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The Viennese Waltz

The Viennese Waltz is the oldest of all ballroom dances. This dance is known for its distinctly graceful and constant, wide-sweeping turns along with its fast tempo. It’s the waltz that is usually featured in dizzying ballroom dance sequences in period films set in 18th and 19th century Europe.

Due to its extremely fast pace, the Viennese Waltz tends to have an upbeat, purposeful feel to it as opposed to the dreamier, romantic ambiance characteristic of the Slow Waltz. With its many sweeping, fast turns, dance students may find the stamina required to perform this dance to be daunting; however, the expert dance instructors at Arthur Murray Dance Studios take special care to deconstruct this fast dance in such an engaging way that effectively removes its inherent challenges. Contact Arthur Murray Dance Studios now for your first lesson of the classic grandfather of all ballroom dances.

What Distinguishes the Viennese Waltz from other Ballroom Dances?

Many people tend to confuse the Viennese Waltz with the Waltz (otherwise known as the Slow Waltz); in truth, these two waltzes are quite different. Compared to the Slow Waltz, one of the ways that the Viennese Waltz differentiates itself is with its faster tempo. Though it generally shares the same time signature as the Slow Waltz, the Viennese Waltz can be up to four times faster in tempo due to the frequent use of canter timing (two steps per measure rather than the Slow Waltz’s three steps per measure). In fact, the Viennese Waltz often uses 6/8 time with a tempo of about 180 beats per minute.

The Viennese Waltz also differentiates itself from the Slow Waltz due to its form factor. This dance is comprised of constant turns and has a less-pronounced rise and fall tilt than the Slow Waltz. The tilting action in the Viennese Waltz is abrupt and shallow which is why dance steps must be compact and small.

The swiftness of the Viennese Waltz and its high number of turns underscore another unique characteristic specific to this dance: a lack of pauses. Whereas the Slow Waltz gives dancers enough time to occasionally pause (for dips, for example), the Viennese Waltz is simply too fast for such breaks; besides rotations and quick change steps, Viennese Waltz dance partners only have time to quickly open their connection (release their arms to their sides), and then just as quickly reconnect to their original waltz position, all while remaining in constant motion.

The music most frequently used for waltzes is generally easy to identify; typically, the first beat of each measure is notably dominant, while the subsequent two beats are much lighter. The Viennese Waltz is often performed to orchestrated music featuring predominantly melodic instruments and/or vocals. At Arthur Murray Studios, we offer students an engaging, diverse selection of waltz music styles, ranging from instrumental, vocal, classical, and even popular Top 40 hits.

The History of the Viennese Waltz

As mentioned, the Viennese Waltz is the oldest of all ballroom dances, and was the first dance performed in the closed hold or “waltz” position. It made its initial appearance in Germany and Austria in the late 18th century, and spread to England, under the name of the “German Waltz” in the early 19th century. Technically, what is now referred to as the Viennese Waltz is, in actuality, the original form of the waltz. In fact, in several languages, the word for ‘waltz’ – such as walzer (German), vals (Danish, Norwegian and Sweden) and valse (French) – actually refers to the Viennese Waltz.

When the Viennese Waltz made its initial appearance, it had its share of scandal; in fact, backlash was so harsh that several magazine articles and pamphlets immediately appeared, denouncing the dance as lewd and immoral, while criticizing such ‘shocking’ displays as the ankles of women, visible as they danced in dizzying circles across the ballroom floor. In 1797, a pamphlet entitled “Proof that Waltzing is the Main Source of Weakness of the Body and Mind of our Generation” made the rounds, as it demonized the dance due to the fact that waltzing women would often lift their gowns and dresses up (mainly to prevent them from being stepped on) and hold them like cloaks, shielding their and their dance partners’ bodies from public view.

No doubt propelled by the controversy, this ballroom dance quickly rose above the critical consensus of disapproval and steadily gained ardent fans. Famous musical compositions by composers Josef Lanner, Johann Strauss and his progeny, Johann Strauss II also fueled this social dance’s popularity. By the 1920s, the Viennese Waltz began to wane in popularity, making room for more modern dances; however, its dip was short-lived as it made a comeback in the 1930s, this time with a few modern embellishments.

With such a rich history, teaching the intricacies of the Viennese Waltz to dance students is a true joy for dance instructors at Arthur Murray Dance Studios.

How do we Teach the Viennese Waltz at Arthur Murray?

At Arthur Murray Dance Studios, expert ballroom dance instructors teach students all of the essential footwork specific to the Viennese Waltz, which traditionally consists only of turns and change steps. This rotary dance requires that dancers are constantly turning toward the leader’s right (known as ‘natural’) or toward the leader’s left (known as reverse). Non-rotation change steps are interspersed with turns, allowing dancers to switch the direction of rotation.

At the beginner level, Arthur Murray dance instructors teach all of the basic footwork distinctive to this ballroom dance, such as the basic natural lilt step, the basic reverse lilt step, and the stationary lilt step. We also choreograph and teach more modern moves that found its way into the Viennese Waltz, including fleckerls, side sways and underarm turns (inside and outside twirls). Since the Viennese Waltz is so fast-paced, we fully explore the essentials of rhythm and timing as well.

Arthur Murray Dance Studios is Your Place to Learn Ballroom Dance

Arthur Murray Studios not only offers professional social dance instruction, we offer top-notch customer service. Our dance system is progressive and adapts to each student’s individual needs and current skill level. As dance students progress, Arthur Murray Studios dance instructors continue to guide and support them throughout their evolution, teaching more and more advanced principles of dance technique, styling and footwork specific to each of the major ballroom dances, including the Viennese Waltz.

The Viennese Waltz is the founding grand-daddy of all ballroom dances, embodying elegance and swiftness in equal measure. With its rich heritage and unique characteristics, it’s a classic dance that we particularly take great pride in teaching at Arthur Murray Dance Studios. Call us at one of our many nearby locations to schedule a $20 introductory lesson. In no time at all, you can be on a path toward learning the Viennese Waltz that is just right for you.

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