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Perhaps you didn’t even realize there was a difference between International and American ballroom dance. To help clear the air about this oft-asked question, today’s post will delve into the differences of both types of ballroom dance so you’ll never be confused again!

Ballroom dance

Plus, if you walk into one of our studios wanting to learn ballroom dance, you’ll know which one to try. Since we offer both International and American ballroom dance, you can pick which one to learn first. Because we know you’re going to want to try both once you catch the dancing bug

American ballroom dance

Ballroom dance 1Let’s first take a look at American style of ballroom dance. American ballroom dance was developed by large American studio chains—one person responsible for it goes by the name Arthur Murray… perhaps you’ve heard of him? Furthermore, this style is broken down into two categories: American Smooth and American Rhythm. Here’s what you need to know about both.

American Smooth

The American Smooth style of dance is loosely similar to the International Standard style of dance, with the main difference being that Smooth uses more separated and open figures, and International Standard is exclusively made up of closed figures. Basically, with this type of dance that Arthur Murray helped develop, there is the opportunity for a dancer to break away from his or her partner with some open footwork.

American Smooth dances

  • Waltz
  • Tango
  • Foxtrot
  • Viennese Waltz

American Rhythm

Just as American Smooth is similar but different to International Standard, the same type of distinction can be made between the American Rhythm and International Latin styles of dance. American Rhythm is most generally danced in the U.S. and Canada, whereas International Latin is danced in countries elsewhere.

Both Rhythm and Latin dances move to contemporary Latin American music and perform their routines in pretty much the same spot (with the exception of traveling dances such as the Samba). The movements in both dances are free and sensual, as you’d expect from Latin dancing.


American Rhythm dances

  • Cha Cha
  • Rumba
  • East Coast Swing
  • Bolero
  • Mambo

International ballroom dance

Ballroom dance (2)Through the descriptions of the American ballroom dance styles, you have probably gained a pretty good idea of what International ballroom dance entails. There are, however, a couple more distinctions we’d like to make. The most notable difference between American and International is the dresses worn in American Smooth and International Standard.

When you are a competitive dancer, you’re probably aware of the various costume types, but for those who haven’t crossed that bridge yet, it can be a little confusing. Because American Smooth is not danced in frame like International Standard, the dresses differ to match the style. Because International Standard uses less movement, the dresses worn have “floats” of fabric or beading attached like wings, providing interest to the upper portion of the body, which might otherwise seem a little stiff. American Smooth dresses, on the other hand, don’t need these floats, and they actually hinder the open-patterned dancing Smooth entails.

Besides the dress, the main difference between International Ballroom and American Ballroom in the U.S. is that American is typically a social style and International tends to be performed in competitions. Additionally, International style is all about the connection with your partner—dancers stick close together and lead and follow and move around one common center as they dance. The open position of American ballroom is not acceptable in the International style.

International Standard dances

  • Waltz
  • Tango
  • Foxtrot
  • Viennese Waltz
  • Quickstep

International Latin dances

  • Cha Cha
  • Rumba
  • Jive
  • Paso Doble
  • Samba

Which style of ballroom dance will I be learning at Arthur Murray?

Now that you know what you’re in for, you may be wondering which types of dances we offer. The good news is you don’t have to choose! All of our New Jersey locations teach both American and International ballroom dance styles—just check out the full list of dances we teach for an overview of each type. You can also consult this article if you’re not sure which dance suits your personality.

We can’t wait to see you show off your footwork—no matter if you prefer American or International style. Come in for your first lesson today! Your first lesson is free, and now is the perfect time to jump into our 30-day dance challenge to help whip you into shape right before summer begins.
Sarah has been with Arthur Murray Dance Studios since 2001. She started as a Certified Professional Instructor and went through the Arthur Murray ranks winning many performance awards throughout the years. She eventually opened her own studio with her husband in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Since then, she and her husband have added 5 more studios to their family, the Denville NJ, Roxbury NJ, Chatham NJ, and Morristown NJ and Bucharest Romania locations. She loves being a part of Arthur Murray and transforming people’s lives through the process of learning to dance!