There are many references to a sliding or gliding dance that would evolve into the waltz that date from 16th century Europe, including the representations of the printmaker Hans Sebald Beham. The French philosopher Michel de Montaigne wrote of a dance he saw in 1580 in Augsburg, where the dancers held each other so closely that their faces touched. Kunz Haas (of approximately the same period) wrote, "Now they are dancing the godless Weller or Spinner. The vigorous peasant dancer, following an instinctive knowledge of the weight of fall, uses his surplus energy to press all his strength into the proper beat of the bar, thus intensifying his personal enjoyment in dancing. Around 1750, the peasants of Bavaria, Tyrol, and Styria began dancing a dance called Walzer, a dance for couples. The Ländler, also known as the Schleifer, a country dance in 3
4 time, was popular in Bohemia, Austria, and Bavaria, and spread from the countryside to the suburbs of the city. While the eighteenth century upper classes continued to dance the minuets (such as those by Mozart, Haydn and Handel), bored noblemen slipped away to the balls of their servants.
In those early days people were shocked by the sight of a man dancing with his hand upon a lady’s waist (as no proper young maiden would compromise herself so) and thus, the Waltz was thought to be a wicked dance. The Waltz did not become popular among the European middle class until the first decade of the 20th century. Until then, it was the exclusive preserve of the aristocracy. In the United States, where no blue-blood caste existed, it was danced by the populace as early as 1840. Immediately upon its introduction in this country, the Waltz became one of the most popular dances. It was so popular, it survived the “ragtime revolution.”
With the advent of ragtime in 1910, the Waltz fell out of favor with the public, being supplanted by the many walking/strutting dances of that era. Dancers who had not mastered the techniques and whirling patterns of the Waltz quickly learned the simple walking patterns, which ushered in the ragtime rage and birth of the Foxtrot. In the latter part of the 19th century, composers were writing Waltzes to a slower tempo than that of the original Viennese style. The box step, typical of the American style Waltz, was being taught in the 1880s and an even slower waltz came into prominence in the early 1920s. The result is three distinct tempos: (1) the Viennese Waltz (fast), (2) medium Waltz, and (3) slow Waltz — the last two being of American invention. The Waltz is a progressive and turning dance with figures designed for both a larger ballroom floor and the average dance floor. The use of sway, rise and fall highlight the smooth, lilting style of the Waltz. Being a very traditional style of dance, the Waltz makes one feel like a princess or a prince at the ball!
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