The Viennese Waltz: A Dance with Aristocratic Glamour
Johann Strauß (Son), Emperor Franz Josef and Sissi – these names would be less glamorous without the Viennese waltz. It is the musical synonym for the Habsburg monarchy. The Viennese waltz represents continental Europe in ballroom dancing and thanks to its swing, its aristocratic glamour and its old tradition; it is in no way inferior to the other dances of international ballroom dancing. Here you can learn everything about the Viennese waltz.
A Detailed History of the Viennese Waltz
The Viennese Waltz undoubtedly has the longest history of all ballroom dances. Its precursors originate back to the 12th century. Already in case of the Round – the dominating dance in the Middle Ages – the final turn of the dancing couple was the highlight. This complete turn is characteristic of the Viennese Waltz.
This turning dance originates directly from the Ländler, the Deutscher, the Dreher and the Schleifer. All these dances were local folk dances in Bavaria and Austria in the 18th century. When the city dwellers took over these dances their character changed profoundly, musically as well in choreography. The pace was increased and the popular hopping was replaced by graceful gliding. A new style of dance was born.
However, the Waltz turned into an independent dance only at the end of the 18th century. The bourgeoisie recognized this new way of dancing as a more liberal lifestyle compared with the stiff conventions of aristocratic dances. The dancing style became more vivid and perfectly matched the growing self-assurance of the bourgeoisie. The dancers were able to drop their composure and give free rein to their emotions when dancing the waltz.
Up until then, the aristocracy cultivated slow dances at their courts with very rigid and strictly determined ceremonies not permitting any liberties. While in case of the aristocratic dances the partners kept their distance – just a slight touch of the hands – they practically embraced each other when dancing the Viennese waltz. The hands of the man were placed on the hips of the woman and both looked each other deeply in the eyes. Emotions were no longer restrained. A subtle eroticism could emerge.
But this new dance also met with fierce opposition due to these liberties. It was said to be disreputable. It was for example regarded as unseemly that the ankles of the women could be seen. That is why it was even banned! However, the Viennese waltz took the ballrooms by storm and finally the high society also accepted it with great enthusiasm. Thus, it slowly gained acceptance also at the courts. At the Congress of Vienna from 1814-15, where Europe was rearranged after the Napoleonic Wars, the Viennese Waltz also achieved its first great triumph. Here, it set out to conquer the world.
In the Habsburgian Vienna, its classical style was shaped. The waltz rhythm was then taken up by classical music. With the Strauß dynasty of composers and with Joseph Lanner the Viennese Waltz reached the classical period. In particular, Johann Strauß (Son) succeeded in further developing and elevating the waltz. The Viennese imperial house finally ennobled the Viennese Waltz and made it socially acceptable.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the waltz continued to enjoy great popularity. Not even our time’s modern dances were able to supersede it. In the 19th century many variants of the Waltz emerged: the French Waltz, the Polish Mazurka Waltz, the Hungarian Waltz, the Mexican Waltz as well as the Musette Waltz, a combination of the Musette of the 17th century and the Waltz. The Balance waltz and the Redowa also have to be mentioned – two further variations of the waltz emerging at the end of the 19th century.
In the 1920s, the Viennese waltz almost died out all of a sudden. More modern dance styles from Latin America conquered the European ballrooms. In England, the Viennese Waltz never really was at home anyhow, people rather danced Boston or slow waltz there – both considerably marked by the Viennese waltz. It was a disaster for the Viennese waltz, when England of all countries became the leading dance nation in the world at that time.
It is thanks to two men that the Viennese Waltz later became socially acceptable and a ballroom dance again: The former Austrian officer Karl von Mirkowitsch and the dance teacher Paul Krebs from Nuremberg. Like many Austrian officers, Mirkowitsch set up as a dance teacher after the abolition of the Habsburg monarchy. He turned the Viennese Waltz into a ballroom dance. In 1938, he even managed to have it integrated in the international ballroom dancing program.
In 1951, Paul Krebs successfully combined the old Austrian waltz tradition with the English style. At the dancing festival in Blackpool in the same year, this combination was crowned with great success and the Viennese Waltz was included in the group of standard dances – and since that time there have even been fans of the Viennese Waltz among English dancers. And this did not only happen because this dance is now part of the World- and European championships and of all other dancing contests.
The rhythm is first of all interpreted by the turns. It is marked by rises and falls. The music flows fluently and swings lively. It is danced at 60 beats per minute. As it requires the most stamina, the Viennese Waltz is half a minute shorter than the other standard dances.
56-62 beats/minute, contest tempo: 60 beats/minute
Step 1 and 4 always on the 1st beat in the measure. All steps are steady, 1 step with each beat, therefore constant rhythm.
Standard dancing posture