Partner Dance Information

Ballroom Dancing - USABDA (United States Amateur Ballroom Dancers Association)

West Coast Swing - World Swing Dance Council

Country Dancing - UCWDC (United Country Western D ance Council)  

There are 3 main areas of organized partner dancing in America: ballroom, country and west coast swing.  All three have several conventions or competitions throughout the year cumulating in a championship competition.  They are often referred to as circuits (the ballroom circuit, the swing circuit…) because the judges, MC’s, instructors travel almost every weekend to the next location.  Ballroom is a bit more popular in the east while west coast swing is most popular in the west.  Country is consistent across the states.  Ballroom is big in Japan, England and Europe.  It might surprise you but country is huge in Canada and Europe too.  West Coast Swing is biggest in America.  Note: There are other smaller partnerdance circuits - Lindy, Salsa, and Hustle to name a few. 


Ballroom dancing contains by far the largest number of dances.  You can dance for an hour without ever repeating a type of dance.  Competitions are divided into two areas:  American style and International (English) style.  As you can guess, American style exists in just America while International style exists all over the world.  In world level competitions and the Olympics, you will only see International style.  There are 9 competitive American dances and 10 International competitive dances.  These are further divided into two groups for each:  American has Smooth or Rhythm dances while International has Standard or Latin dances.  The 19 competitive dances are listed below in the order they are danced in competitions.


American Smooth:  Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz

American Rhythm:  Cha Cha, Rumba, East Coast Swing, Bolero, Mambo


International Standard:  Waltz, Tango, Viennese Waltz, Foxtrot, Quickstep

International Latin:  Cha Cha, Samba, Rumba, Paso Doble, Jive


Levels:  For couples doing traditional lead-follow steps (referred to as syllabus steps), the progression of level from lowest to highest is bronze, silver, gold.  Sometimes a newcomer level is included for first-time beginners.  For couples doing choreographed routines as part of their competitions, the levels increase from novice to pre-champ to championship.  Dancers usually begin in the bronze and/or novice level and win points allowing them to move up.  Rarely you will see a masters syllabus level offered at competitions.  This is for couples who have won in the gold events often.  Championship level dancers and Gold level dancers are the highest level dancers in the choreographed and syllabus competitions respectively. 

American:  American style is considered to be much more "free" than International.  As of yet, there is not an official syllabus step list putting specific steps into levels.  In American Smooth events, you may break out of dance position with your partner and do open moves.  Beginners usually begin with the waltz, tango, foxtrot, cha cha, rumba, and east coast swing.  The Viennese waltz, bolero and mambo are picked up later as they are more advanced dances.

International:  International style is highly defined.  There are specific steps that belong in the bronze, silver, and gold categories.  There is an official syllabus step list that must be adhered to in competitions.  Beginners start with the waltz, tango, quickstep, cha cha, rumba, jive and pick up the others later.  In Standard events, the couple may never break from dance position, thus there are no open moves allowed.  This is perhaps the first difference one observes between American and International styles. 

About Ballroom organized events:  Ballroom events are referred to as competitions.  Ballroom competitions are often held all day Saturday, usually in one large room.  In Ballroom, the professional and amateurs are separated and must not compete together.  Most competitions are either professional or amateur.  USABDA is the governing organization for amateur ballroom dancers.  The web site is and is a great place to start.  Ballroom events are largely the competition themselves.  Other than compete or watch, there is not much else to do.  Sometimes there is a “show” at night which is fun to watch, especially if pros are dancing.  There are usually vendors around with costumes, shoes, and accessories.  Very few ballroom events have lessons.  There are about 9-13 USABDA competitions per month at various US locations.  In addition, there are about 5-10 college ballroom competitions per month during the school year.   The highest USABDA competition is Nationals held in August.

Fun Dances:  Besides the 19 main competitive dances, often you will see fun dance events as well.  Typical fun dances in ballroom include west coast swing, hustle, salsa, lindy, meringue, polka and night club two step. 



Country dancing is increasing all over the world.  Events can have up to 10,000 people at them.  Country dancing is not divided into pro and amateur.  They all compete together at the same events.  So beginners can dance with professionals more often than in ballroom.  The general atmosphere is more social and relaxed at country events.  Country has 6 main competitive dances with waltz and two-step being the most important.  The 6 dances are listed below.

Events:  Two-step, waltz, cha cha, east coast swing, west coast swing, polka

Levels:  For the most part you begin in Division four and earn your way up to Division one, after which you earn your way into Masters or Champions divisions.  More can be found about country dance organization at

Country Conventions:  Country events are termed conventions because the competition is not the main focus of the event.  A country convention usually starts Friday afternoon and ends late Sunday night/Monday morning.  A country event typically has 4-5 rooms going at the same time from 8am to 7pm with dance lessons.  So you can choose from 4-5 different lessons every hour all day long. (Great Bargain) You could actually have over 20 hours of lessons at a country event if your brain could take it.  At night there is a show from 7-9 for example, and then there are usually 3 rooms open for all night dance parties.  One room plays a variety of country music.  One room is the swing room which plays mostly techno dance music for hustle and west coast swing.  The third room is usually a line dance room.  The pros come to these rooms and you can dance with them which is nice.  Sometimes the swing room, which is always the wild room, stays open until 3am or later.  Oh, and Saturday and Sunday there are the competitions going on in another room, but few people watch as they are in the lessons.  The Masters and Champions events are usually one of the evenings as most people want to watch them, these competitors are usually the pros and are a must see.  Country conventions are cheap considering all the lessons, shows, dance parties you get for your money.  The highest country competition is at Worlds in January and is held in a different country each year - it truly is a world competition. 

Fun Dances:  Although fun dances are not used in competitions, most country dancers do a very, very good hustle and night club two step.  Almost all country conventions have Jack and Jill west coast events at night which are usually a must-see. 

Comparison:  Country waltz is almost exactly like American waltz in that open moves, developees and dips are used.  Country cha cha is similar to American cha cha but at a much slower tempo. (The slower tempo in country really takes away from the dance in my opinion)  The east coast swings are identical as are the polka, hustle and west coast swing.  (Note:  Most ballroom west coast swing lessons are very out of date and consist of over-simplified moves – this is my opinion) ( If you see a teacher teaching west coast as “tap step, triple step, walk walk”  you should run away as fast as you can!!!) 


The West Coast Swing Circuit

The swing world ( revolves around west coast swing, the most versatile partner dance.  These people can dance this one dance for hours.  Why you ask?  Well west coast swing can be a very slow, sexy, dance or it can be a very fast, quick dance.  It also works at all tempos in between.  The swing community does not dance to country music, but rather to jazz, techno, disco, or pop.  You can west coast to the Madonna or to Beyonce for example.  It is extremely versatile and can be danced at clubs too. 

Levels:  In my experience, you don’t really start competing at swing events until you are pretty good.  Strictly swing event are lead-follow while showcase is choreography.  There are other events as well like Classic, Rising Star, …  The main stay of west coast swing events are the Jack and Jills.  J&J events are when you enter alone and get a partner randomly.  You typically switch partners about 3 times and are judged on your own dancing, not your 3 various partners.  Then you get called back, get paired randomly with one partner and are judged as a couple in this final round.  J&J events usually have beginner, intermediate and advanced levels.  The nice thing is you don’t need to have a partner in order to compete.  In J&J events several couples will take the floor at the same time.  Only in the final round will you dance one couple at a time.  This concept of J&J has gone over to the country world and is beginning to be seen in  ballroom as well (I have pushed J&J events into many ballroom competitions).  (But in ballroom and country, you almost never have just one couple on the floor by themselves, where as in swing you usually do)

Swing Conventions:  Swing conventions take place in usually one room.  In the morning and early afternoon there are lessons each hour.  By 3:00 the competitions usually begin.  One thing that sets swing competitions apart are that each couple dances alone on the floor.  Like I said, usually you don’t start competing until you are pretty darn good. (Except J&J which has a beginner level and 20 couples may be on the floor at one time) There are usually 4-8 couples per event, unlike ballroom which can have 20, 30 or more couples per event.  (Ballroom places about 20 couples on the floor at the same time, even the top level events do not dance one couple at a time, it would take too long)  At night there is a show, a professional event which is a must see, then the dance party starts and lasts all night!!!  Swing events are like country events except that there is just the one room and one couple competes at a time.  Swing events start at Friday afternoon and go until the wee hours of Monday morning.  Like country, there is no distinction between pros and amateurs, just some people get paid and some don’t.  But there are strict guidelines in entering events.  Once you have won so many events, you must move up to the next level.  Like country – the top level is usually the pros.  In both country and swing – you earn your way up the ladder by winning – it is not based on whether or not you earn money from dancing.  This allows those small town teachers to not have to compete against the big time teachers unless they have earned it, but they aren’t forced to like in ballroom.  Most competitive events are west coast swing.  Occasionally there will also be Lindy and Shag events.   The highest swing competition is the US Open held in November.

Fun Dances:  Although 80% of the social dancing will be west coast, you will see quite a bit of hustle and cha cha plus a little night club two step. 

Who’s the Best???  (Just my opinion as a competitor in all three areas)

For dances that only ballroom does (ie tango, quickstep, rumba) they are the best obviously.  What about the dances that overlap???  Well for waltz, the top competitive couple in American style ballroom and Country are competitive with each other.  They are very similar and very good.  But as far as classes go, ballroom waltz classes are generally better because some country teachers are weak in waltz.  But again, in competition, you really can’t tell the difference at the highest level.  Cha Cha – well ballroom wins here no comparison.  The reason is the slow tempo in country, which causes almost all loss of sharpness and quickness and hip motion (Cuban).  And the fact that country dancers usually don’t have much Cuban motion anyway – their cha looks dead.  East coast swing – well it’s about the same.  The best east coast I ever saw was a country Masters level couple – it blew ballroom away.  But that couple is amazing.  Both ballroom and country are good at east coast swing. 

West coast?  Well the swing crowd hands down.  Country is OK but they have trouble with the sexy slower tempos.  Ballroom is a distant third for learning or performing west coast.  Polka?  Well country is the best here.  Hustle???  Well there are people that do only hustle (Hustle America in NY) so they are the best, but next would be the swing crowd.  Country and ballroom are kinda tied.  Everyone does the same hustle though.  Night club two step belongs to country followed closely by the swing circuit.  Lindy???  Well there are people who do Lindy only and they are the best at lindy.  There are some good ballroom Lindy hoppers though, but most true lindy dancers hate the way ballroom teaches it. 

Believe it or not – the best spinners I have seen are in country and swing.  I have seen girls spin like mad, quicker than I’ve seen in ballroom and they stop on a dime.  Resa Henderson, Laureen Baldovi and Deberah Szekeley are beyond belief in their spins.

So there’s no surprise here – ballroom does ballroom best, country does country best, west coast does west coast best.  Many country dancers have ballroom background.  Many country dancers attend swing events and vice versa.  Ballroom is more set apart.  Country dancers are familiar with the swing world and their best dancers, just like swing dancers are familiar with the country world and their best dancers.  About 1/3 to ½  of the country and swing world overlap.  Some of the top competitors compete in both.  Most ballroom dancers know nothing of the country and swing worlds, just as country and swing dancers usually know nothing about ballroom. 

Overall to me it seems that ballroom has a larger proportion of the ballroom dancers that compete than do country and swing.  In country and swing, most just social dance.  Country and swing conventions focus on lessons, competition and social dancing.  Ballroom competitions are just that – largely competitions.  If you compete in many dances – ballroom comps are a blast.  If you don’t compete, ballroom comps aren’t so much fun.  If you don’t compete – swing and country conventions are more fun cause of all the lessons and dance parties.  You have a much better chance of hanging around and dancing with the pros at country and swing events also because ballroom events separate the pros from the amateurs.