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Detailed History of the Waltz Dance

Tulika Nair
'So You Think You Can Dance' and 'Dancing with the Stars' are two popular dance shows on TV that made waltz popular. But do you know, that this dance form was almost ostracized when first introduced?
"We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last ...
... it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressure on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females ...
... So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but 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." - The Times of London, 16th of July, 1816.
That review, if it was any other dance form, would have probably cast such a long shadow, that it would have died an untimely death, at least at the royal court and chances of its revival would have been very bleak.
But then this is the waltz we are talking about, a dance form that not only survived the severe criticism it faced like being called wicked, vulgar, and an indecorous exhibition, but also has today become one of the most popular ballroom dancing forms, also heralded as one of the most graceful styles of dancing.
While its history may have been tainted by accusations of being vulgar, it has left behind the maliciousness it encountered to become known as a beautiful dance form with a rich heritage.

What the History Books Say

Originating in the suburbs of Vienna and in the alpine areas of Austria, the waltz is one of the oldest ballroom dances in the world, born somewhere around the seventeenth century. Even before it was introduced in the courts, it was danced by peasants and common folk in Austria.
In fact, most songs that it is danced to can be traced back to the yodeling tunes sung by the peasants in Austria.
The folk dance that the peasants danced to, which is considered to be the forerunner of the dance form is Lander. Soon, people started dancing a style that developed from this form of dance, called the Walzer. The dance was so named after the Latin word volvere which referred to the rotating motion that was so typical of the walzer.
Waltz owes its popularity to soldiers. After Napoleon invaded Germany, the dance was adopted by the soldiers and taken back to France, where its allemande version became very popular.
The dance then moved on to the royal courts of England where it came under fierce criticism in an orthodox setting, due to the close hold style of the dance form, the first time in the history of any court dance style.
The dance faced even more opposition due to the fact that it could be learned easily when compared to other court dances that were prevalent in the period, like minuet. These dances needed a lot of practice and needed a dancer to develop good postures and demeanor as compared to the easy steps that waltz comprised.
In about 1830, the dance form saw a sudden surge of popularity with the help of compositions by Austrian composers, Straus and Lanner. They composed tunes that would later became popular as the melodies to which Viennese waltz is danced. These tunes were faster and though they presented an initial problem due to fast rhythm, the style became hugely popular.
The dance style was soon imported by the United States and made its presence felt in societies in both New York and Philadelphia. It was in the United States that the two new forms of the waltz, the Boston, which was a slower form as compared to the Viennese waltz, and the Hesitation waltz, were developed.
While the Boston waltz or the American style waltz has pretty much become a standard in the dance world, the Hesitation waltz in not danced in international circles any longer.
The history of this dance form has been varied and rich. A dance that has seen many modifications due to the different cultures it has been exposed to, waltz has imbibed these cultural features with the same amount of grace that has become characteristic and synonymous with the dance form.