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The history of Waltz
Waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances, and it’s often the iconic dance that comes to mind when we think about ballroom dancing. It’s easy to forget that when the waltz hit eighteenth- and nineteenth-century ballroom floors, polite society was actually rather shocked by it. Both the closeness of the dancers and the placement of the gentleman’s arm around the lady’s waist were just a bit scandalous. Growing up in Germany and Austria, the waltz spread across Europe in the eighteenth-century and rose to popularity in the nineteenth century.
The waltz’s historical importance is also tied to its challenging of social boundaries. In the late eighteenth-century, there was a clear division between the complexity of elite music and dances for the upper classes and the simplicity of folk music and dances. In “Music, Dance, and Meaning in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Lawrence Zbikowski notes that waltz was one of the dance forms that broke through this boundary and gained popularity with both upper and lower classes.
Characteristics of Waltz
The waltz is the epitome of grace with its ethereal rise and fall. The pattern of down-up-up combines with the swirling motion of the dance to give the waltz its dreamlike appearance, making the waltz one of the sweetest and most romantic of the ballroom dances. Dancers hold a strong ballroom posture with the sternum up and the arms opening out like a flower.
This smooth dance features a range of moves, such as the twinkle. It can be danced either in box or progressive steps, but unlike its cousin the Foxtrot, waltz timing always remains the same regardless of step variation. International waltz requires partners to stay in closed hold, but waltz dancers in the American style can break hold for a range of moves.
Musicality of Waltz
Waltz music is distinctive for its 3/4 timing beating out the patterns of three. This constant pattern of three beats is mirrored in the dance. Often, waltz music is very sentimental and romantic. International waltz is danced between 28-30 MPM (84-90 BPM), and American waltz is danced between 30-32 MPM (90-96 BPM).