Waltz is a ballroom dance in 3/4 time. Waltz was once a vigorous peasant dance that originated in Germany (Bavaria, Tyrol) and Austria (Bohemia) in the 16 century. The name comes from the old German word “walzen” meaning “ to roll,” “turn,” or “to glide”. Some waltz tunes can be traced back to simple peasant yodeling melodies. The somewhat wild steps of the country dance became shorter and more elegant in high society.
The waltz became fashionable in Vienna around the 1780s. The Austrian composer Johann Strauss (1804-1849) waltzes became particularly associated with Vienna; however they also gained popularity throughout Europe. With Strauss’s sons, Johann and Josef, during the 1860s, the waltz reached its peak as a dance form and a symbol of elegance. They set the standard for the Viennese Waltz, the fastest version of the waltz.
It also became quite popular in Britain during the Regency period (1811-1820), though for quite a while the waltz has been considered scandalous, riotous and even vulgar (Britain was a land of strict morals). The waltz was criticized on moral grounds due to its closer hold and rapid turning movements. In July of 1816, the waltz was included in a ball given in London by the Prince Regent. On 16th July, 1816, an editorial in “The Times” stated: “the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court… it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females….now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.”
Despite obvious disapproval, it’s interesting to note, that Victoria, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India (who ruled from 1837 to 1876) was supposedly a keen and expert waltz dancer!
There was no turning the tide… Nothing could stop the popularity of the waltz. Reportedly, the first time the waltz was danced in the United States was in Boston in 1834. It was actually the variation of the dance, a slower waltz with long gliding steps, hence its name “Boston.” Yet again, it was first considered “an indecorous exhibition.” However, by the middle of the nineteenth century, the waltz was firmly established in the US. Another US variation of the waltz is the Cajun Waltz, with steps very close to ordinary walking.
The Austrian music scholar, Max Graf once observed: “If there exists a form of music that is a direct expression of sensuality, it is the Viennese Waltz…overflowed with longing, desire and tenderness.” Maybe that’s why the waltz never quite goes out of fashion.
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P.S. Interstingly, a popular Australian song “Waltzing Matilda” has NOTHING to do with the dance “waltz” and the name “Matilda”. But that’s another story…