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English Waltz

Probably there is no man who hasn't heard the word "waltz" at least once in his lifetime. And surely there is noone who makes wrong associations with it. The Waltz is full of swing movements, elegance and peace...

English Waltz - a short history of the dance

English Waltz
English Waltz

Timing: 3/4.
Beat: 28-30 measures per minute.
Count: "1 - 2 - 3" (with an accent on "1").
Danced competitively since: 1923-1924.

It originated from the dances of several different peoples in Europe but its main predecessors were the "Matenick" and a variation called the "Furiant" that were performed during rural festivals in the Czech Republic. The French dance, the "Walt", and the Austrian "Lindler" are the most similar to the waltz among its predecessors.

The king of dances acquired different national traits in different countries. Thus there appeared the English Waltz, the Hungarian Waltz, and the Waltz-Mazurka.

The "Waltz" is derived from the old German word "walzen" meaning "to roll, turn", or "to glide". Nowadays the dance has three main forms:

  • The Ballroom waltz (a slow dance with measured steps that moves around the room in a controlled fashion with lots of figures)
  • The Viennese Waltz (a fast dance with lots of turning, the feet positions are based on ballet though for a correct Viennese Waltz);
  • The Folk Waltz (what most people know as waltz, and can be done to various speeds of music).

The Waltz was born out of dances such as the Weller, the Contradanse and the Volta. These three dances were popular in the 16th century and were danced as folk dances. The Volta even involved physically lifting the lady off her feet with the gentleman's thigh in order to turn her!

The first waltz as we would recognise it came out of the suburbs of Vienna in the early 17th century, and were played in the ballrooms of the Hapsburg court. It was still danced with an open hold though.

However popular the waltz, opposition was not lacking. Dancing masters saw the waltz as a threat to the profession. The basic steps of the waltz could be learned in relatively short time, whereas, the minuet and other court dances required considerable practice, not only to learn the many complex figures, but also to develop suitable postures and deportment.

During the 18th century, the allemande form of the waltz became very popular in France. Originally danced as one of the figures in the contredanse, with arms inter-twining at the shoulder level, it soon evolved into an independent dance and the close-hold position was introduced. This was the first time that the close hold or ballroom hold was used in a dance, and it was utterly scandalous that such a thing as the gent placing his hand around the ladies waist should be allowed.

The waltz was also criticized on moral grounds by those opposed to its close hold and rapid turning movements. Religious leaders almost unanimously regarded it as vulgar and sinful. In July of 1816, the waltz was played at a Ball given in London by the Prince Regent and a blistering editorial in The Times a few days later stated:

"We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last ... it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion."

Even as late as 1866 an article in the English magazine Belgravia stated:

"We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment - the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music - can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance."

A lot of the disapproval was voiced by the older generation, but seldom mentioned is the fact the reigning Queen (Victoria) was a keen and expert ballroom dancer with a special love of the waltz!

Antagonism, of course, only served to increase the popularity of the dance all over Europe. In Paris alone there were nearly seven hundred dance halls.

The first documented time the waltz was danced in the United States was in Boston in 1834. Lorenzo Papanti, a Boston dancing master, gave an exhibition, and was roundly condemned. (The slower style he demonstrated became known as The Boston and though it eventually faded away, it did stimulate the development of the Slow Waltz.) But by the middle of the nineteenth century, the waltz was firmly established in US society.

Fortunately, violent opposition eventually faded out and the Waltz emerges today in three main forms, all reflecting different characteristics and evolution of the dance.

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