Partner dances are dances whose basic choreography involves coordinated dancing of two partners, as opposed to individuals dancing alone or individually in a non-coordinated manner, and as opposed to groups of people dancing simultaneously in a coordinated manner.
German dance history
In 1023, the German poet Ruodlieb referred to a couple dance with a basic motif of a boy wooing a girl, and the girl repulsing his advances. Men and women dancing as couples, both holding one hand of their partner, and "embracing" each other, can be seen in illustrations from 15th-century Germany.
At the end of the 13th century and during the 14th century, nobles and wealthy patricians danced as couples in procession in a slow dignified manner in a circle. Farmers and lower classes of society danced turning in a lively, springing fashion. The relatively new burgher middle class combined the dances with the processional as a "fore dance", and the turning as an "after dance".
Danse de Paysans' (Peasant's Dance) by Théodore de Bry (1528–1598) shows a couple with a man lifting his partner off the ground, and the man pulling the woman towards him while holding her closely with both arms. His Danse de Seigneurs et Dames (Dance of the Lords and Ladies) features one Lord with his arms around the waist of his Lady.
An old couple dance which can be found all over Northern Europe is known as "Manchester" or "Lott is Dead". In Bavaria words to the music include "One, two, three and one is four, Dianderl lifts up her skirt And shows me her knees", and in Bavaria one verse invites the girl to leave her bedroom window open to allow a visit from her partner.
Dance partners stay together for the duration of the dance and, most often, dance independently of other couples dancing at the same time, if any.
Partner dance may be a basis of a formation dance, a round dance, a square dance or a sequence dance. These are kinds of group dance where the dancers form couples and dance either the same choreographed or called routines or routines within a common choreography—routines that control both how each couple dances together and how each couple moves in accord with other couples. In square dance one will often change partners during the course of a dance, in which case one distinguishes between the "original partner" and a "situational partner".
Leader and follower
In most partner dances, one, typically a man, is the leader; the other, typically a woman, is the follower. As a rule, they maintain connection with each other. In some dances the connection is loose and called dance handhold. In other dances the connection involves body contact. In the latter case the connection imposes significant restrictions on relative body positions during the dance and hence it is often called dance frame. It is also said that each partner has his own dance frame. Although the handhold connection poses almost no restriction on body positions, it is quite helpful that the partners are aware of their dance frames, since this is instrumental in leading and following.
In promenade-style partner dancing there is no leader or follower, and the couple dance side-by-side maintaining a connection with each other through a promenade handhold. The man dances traditionally to the left of the woman.
Some peoples have folk partner dances, where partners do not have any body contact at all, but there is still a kind of "call-response" interaction.
A popular form of partner dancing is slow dance.
History of same-sex partner dancing
Generally, partner dance has taken place between a man and a woman. From the 1800s-1950s, however, if there was not a sufficient number partners of the opposite sex available, couples formed into pairs of the same-sex. At the time, same-sex partnering had nothing to do with sexual orientation. It was acceptable ballroom etiquette for a woman to dance with her sisters and/or friends if there were no available men.
Sometimes this is also done as part of a dance tradition. In traditional partner dances done within certain conservative cultures, such as in traditional Uyghur partner dance, dancing is often done with the same sex as a matter of respect for the conservative culture.
Social clubs have more recently been formed by the LGBT community involving social dancing between members of the same-sex, in a similar manner to traditional social partner dance involving members of opposite sexes. Partnerships of the same-sex may not necessarily describe sexual orientation as many straight individuals still partner up with members of the same-sex. It is rarer today, however, for same-sex partners to be able to dance without the assumption that they are gay.
At Modern Jive and West Coast Swing events, females will regularly partner each other. Men dancing with each other is also common, though less frequent, but is not just done for the "comedy value" as men may equally enjoy the role of follower.
Typically, in ballroom competitions today, same-sex partnerships are allowed up to the silver level (the third level in competition, after newcomer and bronze). However, these are comparatively rare.
It is thought that some partner dances actually developed with more relaxed gender roles. Prior to adoption by the mainstream, these dances did not actually normalize the man-lead/woman-follow paradigm.
Double partner dancing
This kind of dance involves dancing of three persons together: one man with two women or one woman with two men. In social dancing, double partnering is best known during times when a significant demographic disproportion happens between the two sexes. For example, this happens during wars: in the army there is a lack of women, while among civilians able dancers are mostly women.
There are a number of folk dances that feature this setup. Among these are the Russian Troika and the Polish Trojak folk dances, where a man dances with two or more women. A Cajun dance with the name Troika is also known.
- Folk Dance of Europe. Nigel Allenby Jaffé. 1990. Folk Dance Enterprises. pages 148, 149. ISBN 0-946247-14-5
- Folk Dance of Europe. Nigel Allenby Jaffé. 1990. Folk Dance Enterprises. pages 155, 156. ISBN 0-946247-14-5
- Folk Dance of Europe. Nigel Allenby Jaffé. 1990. Folk Dance Enterprises. page 150. ISBN 0-946247-14-5
- Folk Dance of Europe. Nigel Allenby Jaffé. 1990. Folk Dance Enterprises. page 166. ISBN 0-946247-14-5
- Folk Dance of Europe. Nigel Allenby Jaffé. 1990. Folk Dance Enterprises. page 163, 164. ISBN 0-946247-14-5
- International DanceSport Federation
- World Dance Council
- International Professional DanceSport Council