History of Waltz

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History of the Waltz

This was excerpted from Let's Dance by Paul Bottomer

     "The Waltz is one of the favorite standard dances of all time.  Whether starting a new relationship with the evening's last dance or celebrating a wedding, the Waltz remains the only dance whose innate romance links it inextricably with life's happier moments.

     When we look back at the origins or the Waltz, we discover a dance that has adapted in a remarkable way to changing fashions over the course of its history, a history that has spanned two centuries.  The dance that came to symbolize romance started life toward the end of the 18th century as an Austro-German folk dance called the Lšndler.  It was characterized by the rotary gyrations of men and women dancing together as partners.  In the early years of the 19th century, the Waltz took the controversial step of adopting a hold in which the man's right hand was placed around the lady's waist.  The great debate concerning the dubious morality of the Waltz continued until the Russian Czar, Alexander, gave the dance the royal seal of approval when he was observed openly dancing and enjoying the Waltz in public.  The enormous popularity of the Viennese Waltzes composed and played by the Strauss family through the latter half of the 19the century ensured that, by the century's end, the Waltz had reached the pinnacle of popularity.

     By the time of the First World War, a new generation of dancers was looking for a more natural, less stylized way of dancing the Waltz.  A revolution in the Waltz style had started to take place with the advent of another dance called the Boston, in which the dancers employed a "modern" closer hold, danced hip to hip and at a more leisurely pace.  Although the Boston had virtually disappeared by the outbreak of the War, it was one of the influences on the new-style Waltz.

     In 1914 the craze for the Foxtrot spread from America all over Europe, overshadowing the Waltz, which was still perceived to have Germanic associations.  (Editor's note: The Foxtrot was the origin of the current day 2 Step.)

     In 1921, with the Waltz all but extinct, The Dancing Times called a conference of dance teachers in London to discuss the pressing issues of the day.  One of these was the decline in popularity of the Waltz during the war and the confusion arising out of the lack of standard technique.  From this conference came the standard "Walk-Side-Close" technique danced today (in ballroom), which characterizes the modern Waltz.  Because these fundamental developments took place in England, the Standard Waltz is sometimes known as the English Waltz.  With its newer, more natural feel, the dance soon re-established itself as one of the most popular social dances in the ballroom and became one of the best loved "standard" international dances.

     Based on the techniques defined during the 1920s and cultivated through the 1930s, the Waltz has continued to develop through the 20th century, giving rise to an astonishing variety of graceful figures and combinations for the enjoyment of those who dance it." 

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Most ballroom style dancers zig-zag around the floor.  Country and Western style dancers have followed the guides of another school, which recommends dancing the Waltz in a straight line.  The zig-zag is still there in many patterns (i.e. "spirals"), but the Waltz in Country-and-Western dancing is often referred to as "progressive" meaning that it continually moves forward.

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One of the defining characteristics of the Waltz is "rise-and-fall".  "Rise and fall is the elevation and lowering that the dancer feels as he or she moves onto the toes of a foot and then relaxes through the knee, ankle and toes to end on a flat foot.  In reality, rise and fall is a by-product of the natural swing of the Waltz."