ballroom Challenge”  feature ballroom dance entertainment during all seasons . Collegiate ballroom dance teams and clubs have popped up all over the country. Ballroom dance competitions now exist for just about every age group, and Fred Astaire Dance Studios teach people to dance with locations in almost every major city in America.


Interested in learning how to move like Fred? Fred Astaire Dance Studio offers group and private lessons. Give us a call or email to schedule your lesson today!