Most dances up until the 20th century were sequence dances that prescribed the positions of the dancers. Waltz was an early exception that caused quite a stir in the early 1800’s due to the possible impropriety caused by the closed hold. According to Wikipedia, early ballroom grew out of a convergence of three influences. The growth of a movement toward independent dancing, the development of jazz, which brought some of its own dances and the efforts of a few people to bring a sense of uniformity to the many new dances. Arthur Murray and, later, Fred Astaire Dance Studios in the US and Dance Societies in the UK brought uniformity to many of the dances and promoted their great popularity.
Ballroom Dance is a global phenomenon. It is practiced and enjoyed in almost every country in the world. Although differences exist in some of the dances, there is quite a bit of similarity, particularly as the dancers become more proficient. There are two styles of ballroom dance you may hear about termed American and International. The styles are distinct and the VBDS emphasizes the International style. The techniques used in American style and International style are not the same. American style features open work, under-arm turns, open extended lines, etc., while International style requires a close proximity of the partners at all times, and uses the concept of a “common center” which allows for a three- dimensional body action in unison that does not quite work for American style.
The syllabus as agreed by the World Dance Sport Federation is broken down into the Latin Dances and Standard Dances. The Latin Dances are the Samba, Cha-Cha, Rumba, Paso Doble and Jive. With their heritage in Latin American (Samba, Cha-Cha-Cha, Rumba), Hispanic (Paso Doble) and American (Jive) cultures, they each have their distinguishing traits but coincide in expressiveness, intensity and energy. The standard dances are the Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Slow Foxtrot and Quickstep. Somewhat more formal than their Latin counterparts – and not just in terms of the dancer’s attire – they are generally danced in a closed position of the partners. The hold a Standard dance commences with is, essentially maintained throughout the dance maintained throughout.