The Foxtrot burst onto the national dance scene in the early 20th century. It appeared during a frenzy of animal-inspired partner dances including the Turkey Trot, the Bunny Hug, and the Grizzly Bear. Vaudeville performer Harry Fox, inspired by the buoyant rhythms of ragtime, introduced his own interpretation of these dances, which was dubbed the Foxtrot. The premiere ballroom dancing couple of the time, Vernon and Irene Castle, refined Fox's raw movements into the cool, elegant dance of today.
The Foxtrot received national acclaim when the Castles performed it in Irving Berlin's first Broadway show, Watch Your Step. Theatergoers were awed by the Castles' extraordinary grace and how they seemingly floated across the floor. A national trend was born, and dance teachers everywhere rushed to codify the Foxtrot.
The next several decades gave rise to two distinct interpretations of the Foxtrot. The first style highlighted a brisk rhythm while the second favored a more legato approach. Ultimately, these two versions remained unreconciled, and the faster tempo Foxtrot was rechristened as the Quickstep.
Two styles of Foxtrot are currently taught and performed throughout the world. The American Foxtrot presents small, lively steps designed to navigate a crowded social dance floor. The International style, mostly used in ballroom competitions, features slower, longer paces. Both the American and International versions of Foxtrot emphasize fluidity, sophistication, and musicality.
Music is an important component of the Foxtrot. As befits its ragtime roots, most Foxtrot music displays a swinging rhythm and an easy-to-hear downbeat. Well-known Big Band favorites such as "Pennsylvania 6-5000" and "Begin the Beguine" are popular Foxtrots. Mid-century jazz artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Vic Damone released a plethora of Foxtrot-influenced music, which continues to inspire the dancers of today. Current singers such as Harry Connick Jr. and Michael Buble keep Foxtrot music alive by imprinting their own personal signature on classic standards.
Foxtrot is a popular staple in many notable Hollywood films.
Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the quintessential silver screen couple, performed exemplary interpretations of the Foxtrot such as "Cheek to Cheek" in Top Hat and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" in Roberta. Highly stylized with intricate choreography, Astaire and Rogers display an insouciant aplomb that continues to rivet viewers today.
In The Wedding Planner, Matthew McConnaughey and Jennifer Lopez demonstrate a nonchalant approach to the Foxtrot. While lacking an extensive repertory of steps, McConnaughey and Lopez highlight a strong dance frame (the position of the arms in relation to a partner) and casual confidence. They offer a picture of how two untrained but nimble individuals can dance the Foxtrot well.
"Dirty Dancing", one of the most popular movies of the eighties, features Foxtrot in its background dancing scenes. The Foxtrot depicted in these shots is textbook perfect American social style; couples utilize correct timing and display solid fundamentals such as skillful poise and slick technique.
Foxtrot, with its emphasis on impeccable form and understated dance patterns, can seem out of step with today's flashy dance styles; however, the Foxtrot continues to capture the public's imagination.
Dancing with the Stars, a popular ballroom dancing show pairing celebrities with champions, often features the Foxtrot. The choreography layers standard syllabus steps with exciting twists, dips, and twirls. Many watching at home get inspired to visit a local dance studio to learn the Foxtrot.
So You Think You Can Dance, a ratings juggernaut, demonstrates the timeless appeal of the Foxtrot. Dancers from a variety of movement disciplines such as ballet and hip hop attempt styles out of their comfort zone each week. Ballroom dancing appears regularly, and several dancers per season cycle through the Foxtrot. Witnessing the Foxtrot performed by non-ballroom dancers illuminates the skill and knowledge necessary to execute a graceful interpretation. When done well, the studio audience and judges respond enthusiastically.
It is safe to say that the Foxtrot will continue to be a popular dance enjoyed by people of all ages.