A Brief History of
The Evolution of Waltz
By Erica Simpson
With the soft whisper of a beautiful
melody, graceful gowns slightly lift from the floor as flashes
of color decorate the ballroom. The waltz is an elegantly
executed dance that makes guest appearances in the weddings of
today to the coming out of debutantes. The term, "waltz," comes
from an old German word (walzen), which means to turn, roll, and
glide. With a strong accent on the first beat, this popular form
of ballroom dancing is often danced in a step-step-close basic
As dancers move about the floor and in many cases, appear to
glide on air, the waltz we see today would have never entered
our knowledge of movement if it weren't for the suburbs of
Vienna and the Austrian alpine region. It is here that during
the 17th century, the ballrooms of the Hapsburg Court swelled
with the sounds of the waltz. Before the upper class residents
discovered the turning of such a dance, Austrian and Bavarian
peasants were already dancing up a storm to "the weller." At
that time, it was quite common to encounter well-known waltz
tunes that originated from simple melodic peasant yodels.
The waltz, which is considered as one of the oldest ballroom
dances, seems to have spread the greatest during the middle of
the 18th century. Some will say the German "Lander" folk dance
preceded the Waltz, while others contend that Napoleon soldiers
who invaded surrounding regions helped the dance spread from
Germany to Paris.
From there, England soon received its first taste of the dance,
which eventually found its way to the dance floors of the United
States. At first, many locations turned their noses up at the
dance because it was the first style of movement that
incorporated a modified closed position. Also, they had trouble
getting over the fact that the man's hand is placed around his
At the start of 1830, the Waltz became quite a popular act to
follow when two Austrian composers by the name of Lanner and
Strauss created the Viennese Waltz, which provided a rather
quick variation that per minute played at 55 to 60 measures.
Although many embraced this form of the dance, the fast tempo
caused a bit of a dilemma. Some found it hard to enjoy this
latest dance trend because it was a real challenge to preserve
steps while staying with the music.
The Waltz in the United States
In the United States, the Waltz found a place in New York City
and Philadelphia. By the 19th century, high society in the U.S.
were chattering about the dance with the slower tempo. As the
end of the 19th century approached, two variations of the dance
emerged. The Boston Waltz appeared slower and allowed dancers to
take long, gliding steps. This kind of waltz involved fewer and
slower turns that incorporated more forward and backward
movements than the Viennese Waltz. It is this style that
continues to thrive today.
With the American Style Waltz, open dance positions are
utilized. Dancers also allow their legs to pass instead of close
with this type of waltz. When the Hesitation Waltz was
introduced, dancers took one step to three beats of the measure.
Although it isnít seen on the dance floors of today, some of the
step patterns still exist.
Rumor has it that the first time the Waltz was danced in the
United States was in 1834. At the Boston home of Mrs. Otis'
Beacon Hill, a dancing expert by the name of Lorenzo Papanti
gave a sample of the dance to a crowd of social leaders that
were taken aback to say the least. It wasnít until the middle of
the 19th century that the U.S. softened towards the dance.
Criticism of the Waltz
Although the Waltz enjoyed a nice amount of acceptance across
the board, it was also met with those who felt it was a basic
style of dance. During the early recognition of the Waltz,
dances like the minuet and other court presentations were quite
popular, but took a great deal of practice to master. The Waltz
was easy to get the hang of and didnít require proper posture or
the understanding of complex figures like other dance
selections. Not only did the steps create a buzz, but the close
hold and swift turns also came under fire by many. The Waltz
even gained the attention of religious leaders, who dismissed
the dance as an act of vulgarity. At first, continental court
members turned away from the thought, while England took even
longer to consider this "lude" style of dance.
The bulk of the 1800s saw extreme criticism over the Waltz,
which made headlines every time it was included at a ballroom
assembly. Ironically, the older crowd did not embrace the dance,
despite the fact that Queen Victoria was known to cut a rug on
the ballroom floor with an affinity for the Waltz. The more
negative remarks the dance received, the more popular it became
and before you knew it, following the French Revolution, dance
halls began popping up at every turn. Actually, Paris was home
to almost 700.
Different Styles of the Waltz
Throughout the 19th and early part of the 20th century, an
assortment of waltz styles illuminated the floors of dance
halls. Some of them even shied from the usual 3-4 count,
offering versions that were completed in 2-4, 6-8, or 5-4 time.
With the Cross Step Waltz, a cross-step was the first move as
dancers moved into a line of direction. A wealth of variations
branched from this type of waltz, which hit the campus and class
scene at Stanford University. In Peru, the Peruvian Waltz
flourished, while the Mexican Waltz followed to the tune of
Spanish-related melodies. Additional waltzes from around the
world included the Venezuelan Waltz and the Mazurka Waltz, which
originated in Poland.
The Waltz of Today
The waltz is very much alive throughout the world as dance
halls, weddings, and even some proms showcase the basic steps of
the dance. In popular major motion pictures, contemporary
composers have also utilized the waltz rhythm when creating
scores for films, such as Batman and Spiderman. As for the
competitive world of ballroom dancing, the Modern Waltz and
Viennese Waltz often join the Foxtrot, Quickstep, and Tango as