The word Waltz comes from the old German word walzen to roll, turn, or to glide. It is the only ballroom dance danced to music in three-quarter time which has a strong accent on the first beat of the measure.
The oldest of the modern ballroom dances, the Waltz was danced first by the country folk; but gradually, the infectious rhythm captivated the whole of German society. The music had a swing that demanded a new style of dancing and the speed of the music required a close hold to maintain balance in the breathless, speedy turns. The closeness of the couple, the tight embrace, and the body parts touching caused considerable criticism on moral grounds. Religious leaders almost unanimously regarded it as vulgar and sinful. In parts of Germany and Switzerland, the Waltz was banned all together.
Dancing masters also criticized it, seeing the Waltz as a threat to their profession. (The basic steps of the Waltz could be learned in relatively short time, whereas, the minuet and other court dances required considerable practice, not only to learn the many complex figures, but also to develop suitable postures and deportment.)
But the criticism only served to increase the popularity of the Waltz. The bourgeoisie took it up enthusiastically immediately after the French revolution. Reportedly, the first time the Waltz was danced in the United States was in Boston in 1834. Although some were aghast at first, gradually, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the Waltz was firmly established in United States’ society.
Music plays an important role in dance, and every dance is dependent upon the availability of the appropriate music. The Waltz was given a tremendous boost around 1830 by two great Austrian composers — Franz Lanner and Johann Strauss. These two composers were by far the most popular during the nineteenth century; and they set the standard for the Viennese Waltz (a very fast version of the waltz). By 1900, a typical dance program was three quarter Waltzes and one quarter all other dances combined.
Around the close of the nineteenth century, two modifications of the Waltz were developed. The first was the Boston, a slower Waltz with long gliding steps. Although the Boston disappeared with the first world war, it did stimulate development of the English or International style which continues today. The second was the hesitation, which involves taking one step to three beats of the measure. Hesitation steps are still widely used in today’s Waltz.
Fortunately, the violent opposition faded out and the Waltz weathered an exciting and varied career, emerging today in two accepted forms, both reflecting the main characteristics of the dance. They are known as the Modern Waltz and the Viennese (Quick) Waltz.