What is the Waltz?
The waltz is one of the oldest and most popular ballroom dance styles in the world. Originating among the rural peasant communities of continental Europe, it soon made its way to proper society despite its reputation as an “immoral” dance simply because the dance required the man to put his arm around the woman’s waist. Of course, it has long since lost its veneer of scandal, but even today the waltz remains an intimate, elegant dance that’s easy to learn and master.
History of the Waltz
Contrary to what one might assume from its reputation as an elegant ballroom dance, the waltz’s genesis is wrapped in scandal and controversy. In its early years in the 1700s, the waltz was largely a rural tradition among European peasantry, particularly in the Bavarian region, who had no qualms about touching their partners during their festivities. Proper society, however, looked askance upon this intimate, closed position, with the man holding the woman around the waist with his hand, and stuck with the classic minuet and allemande dances.
Eventually, as with many trends that begin among the lower-classes, the waltz made its way into the formal halls and ballrooms of upper-crust Germany and, especially, Austria. Its boisterous, energetic moves were smoothed and polished to fit the more sedate atmosphere of the ballrooms of the day, although it retained much of its “shock value” for many of the more conservative members of society.
The Viennese waltz was introduced in the late 18th century, harkening back to the waltz’s origins as a lively, vigorous dance. Over time variations of the waltz made their way across the Continent and over the Channel to England, then on to America in the early to mid-19th century. Slower versions of the waltz took the New World by storm, and by the late 19th century it had become one of the most popular dances in the country. Today, the waltz remains one of the most recognizable dance styles in the world and continues to be a mainstay at weddings, formal events and dance competitions.
How to Dance the Waltz/Basic Steps
One of the most distinctive aspects of the waltz is the frequent rise and fall during the dance. All of this requires a relaxed body and upright posture, with the shoulders parallel to the floor and the partners facing each other but slightly off-center so that they are each looking over the other’s shoulder. Some things to keep in mind as you learn the waltz:
- Proper waltz music is usually in 3/4 meter, with an average of about 28-30 measures per minute.
- Two waltz styles predominate: the International Style and the American Style. The International Style retains the original closed position, while the American Style allows for both closed and open positions.
- Partners should face each other during the dance as they move forward or backward, but their heads should follow the direction of turns.
The following is the basic box step for the leading partner in a waltz:
- Start in the closed position, i.e., your feet close together.
- On the 1st beat, step forward with your left foot.
- On the 2nd beat, slide your right foot forward and to the right. Your foot should have made a right-angle movement, like an upside-down L.
- On the 3rd beat, slide your left foot to close with your right.
- On the 4th beat, step back with your right foot.
- On the 5th beat, slide back and to the left with your left foot.
- On the 6th and final beat, slide your right foot to close with your left foot.
Great Waltz Songs
“Moon River” – Henry Mancini Orchestra
“Fascination” – Nat King Cole
“Could I Have This Dance” – Anne Murray
“Around the World” – Nat King Cole
“The Blue Danube” – Johann Strauss
“The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66” – Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Waltzing in the Movies
“Swing Time” (1936)
“An American in Paris” (1951)
“My Fair Lady” (1964)
“Shall We Dance” (2004)