There are four main styles of competitive dance: American Smooth, American Rhythm, International Standard, and International Latin. The USC Ballroom and Latin Dance Team competes in all of these styles, though we only formally teach classes in the American Smooth and International Latin styles. We often have alumni that come back to teach the rest of the dances. Nightclub dances such as Argentine Tango, West Coast Swing, Salsa, etc. are also not formally taught, but are events at competitions as well.


Often considered the most elegant of the dances, Waltz is danced in 3 counts per measure. It is characterized by swooping and graceful rise and fall, and for American style, flowing, expansive arm styling. Think princesses and castles.


Tango is the most aggressive, dramatic, (and most Latin-like) dance of the smooth/standard repetoire. Sharp head snaps, serious faces, and staccato movement are hallmarks of tango. The music has heavy beats and is strongly accented. Think drama and intensity.


Foxtrot is considered by many to be "the dancer's dance." Often danced to swing-era classics like Frank Sinatra, Foxtrot is full of style and pizzazz. International-style Foxtrot tends to be slower than American-style, with gliding action and laid-back attitude. Think classy and debonair.

Viennese Waltz

Similar to waltz, Viennese is danced in 3 counts per measure, but at a much faster pace. It is the oldest of the ballroom dances, often seen in historical European high-society films. It is characterized by spinning couples. Think twirling and whirling.


Only found in the International style, Quickstep is the long-lost brother to the Foxtrot. The steps are lively and quick (hence the name), often with hops, skips, and runs. The music is typically fast ragtime, jazz, or big band style. Think speed and excitement.

Cha Cha

Sometimes called Cha-cha-cha, the name is onomatopoeic for the shuffle of the dancer's feet (for our International Latin style, on four-and-one). Cuban in origin, it is relatively fast with straight, sharp legs and fast hip movement. Think flirty and fun.


Rumba is the Latin "dancer's dance," performed to slow music. It is characterized by enticing hip and body movements and picturesque lines. It is the dance of love and romance. Think sexy and sultry.


With African and Brazilian roots, Samba is the most rhythmic of the Latin dances (and is not danced in American Rhythm). Although originally based on the samba from carnival, the ballroom form has evolved in its own right. It is characterized by a bounce action with syncopated rhythms, performed to fast music with complex drum beats. Think rhythm and physicality.


Similar in form to East Coast Swing, Jive is the faster, more competitive, and more energetic version for the Latin dance style. Originally a form of the Jitterbug, Jive is danced to very fast swing and big band music. Its hallmarks are kicks and lifting the knees high. Think energetic and lively.

Paso Doble

This dance is almost always performed to the Spanish march-like Gypsy Dance music ("Espana Cani"). The figures are reminiscent of the horses, capes, and toreador involved in Spanish bullfighting. It is the most Standard-like of the Latin dances. Think bullfighting and aggression.


Similar to rumba (although danced to slower music), this dance is only found in the American Rhythm syllabus. It is characterized by bent knees, rise and fall, and gliding action. Think: sexy and graceful.


Mambo is the ballroomized version of salsa, and competed in American Rhythm. It is counted on 2 (whereas salsa can be on the 1 or the 2 depending on style). Originally Cuban in origin, Mambo became especially popular in American dance studios throughout the 70's. Think: ballroomized salsa.

East Coast Swing

Often referred to as just "swing," this dance has the triple step-triple step-rock step basic (or step-step-rock step for faster songs), with styling more relaxed than jive. It is typically danced to medium tempo big band music, boogie-woogie, and early rock and roll. Think: relaxed and groovy.

West Coast Swing

A brother to swing and lindy hop, West Coast Swing is a slotted dance in typcially eight counts. Distinctive features are cool styling, improvisation, and elastic partner connection. It is popular since it can be danced to almost any music in 4/4 time. Think: smooth and stylish.


Popular during the 70's, partner hustle is still alive today. Drawing elements from East and West Coast Swings and salsa, it is a combination of slotted and spot dance. Although traditionally danced to disco music, it can also be danced to contemporary pop and groove. Think: flashy and suave.


Normally a partner dance, salsa can also be done solo or in formation (salsa rueda). There are many different styles (Cuban, New York, LA) with new forms evolving. This extremely popular dance is typically medium fast with distinctive latin music and bands. It is characterized by lots of body/shoulders/hip action and intricate figures, and numerous spins for the lady. Think: cuban hips and spins.

Argentine Tango

Primarily a social dance, argentine tango is typically danced by tangueros at milongas (practice/social sessions). Originating from Buenos Aires, its music can be fast or slow, commonly with instruments like violin and bandoneon. It is characterized by intimate embrace, pivots (ochos), leg hooks (ganchos), and foot caresses, with heavy reliance on improvisation. Think: intimate and emotional.

Nightclub Two-Step

Although the two step can take several forms (Texas or Triple), the Nighclub Two Step is a spot dance, danced to slower club music. It is characterized by gliding side steps in a more relaxed ballroom hold, with rock steps occurring on each foot. Think: slow club dance.


Merengue is danced to fast latin music with heavy beats, with small walking steps that emphasize hip movement side to side. Due to the simplicity of the basic step, intricate figures (such as pretzels) can be danced easily. It is often danced at salsa clubs, in addition to Cumbia and Bbachata. Think: fun and relaxed.


Also in the family of swing dances, Lindy Hop is an eight-count somewhat slotted dance developed in Harlem, with combinations of triple steps and walks done in a typical swingout pattern, with swivels for the lady and occassional Charleston kicks. Advanced dancers may do lifts. Styling is very relaxed with the leader often appearing hunched over. Music can be fast and jazzy or slow and blues-y. Think: jazzy and rhythmic.

Fall 2015 Classes
Rhythm: Mondays starting Aug. 31
Cha-cha, Rumba
7pm - 9pm
Location: PED Group Exercise Room (Basement)
Smooth: Wednesdays starting Sept. 2
Foxtrot, Tango
9pm - 11pm
Location: PED South Gym (2nd floor)
Open Practice
Friday: 7pm - 9pm PED Basement