The History of the Viennese Waltz
During the eighteenth century, a German and Austrian folk dance distinct for its dreamlike 3/4 timing of one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three moved from the country dance halls to the ballrooms of high society giving birth to what is now known as the Viennese Waltz. At the time, it was only waltz, but the later introduction of the slower waltz as “the waltz” was the impetus for this version being named the “Viennese Waltz” for its place of origin.
The Viennese waltz became especially popular in the first decades of the nineteenth-century after the Napoleonic Wars when it leapt the channel and became popular in England. This up-tempo variety of music and dance shocked society as Max Graf has beautifully explained: “the contemporaries of the first waltzes were highly shocked at the eroticism of this dance in which a lady clung to her partner, closed her eyes as in a happy dream, and glided off as if the world had disappeared. The new waltz melodies overflowed with longing, desire and tenderness.” (qtd. in January).
Centuries later, the Viennese waltz remains popular with dancers and offers a sort of window into the rich history of dance.
Characteristics of the Viennese Waltz
One of the distinct hallmarks of the Viennese waltz is the combination of athleticism and grace it demands from its enthusiasts. This form of waltz keeps all the beauty and lyricism of the slower forms of the dance but adds in the physical challenge of perpetual spinning and impressive speed. Like its slower cousin, Viennese waltz, is danced with steps in sets of three and has both box and progressive forms of footwork. Because of the quickness of the music and the steps, strong technique is essential for dancers of Viennese waltz.
Another of Viennese waltz’s hallmarks is its rotation. Couples fly across the floor rotating with a natural turn clockwise or a reverse turn counter-clockwise. The variety of moves depends much on the style of Viennese waltz: the International version is danced in hold, which limits the types of moves that can be included, but the American Viennese waltz includes moves that do not require partners to remain in hold. Often, gracefully sweeping arm gestures are incorporated into the dance.
Musicality of the Viennese Waltz
Danced in 3/4 timing, the Viennese waltz is the fastest version of the waltz, with International Viennese waltz falling between 56-58 MPM (168-174 BPM) and American Viennese waltz falling at 54 MPM (162 BPM) according to the National Dance Council of America. Many of the traditional waltzes that are still popular are Viennese waltzes, such as waltz giant Johann Strauss’s “An der schönen blauen Donau,” known in English as “The Blue Danube.”