Foxtrot Dance Styles

 International Meets American


By Andy Morkan


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 dances.

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 another.

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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