What is the Viennese Waltz?
The Viennese Waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances still practiced today. Originally a folk dance in rural Austria and Germany, it’s a fast, vibrant and sometimes dizzying dance that requires quick but smooth and elegant turns. The Viennese Waltz remains a popular choice for dance competitions and ballroom dance scenes in the movies.
History of the Viennese Waltz
True to its name, the Viennese Waltz can trace its lineage directly back to German and Austrian rural folk dances, especially the Austrian Landler. (Keen musical fans will remember the Landler as the dance that the Captain and Maria had performed — albeit briefly — in a scene in the film, “The Sound of Music.”) In the Viennese Waltz, as in its predecessors, couples did not dance in the closed position but either in a semi-closed (i.e., similar to the closed position but rather than facing each other directly, they danced at a sort of diagonal to each other) or side by side. In addition, the original Viennese Waltz saw couples dancing in a circular formation around the dance floor, rather than independently, as they do now. You can often see this more formal, synchronized waltz on period films that feature ballroom dance scenes.
The Viennese Waltz evolved as renowned composers such as Johann Strauss began to create music specifically for the dance. It soon swept the social scene throughout the empire, reaching England by 1812. By the interwar years of the 20th century, it had lost some of its luster, but it soon regained its popularity and is now considered one of the most beloved and well-known ballroom dances in the world.
How to Dance the Viennese Waltz/Basic Steps
The Viennese Waltz moves at a faster tempo than the slow waltz and thus requires a little more practice. Take the following into consideration as you begin learning how to dance the Viennese Waltz:
- The Viennese Waltz is typically done on 3/4 time, at about 120-180 beats per minute. If you’d like, start with music at a slower beat and gradually move up to a quicker tempo as you gain more confidence.
- Since the Viennese Waltz does move at a faster tempo, try listening to a few standard waltz musical compositions before attempting to learn the steps. Familiarize yourself with the rhythm so that you’ll at least know what the beats will be like once you hit the dance floor.
- Don’t be fooled into thinking that the Viennese Waltz is a simple dance because of its relatively few number of basic steps! The faster tempo means lots of quick changes and turns, so be prepared to practice, sweat and maybe even get a little dizzy!
The following are the instructions for the first step of the Natural Turn, a basic turn in the Viennese Waltz, for the leading partner:
- Start with your feet in closed position.
- Step forward and to the right slightly with your right foot, rotating it about 90 degrees.
- Step forward with left foot and rotate about 180 degrees on your right foot, landing toe first with your left foot.
- Close your right foot with your left foot. You should be back in the closed position but facing the opposite direction from where you began.
Great Viennese Waltz Music
“Kiss from a Rose,” Seal
“The Blue Danube,” Johann Strauss II
“Have You Ever Really Loved a Woman?” Bryan Adams
“Charade,” Andy Williams
“Lara’s Theme” (Love theme from “Dr. Zhivago”)
Viennese Waltz in the Movies
“Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944)
“Beauty and the Beast” (1991)
“Shall We Dance” (2004)