Modern Ballroom Dancing By McMains, Juliet
Twentieth-century modern ballroom dancing differed from social dancing of the nineteenth century in its shift in focus from group cohesion to individual personal style. This focus on personal expression paralleled Progressive Era values that emphasized free will and individual action as a means to social progress. Through the use of the closed hold, many modern dances (including the one-step, the Castle Walk, the maxixe, the tango, and the foxtrot) brought partners into closer proximity for extended periods of time. The resulting physical contact of partners combined with the unpredictability of movement inspired by the accompanying ragtime evoked public controversy over the propriety and decency of modern dances.
From the 1910s through the 1950s, these dances were standardized by an American modern ballroom dance industry capitalizing on new means of mass production and distribution to sell ‘‘refined’’ versions of these dances (all of which were of lower-class origin) for consumption by upwardly mobile clientele. The codification of modern dances for mass dissemination, however, eliminated many of their defining modern features, particularly personal expression through improvisation. Modern ballroom dances as interpreted by the English became the basis for ballroom dance competitions exported internationally by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing throughout the twentieth century.