by Yuriy Nartov
International Standard is perhaps the oldest form of partner dancing that is still widely danced around the world today, and it’s still growing in popularity. In the beginning, Standard dancing was a way to liberate society from the strict etiquette restricting societal interactions between men and women.
Today it looks like something out of a renaissance fair or a glimpse into a fairy tale. To an outsider, the costume, hair, and make-up aesthetics of ballroom dancing may appear to be some cross between an Elizabethan masquerade ball and RuPaul’s Drag Race. However, to a seasoned aficionado, it’s a precious space to escape from the mundane aspects of everyday life, and achieve unity with music and dance partner.
To understand a bit of history behind International Standard, we must to travel back in time to the 1920’s Blackpool Dance Festival. The festival hosted both stage performances and single dance competitions, which included Foxtrot, Tango, and Waltz. People traveled from all over Europe and the rest of the world to perform at Blackpool. It was paused for the duration of the World War II, but resumed again in 1945. Today, Blackpool remains the oldest running international ballroom dance competition held annually, and is considered the mecca of ballroom dancing due to its rich history and continued popularity.
The social and competitive aspects of Standard have been ingrained in its nature since its beginnings. Though it originated from a simple wish to interact in a rigid society, it quickly transformed into a popular British pastime. By 1936, Alex Moore had written the first technique book that outlined the correct directions and positions of all the popular steps danced at the time. Moore’s book came to be known as the Bible of ballroom dancing. Solidifying the dance technique allowed teachers to have a unified understanding and a common language to further develop Standard styles.
Through the Years
Legendary dancers such as Bill and Bobby Irvine, Peter Eggleton, and Linda Windsland pushed the boundaries of ballroom – and popularized it – throughout the 1960’s by competing vigorously for many world titles. Bill and Bobby were a relatively short but energetic couple, always inspiring people with their charisma and clarity. Peter Eggleton and Linda Windsland’s strengths were their elegance and smoothness on the dance floor. Besides being exquisite dancers themselves, they also taught and inspired the next generations.
Upon leaving the continent, International Style Standard became known as American Style Smooth in the USA and adopted a Fred Astaire feel. It blended with the fluidity of contemporary American dance and the freedoms of Broadway. Smooth uniquely allowed side-by-side portions for more individual expression by the dancers. Although Smooth and Standard share Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot, and Viennese Waltz, the styles are starkly different at the professional level. Where in Standard the hold is maintained from the beginning to the end of the dance, in Smooth both closed and side-by-side positions are allowed.
Despite the immense popularity of American Smooth, International Standard continues to inspire dancers with its intimacy and drive for precision. How can two people confined to a frame move effortlessly across the floor? That mystery remains deeply personal, and is the driving question behind the beauty of Standard.
Yuriy Nartov started dancing in Moscow, Russia when he was 7. He turned professional in 2014 and competed nationally and internationally, becoming a US Rising Star Finalist and a Rising Star Blackpool quarter-finalist in 2017. Yuriy currently teaches in New York City.