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What is a Waltz?

The waltz was introduced in Vienna, Austria in the seventeenth century.
A waltz features three steps per measure.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 23 September 2014
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The waltz most often refers to a dance, usually performed in 3/4 time, that features three steps per measure, has partners in a closed stance holding onto each other, and has beautiful turns and swirls. It is considered in present day as an elegant dance that evokes an old-fashioned past. This is much in contrast to the way the dance was first perceived when it was introduced in Vienna, Austria in the seventeenth century.

It’s important to understand that the waltz, when first introduced, wasn’t danced in the closed hold. Dancing masters still hated it; the steps were too easy to learn and the swirls and turns thought indecent. Nevertheless, and as history has often proven, popularity of the dance grew, perhaps from the controversy. It morphed from a simple country dance to a dance performed in the upper class circles of not only Austria, but then also in France and England. When the closed hold was introduced in the 1700s, clerics, dancing masters and others raged about the indecency of couples embracing each other on the dance floor, and in some cases, only married women were allowed to perform the dance. This did not check those who loved the steps, the 3/4 time, and the turns and whirls of the lilting music.

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The waltz was imported to the US, where it became popular fare. History on the dance suggest the first waltzes were likely danced in Boston in 1834, as part of an exhibition by dancing master, Lorenzo Papanti. Even though some still foamed at the mouth over the moral decay the waltz seemed to represent, this only popularized the dance, and many wanted to learn it. Two distinct forms of the dance emerged; Quick waltzes, where each beat corresponded with a step of the foot, and the Hesitation form, where a step took up an entire three beats or measure. In modern forms of the waltz, both steps are used.

There are several forms of waltz today, that are judged separately in ballroom dance competitions. Viennese Waltzes are quick dances, with most beats corresponding to steps taken by dancers. Slow waltzes, now simply called waltzes in most international dancing competitions are smooth, slower dances, with many more hesitation steps. The latter has something of a ballet quality to it, and many couples like to learn this dance to perform as the first dance of their wedding. You’ll note the Viennese style is much more lively, and both dances have very strict requirements when they’re performed in competition.

As popularity of the dance grew, many composers began to write music specifically for the dance. Some very popular and classic waltz pieces include the “Minute Waltz” by Frederic Chopin, and “The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss. However, you don’t need classic music to perform the dance. Any music, particularly that composed in 6/8 or 3/4 time can be adapted for either form of the dance.

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