As Strictly Come Dancing fever rises, the nation is gripped by the sight of couples twirling across the dance floor. But how much do you know about the dances that they've been performing? Read our guide and then you can act the know-it-all when Strictly's on!

Couple ballroom dancing


The Waltz

A classic in the repertoire of Strictly dances, this ballroom dance is the oldest, but it was initially considered scandalous, as the ankles of the women could be seen and the men and women held each other. The Times in 1816 felt compelled to comment, ‘So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it our duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.’ However the scruples were eventually overcome to make the modern waltz one of the most well-known and popular of ballroom dances.

American Smooth

When the waltz crossed the Atlantic to the USA, it became slower – the Boston Waltz – with long, flowing movements, and this developed into the American Smooth, which has more flourishes than the ballroom waltz and also incorporates elements of tango and foxtrot and Viennese waltz.


Named after a vaudeville actor, Harry Fox, who was in a show at the New York Theater in 1914. He performed a trotting dance to ragtime music and this became known as Fox’s Trot, and this, in time, became the smoother ballroom dance we know today.


Back in the day, musicians often played the Foxtrot too fast (surely not to get to the bar sooner?!), so this hybrid of the Foxtrot and the Charleston was born. When it came to England it gained huge popularity – some wags joking that was because its fast pace allowed the Brits to keep warm indoors.
Monochrome retro-styled portrait of lady holding mouthpiece



Originating in the jazz era, this dance first featured in several Harlem stage shows at the beginning of the 20th century. Because of the hand movements of the women dancers, they were nicknamed ‘flappers’. The girls gained something of a reputation at the time because of their shorter skirts, rolled down stockings and bobbed hair. Not only that, but they drank and smoked too. This led to the Charleston being banned from many dance halls in the 1920s.


The name of this dance derives from the Spanish verb ‘rumbear’ which means to go to parties, dance and have a good time. Originating from the country dances in Africa, the rural rumba was originally meant to portray the movements of various barnyard animals.
Couple swing dancing, low section



The fast-stepped jive became popular with young people, but not so popular  with dancehall owners in the 1920s, though. Because it was danced freely and the owners claimed it disrupted the other dancers who were trying to move quietly round the floor anti-clockwise. It was introduced to the UK in the Second World War by the GIs stationed in the country.

Cha Cha Cha

This dance first came to prominence in America, originally called the Triple Mambo. Its name, according to some, comes from the sound the dancers’ shoes make as they shuffle the quick three cha cha cha steps.


Closely associated with Argentina where this dance originated, the tango was in fact strictly discouraged in that country between 1955 and 1983 after a right-wing government overthrew General Peron. The military prosecuted dancers and banned several tango songs, forcing the dance to go underground.
Cropped shot of a young female dancing with a man



The dance that’s immediately identified with Brazil has its roots with the slaves from the country’s Bahia region, who brought their ceremonial dance to Rio, where it amalgamated with other styles of the city. Now Samba National Day is celebrated in Brazil on 2 December.


US soldiers first noticed Cuban Son during the Cuban war. It’s popularity spread and there are now many, many styes, often named after an area, from Cuban style (or Casino, named after the nightclubs where it was performed), Cali style from Columbia, Miami Style Casino, New York Style and Los Angeles Style. And this is one dance that is not only for couples – it can also be a line dance called the salsa suelta where groups of men dance opposite groups of women.

Pasa Doble

Literally translated as ‘double steps’, this was named after the marching style of  Spanish soldiers. The music was later used to introduce the bullfighters to the ring at a bullfight, and also during the passes when the bull was killed. In the dance, the man represents the matador and the woman is his shadow, or the bullfighter’s cape.