Viennese Waltz (German: Wiener Walzer) is the genre of a ballroom dance. At least three different meanings are recognized. In the historically first sense, the name may refer to several versions of the waltz, including the earliest waltzes done in ballroom dancing, danced to the music of Viennese Waltz.
What is now called the Viennese waltz is the original form of the waltz. It was the first ballroom dance performed in the closed hold or "waltz" position. The dance that is popularly known as the waltz is actually the English or slow waltz, danced at approximately 90 beats per minute with 3 beats to the bar (the international standard of 30 measures per minute), while the Viennese Waltz is danced at about 180 beats (58-60 measures) a minute. To this day however, in Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, and France, the words Walzer (German for "waltz"), vals (Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish for "waltz"), and valse (French for "waltz") still implicitly refer to the original dance and not the slow waltz.
The Viennese Waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward their right (natural) or toward their left (reverse), interspersed with non-rotating change steps to switch between the direction of rotation. A true Viennese waltz consists only of turns and change steps. Other moves such as the fleckerls, American-style figures and side sway or underarm turns are modern inventions and are not normally danced at the annual balls in Vienna. Furthermore, in a properly danced Viennese Waltz, couples do not pass, but turn continuously left and right while travelling counterclockwise around the floor following each other.
As the Waltz evolved, some of the versions that were done at about the original fast tempo came to be called specifically "Viennese Waltz" to distinguish them from the slower waltzes. In the modern ballroom dance, two versions of Viennese Waltz are recognized: International Style and American Style.
Music in 3/4 time goes back at least as far as "Das Lied vom lieben Augustin", written in 1679. The Viennese Waltz dates from the 1700's. It got to England after the War of 1812. In 1814 the Viennese Waltz was credited with helping to put the ambassadors to the Congress of Vienna in the frame of mind to amicably settle the mess left after Napoleon's first retirement. It is still popular in Vienna. They have about 150 public balls listed in the ball calendar in the first three months of each year, with some balls having attendance up to 5000, in a city of only 1.5 million. There are more than 300 balls if you include ones not listed in the published calendar. These are not predominantly Viennese Waltz balls, but most have a fair amount of Viennese Waltz. See the separate article at this web site about the balls in Vienna.
What is it like to do the Viennese Waltz? In 1774 Goethe wrote a possibly autobiographical novel, "The Sorrows of Young Werther", which describes a dance attended by country folk at a lodge in the country side. The dance was in fact popular with such common folk before it was taken up by high society. At the dance young Werther dances with a beautiful young lady who is an exceptionally good dancer. The Encyclopedia Britannica's article on dance history quotes the description he gives of what it is like to do the Viennese Waltz: "Never have I moved so lightly. I was no longer a human being. To hold the most adorable creature in one's arms and fly around with her like the wind, so that everything around us fades away." Everything around you and your partner fades away because the rest of the world is whirling relative to you, but your partner is not. You no longer feel like a human being because of the wonderful sensation of flight that can occur in a well executed Viennese Waltz. Werther made the point that this particular young lady was an exceptionally good dancer, which explains why this particular dance was so remarkable. And in young Werther's case, being a romantically inclined young man with a beautiful young lady in his arms no doubt helped, too.
The Viennese Waltz can be beautiful to watch, but it is even more beautiful to dance. Different kinds of dance evoke different feelings in the dancer just like different kinds of music evoke different feelings in the listener. The famous Viennese Waltz music such as the Blue Danube was written after the dance became popular, and the music expresses the feeling of the dance as experienced by the dancers themselves. Attending a Viennese Waltz Ball can be as clean, wholesome and uplifting an experience for the dancer as attending a beautiful church on Sunday morning is for the devout. A really good Viennese Waltz ball has a magical air about it, a magic that shows in many of the ladies' faces. No other social dance that is within the reach of ordinary people makes one feel so good about oneself and one's partner as the Viennese Waltz. Perhaps that is why it seems so appropriate to dress up for the event.
When danced athletically with large steps the Viennese Waltz has been compared with downhill skiing. Because the world is whirling around you as you dance, it seems like you are going 50 miles per hour, even though you are moving at the speed of a brisk walk. When danced gently with small steps it feels like a pelican looks when he glides through the air low above the water. Sadly, both skiers and pelicans have to do their thing alone; dancing is a shared experience, much more so than sitting side by side in a roller coaster ride. The steps of the Viennese Waltz can be done alone or with a partner; it is incomparably more enjoyable to do with a partner, and does not take on the quality of flight without a partner. It is the best social dance ever invented, and probably the hardest to learn to do well. Merely swinging a club does not make you a real golfer; the fine points make all the difference. The Viennese Waltz is like this too.
The Viennese Waltz as danced in Vienna and most of Europe has almost no variety. Only the natural turn, rotating to the right, the reverse turn, rotating to the left, and the change figures to change the direction of rotation. Partisans of other forms of dance are totally mystified about how so many people could like a dance with so little variety. People ski for thrills, and play golf apparently to scratch an itch for perfection. Neither has a lot of variety. The attraction of the Viennese Waltz is based on both thrills and perfection. A golf pro might give a beginner a score of 5% on his swing when he first learns to hit the ball. It is so difficult to learn to do the steps of the Viennese Waltz in time to the music that most beginners assume they know the dance when they achieve this milestone. In fact, just barely dancing with a partner in time to the music rates one a score of about 5% in the Viennese Waltz. The instructions given later in an appendix tell you how to be much better than a 5% dancer.
It is easy to illustrate the importance of the fine points of hold and footwork taught in instructional tapes and books. If a couple is doing everything right then the dance will have a nimble maneuverability and effortless flying quality. Maneuvering deftly through the crowd on a dance floor is essential to the fun. Being more familiar with the man's point of view, I will now describe that in more detail. Psychologically, the man feels that the lady accepts him as her champion in the heroic enterprise of weaving at high speed through a milling crowd without bumping into or tripping over anyone while taking three steps every second and revolving thirty revolutions per minute. If his wonderful lady partner were to suddenly insist on dancing at arms length instead of using the proper hold, then to him maneuvering through the crowd would feel ungainly and clumsy. Also, his right arm is likely to tire from the centrifugal force of holding the lady. Our crestfallen hero presses on clumsily feeling somewhat rejected by his lady. In Vienna, most couples dance with body contact between the partners. This is not necessary, but very close proximity is. The lady needs to do her part to overcome the centrifugal force and maintain the proper proximity to the man. If she were to do this by clinging with her hands he would feel strained and unbalanced. She can remain balanced over her own feet in spite of the centrifugal force if her feet are slightly behind her. If she were to use the proper hold and proximity but suddenly start to dance flat footed rather than using the proper toe-heel footwork, then he would feel deadening resistance and perhaps roughness, rather than the smooth effortless glide he likes so well. I suspect it is even more noticeable to the lady when the man does not dance correctly. (And I shudder to think what her descriptions would be).
Finally, there is the matter of dance floor friction, sliding of the feet. In the waltz, one is perpetually pivoting on the toe or on the heel of one foot or the other. Everyone knows that friction is critical in skiing. If the skier wore snow shoes instead of skis, he could not ski down the slope, the friction would be too great. If freezing rain covered the slope with solid glassy ice, he could only slide out of control down the slope, the friction would be too small. It makes no sense to wear snow shoes to ski; similarly, it makes no sense to wear rubber soled shoes to dance. It makes no sense to ski on an icy slope; similarly, it makes no sense to dance on slippery powder on a dance floor. The waltz was invented centuries ago when shoe soles and heels were leather, and floors were mostly bare, well worn, unfinished hardwood, and the dance floor friction was good for dancing. Artificial floor surfaces and shoe soles can provide the right dance floor friction, but only with careful selection. The appendix on clothes tells where to buy leather soled shoes, and the appendix on dance floor friction tells how to glue leather soles on the bottom of rubber soled shoes.
Today the Viennese Waltz is a ballroom and partner dance that is part of the International Standard division of contemporary ballroom dance.
Learn To Dance Waltz Volume 1: A complete Beginner's Guide To Dancing The Waltz
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