Since I’m sure you are all getting tired of just hearing my voice, I would like to feature a piece written by a friend and fellow dancer today. Her name is Melissa Rosano, and I have copied her short paper on the history of waltz here (with her permission of course) because I enjoyed it very much. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
The Early 1800s Waltz in England
The Waltz is the most recognized ballroom dance as well as the oldest. Waltz was significantly different from any other dance seen before because of its easy to learn movements and the lead and follow dances in closed position. Waltz developed from the German folk dance Lander originally from Bohemia, Austria, and the Volta, originally from the Renaissance court dances, in Vienna, Austria. The word waltz is derived from the German term wälzen meaning, “To turn,” “to revolve,” and “to wander.” (Strobel) The Waltz’s popularity grew rapidly because of the support of music composed by world-renowned composers, such as, Johann Strauss Senior and Johann Strauss Jr., England’s royal family, and the immense opposition for the waltz spurred it on further.
The Regency Waltz in the early 1810s was a very different dance than the Victorian Waltz that we are more familiar and it is blaringly obvious why the waltz was considered extremely lewd and inappropriate, to a society that focused so much attention on harnessing teenage libido to the purpose of making a good marriage (Nelson). The Regency Waltz was a strikingly intimate and sensuous dance, which is a major departure from the group dances and stately minuets of earlier generations. It began with the “March” which was a very brief side-by-side promenade. This turned quickly into the “Pirouette” or “Slow Waltz.” The partners would take each other in one of several holds, where they would rotate very slowly, with their gaze fixed on one another (Nelson).
The Sauteuse Waltz got a bit more energetic, with the music tempo increasing and the dancers working a little leap into the step. The posture would be changed – one possible option would be the man holding both the woman’s hands behind her back (Nelson). In Thomas Wilson’s A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing published in 1816, he details four different varieties: the slow waltz, the Sauteuse-leaping waltz, the jeté or quick Sauteuse, and the German waltz. The two sauteuses were done in 2/4 or 6/8 time rather than the 3/4 we think of as “waltz time”; at the time, and for many years afterwards, waltz referred to turning couple dances rather than exclusively to dances in 3/4.
The Victorian Waltz was more socially acceptable since the dance hold was further apart with the man’s right hand firmly resting in the small of the woman’s back and his left hand holds the woman’s right. This position allows the couple a bit of space between them while enabling the man to lead effectively as he rotates them around the dance floor. This position also enabled the lead to maneuver around the dance floor while keeping an eye on the traffic of the ballroom rather than focused on his partner.
Many variations of waltz were developed alongside the waltz. Among them was the highly energetic variation Redowa Waltz. It is danced in 3/4 time with a emphasized down beat where the steps are for the lead to leap forward on beat one and back on beat four making a full rotation every six beats. The music generally is emphasized, so it is easy to notice when the music turns to a redowa tempo.
A popular waltz consisted of Johann Strauss II’s composition The Blue Danube, through which he immortalized himself, Vienna, and the Waltz. He dedicated Windsor-Klänge to Queen Victoria. His father, Johann Strauss I, dedicated Homage to the Queen to her, which appropriately ended with the Britain’s anthem God Save the Queen. This homage was played at her coronation, but she was not allowed to dance it for there was no partner her equal.
Queen Victoria was an expert ballroom dancer. Due to it being unacceptable for an unmarried woman to Waltz, Queen Victoria was not allowed to waltz until she was wed. Once married to her husband Prince Albert it was socially acceptable for her to waltz. Together, they hosted many balls that would continue well into the morning. Her insistence on dancing it at royal social functions was one of the key factors in promoting it from scandalously lascivious whore’s fare to a respectable and enjoyable form of social interaction (Yovel). Although, the Queen’s encouragement rallied more support in favor of waltz, there was still a violent opposition.
Vienna was described as “Waltz mad” in 1826 due to its reputation as “Waltz capital of the world” (Youmans 35) because once waltz music began to play people just wanted to dance without regard to any notion of decency and acting proper. Doctors insisted that spinning was detrimental to one’s overall health of the mind and body. The immense opposition to the waltz was in part what made it so popular.
Dance Masters were outraged because the waltz unlike their crafts the minuet and ballet did not require their expertise or any discipline and practice, which threatened their businesses. These takes a lot of skill and technique to master and would require years of learning and practicing under a professional. Ballet was originally a weapon of state that King Louis XIV wielded to occupy his court. The members of court would stand according to their place in court, which led them to compete to elevate their position by dancing with more grace and elegance than their competitors’ dance. One misstep, a faux pas, would cause the misfortunate noble to be disgraced from court.
Ballet is a stark contrast to Waltz in every aspect of dance. The waltz was popularized from the common people to the nobility and royalty; whereas, ballet was popularized from royalty to the common people. Due to this difference, ballet never had the opposition that waltz did. Waltz’s steps are simple enough that anyone would be able to master the steps after a little practice unlike ballet’s intricate steps and complicated choreographies. This also contributed to Waltz’s popularity in France, which post-revolution had over seven hundred ballroom dance venues (Fuller).
Today, both dances have survived into modern day because of their popularity. Modern dance academies, dance companies, and non-profit organizations exist to preserve history through dance while expanding into new forms using the knowledge of the past with the society of the present. I have enjoyed this mixing of old and new forms, as I am heavily involved with several such organizations who promote social dances of the Victorian Era through holding informal classes at Friday Night Waltz in Palo Alto, PEERS in San Mateo, and Gaskells and East Bay Waltz in Oakland. The Dickens Faire, which literally is a recreation of London in the time of Charles Dickens and his novel A Christmas Carol, hosts Fezziwig’s annual Christmas ball, depicted from the story, where the waltz is the dance of the hour.
Overall, Waltz remains a highly popular dance and is now a dance recommended for people of all ages to learn. The Victorian Style Waltz is which type most people associate with waltz and are unaware of the Regency form. Change occurred with waltz music provided by Strauss Senior and Strauss Junior, which highly supported the growing popularization of waltz; as did the promotion of waltz by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at their many balls. The opposition for the waltz merely added to the hype and spurred it on; especially in France, where waltz was the opposite of the elite’s beloved ballet. The Victorian Waltz remains queen of the ballroom and there she will reign for another hundred years. God Save the Queen!