From The Waltz To The Jitterbug: How Classic Dances Got Their Names


As you may suspect, the term “ballroom dancing” originates with the word “ball.” But what you may not know is that “ball” comes from the Latin word ballare, which means “to dance.” So what about all those dances performed in the ballroom? How did they get their names?

The waltz

The waltz is now considered a harmless, traditional type of ballroom dancing. But in 1825, it was described as “riotous and indecent.” It comes from the German word walzen, which means “to roll, dance.”

The cha-cha

The cha-cha is of Cuban origin. The name of the dance is onomatopoeic. It derives from the rhythm created by a percussion instrument called the güiro and the shuffling of the dancers’ feet. (The güiro is made from a hollow gourd. It’s played by rubbing a wooden stick called a pua along parallel notches that are cut into one side of the gourd.)

The jitterbug

The tern jitterbug is used to refer to different swing dances, such as the jive and the lindy hop. It comes from slang used in the early twentieth century to describe alcoholics. The term became associated with swing dancers because, like the jitters of alcoholics, they were seen to be out of control. The term was popularized with jazz bandleader and singer Cab Calloway’s song “Call of the Jitter Bug.”

Any other dances you’d like to know about? Let us know.

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