Viennese Waltz

The Viennese Waltz, so called to distinguish it from the Waltz and the French Waltz, is the oldest of the current ballroom dances. It emerged in the second half of the 18th century from the German dance and the Ländler in Austria and was both popular and subject to criticism. The Waltzen, as written in a magazine from 1799, is performed by dancers who held on to their long gowns to prevent them from dragging or being stepped on. The dancers would lift their dresses and hold them high like cloaks and this would bring both their bodies under one cover. This action also required the dancers' bodies to be very close together and this closeness also attracted moral disparagement. Wolf published a pamphlet against the dance entitled "Proof that Waltzing is the Main Source of Weakness of the Body and Mind of our Generation" in 1797. But even when faced with all this negativity, it became very popular in Vienna. Large dance halls like the Zum Sperl in 1807 and the Apollo in 1808 were opened to provide space for thousands of dancers. The dance reached and spread to England sometime before 1812. It was introduced as the German Waltz and became a huge hit. It gained ground due to the Congress of Vienna at the beginning of the 19th century and the famous compositions by Josef Lanner, Johann Strauss I and his son, Johann Strauss II.

Initially, the waltz was significantly different from its form today. In the first place, the couples did not dance in the closed position as today. The illustrations and descriptions make it clear that the couples danced with arm positions similar to that of the precursor dances, the Landler and the Allemande. The hold was at times semi-closed, and at times side by side. Arms are intertwined and circling movements were made under raised arms. No couple in Wilson's plate are shown in close embrace, but some are in closed hold facing each other. There was another significant difference from our present technique. The feet were turned out and the rise of foot during the dance was much more pronounced than it is today. This can be seen quite clearly in the figure, and such a style imposes its limitations on how the dance can be performed.

To understand why Quirey says "The advent of the Waltz in polite society was quite simply the greatest change in dance form and dancing manners that has happened in our history" we need to realize that all European social dances before the waltz were communal sequence dances. Communal, because all the dancers on the floor took part in a pre-set pattern (often chosen by a Master of Ceremony). Dancers separately, and as couples, faced outwards to the spectators as much as they faced inwards. Thus all present took part as dancers or as onlookers. This was the way with the country dance and all previous popular dances. With the waltz, couples were independent of each other, and were turned towards each other (though not in close contact). Lord Byron wrote a furious letter, which precedes his poem The Waltz, in which he decries the anti-social nature of the dance, with the couple "like two cockchafers spitted on the same bodkin."

Read more about Viennese Waltz:  Technique and Styles

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