Never having been a dancer in any sense of the word, being asked to write a piece on the etymology of dance names initially left me scratching my head. The telephone call came about following the success of a certain BBC dancing competition in its early years, a reality show I admit I had never seen (and still have not), while my knowledge of dance terminology starts and ends with 'step'.
Of course some terms are obvious, for example barndance is still clearly a dance genre developed at a time when the barn was probably the only building large enough to hold the dance. Other names and associated terminology follows in alphabetical order:
arabesque - as the name suggests 'in the Arabic style' from Italian arabesco.
bebop - from the musical style, itself imitative of its two-beat time.
beguine - a name of French origin understood as 'flirtation'.
bolero - a Spanish term bola meaning 'ball'.
bossa nova - is Portuguese for 'new voice'.
charleston - a dance named after Charleston in South Carolina.
cotillion - a formal dance which is named from the Old French for 'petticoat'.
flamenco - named from the Spanish for 'native of Flanders'.
foxtrot - the succession of slow and quick steps is said to resemble the start/start movements of the ubiquitous mammal.
galliard - is an Old French word meaning 'strength, power', possibly named for its gusto when compared with contemporary sixteenth and seventeenth century dances.
gavotte - named from the Gavot inhabitants of the Alps where the dance originated, itself meaning 'mountaineer'.
landler - is an Austrian dance which originated in the region of Landl, the name being the Anglicised version of the place.
mambo - a name which was taken from Haitian Creole for a voodoo priestess, which seems to be a simple loan word and has no connection with dance.
mazurka - this Polish dance takes its name from the French form of mazurek, a native or inhabitant of Mazovia province.
minuet - an Old French menuet meaning 'small, dainty'.
morris - an English country dance which has its origins in Middle English Moreys 'Moorish' and telling of its origins in North Africa and/or Spain.
one-step - describes the nature of the dance.
paso doble - as with the previous name describes the 'two step' this time in Spanish.
paul jones - from John Paul Jones, a Scots-born US naval hero who died in Paris!
pirouette - to spin on the ball of the foot in ballet, this comes from French pirouet 'a spinning top'.
polka - comes from Czech pulka means 'half step' and describes the skip following the three steps of the dance.
polonaise - is a French word from Medieval Latin Polonia, meaning Poland.
quadrille - is a dance for a minimum of four people and comes from Latin quadra or Spanish cuadra 'square'.
quickstep - is the perfect description of the fast-paced ballroom dance.
rigadoon - is a lively dance said to have been devised by and named after one Monsieur Rigaud, a dancing master from Marseille.
rumba - is a ballroom dance originating among the black culture of Cuba. This is either American Spanish rumbo 'carousel' or European Spanish rumbo 'pomp'.
saltarello - from the Latin saltare 'to leap'.
strathspey - is a lively Scottish reel named after the place name meaning 'the valley of the Spey'.
tango - logically the name is derived from the same place as the dance, a Spanish pronunciation of an Afro-American drum dance brought from somewhere in the Niger-Congo vicinity.
tarantella - a lively whirling dance from southern Italy which was devised as a remedy for tarantism. This condition, so rife in southern Italy from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries it was considered an epidemic, was thought to be a result of a bite from the tarantula, itself characterised by an uncontrollable urge to dance. Hence this is a dance created to alleviate an uncontrollable urge to dance!
turkey trot - the springing walk and up and down shoulder movement is said to be imitative of the turkey.
volta - a dance named from the Italian 'to turn'.
waltz - a Germanic word which can be traced to Middle High German walzen and Old High German walzan both meaning 'to roll'.