The Foxtrot is a
ballroom dance named after the vaudeville actor, Harry
Fox. According to dance legend, he had difficulty
finding partners to perform the two-step. This caused
him to add stagger steps, or trots to the dance,
creating the basic Foxtrot rhythm. In 1914, this dance
premiered and quickly became popular. It was
standardized by Arthur Murray, who tended to use
positions in imitation of the American Tango.
Ragtime music was popular when the Foxtrot was created,
but as time went on, it began to be danced to big band
music in the same way as swing. This practice continues
today. Over time, fast and slow versions of the dance
evolved. In the International Standard of ballroom
dance, the Foxtrot is called the Slow Foxtrot, and the
faster version is the Quickstep.
Ballroom dance has evolved in different directions in
America and Europe. The International Standard is
primarily of European origin, and uses those
conventions. The International style has more of an
English form, with more emphasis on hold, foot positions
and steps. In the American style, the lady is often held
at a slightly greater distance from the male partner.
The division of the two styles for Foxtrot occurred
mostly in the 1930s. The American Smooth guidelines for
ballroom dance also do not include Quickstep as a
separate dance. This style is believed to have been
created to allow social dancers to more easily pick up
American Foxtrot includes mostly closing and continuity
passing figures. In general, the steps and figures are
more limited in the American style, to help with social
dancing. It is still, however, danced competitively.
Many American style Foxtrot figures can be traced back
to Ginger Rogers’ and Fred Astaire’s choreographic
sequences from movies. These were more of an influence
on the American style than the International style. At
that time, however, International style was still
referred to as English, since much of the development
was occurring in that country. It did not become called
International Standard until the 1950s. Recently, the
two styles have been converging. Although they developed
almost in isolation from one another, increased
communication has allowed the groups to borrow from one
The American style of Foxtrot is often considered more
open and creative. This is in part due to its
improvisational influence from movie choreography, and
in part due to the fact that the then English style was
being taught by an existing dance establishment.
International Standard style Foxtrot tends to stay in a
closed position, whereas the American Smooth style
couples will open and separate the couple as well. Many
American dancers study the International style when
interested in improving their closed frame steps. Many
International dancers have borrowed open elements for
their routines in shows.
American Foxtrot is danced somewhat more quickly than
the International Slow Foxtrot, perhaps because American
Smooth has no separate fast version of the dance.
Whether or not the feet close at the end of a basic step
changes in the American style depending on the level of
the competition. In general, closing figures in the
American style use slow-slow-quick-quick timing, which
is the most identified with the Foxtrot. Other figures
can include passing figures using slow-quick-quick
timing and grapevine steps in which the timing is all
quick. In the International style, the footwork for the
Foxtrot is generally open, regardless of the level at
which the dance is being done.
The American style, being somewhat simpler, is more
popular with social dances than the International
Standard. However, both styles are done socially. The
major chain dance studios and most independent studios
teach primarily American Smooth style. The International
style is found mostly at University clubs in the United
States. Outside of the U.S., it is rare to see American
style performed in either setting.
In general, the Foxtrot is the same dance between the
styles, especially as the American and International
style dancers continue to borrow from one another.
However, it is important to know the details of each
style if you are to dance it, whether socially or
competitively. There are enough small differences to
trip up a dancer who is not familiar with them.
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