The Rise of the Waltz – The First Forbidden Dance

July 20, 2018 Dancing Arts

The waltz and rock and roll have a lot in common. When both dancing styles were first introduced, there was disapproval and even antagonism towards them.

Throughout history, dance has played an important role in society. People in different cultures have used dance as a form of expression, to celebrate an important event or just simply a form of entertainment. The different forms of dance are too numerous to cover in a short time. The waltz was considered to be the first forbidden dance and the beginnings of ballroom dancing.

Waltz depicted in 18th century European paintingsOrigins of the Waltz

Waltz is rooted from German – “walzen” that meant “to roll, turn or glide”. It is danced in ¾ time with a heavy emphasis on the first beat and a fundamental pattern of step-step-close. The proper dance position for the waltz as we know it today is the closed position. Its early beginnings were in the late 17th century. Popular dances of the time were the Weller and the Ländler, which were danced in ¾ time by the peasants of Austria and Bavaria.

This new dance position and the enjoyment the peasants had performing these dances did not go unnoticed by the aristocracy. The waltz evolved through the refinement of these peasant dances. By the 1780’s, the waltz became fashionable in Vienna and spread to many other European countries in the following years.

Opposition to the Waltz

Before this era, the minuet and allemande were popular. The allemande was danced in 2 lines with partners facing each other. The minuet was a square-step dance performed in a rigid and stately manner. These dances were more complex and required a great deal of practice to perform correctly.

The resulting opposition to the waltz from dance masters was predictable since they saw the waltz, whose steps are easily learned, as a threat to their profession.

Critics also opposed the waltz on moral grounds. The closer hold and rapid turning movements were viewed as unseemly and religious leaders regarded it as vulgar and sinful. Continental courts resisted the waltz and acceptance was even slower in England where strict morals were upheld.

The Prince Regent in London included the waltz in a ball given in July 1816. Much of this disapproval came from the older generation. The fact that Queen Victoria was a keen and expert ballroom dancer, who loved the waltz, helped overcome the opposition. During the 1800’s, the waltz became increasingly popular throughout all of Europe.

The waltz was introduced to North America in Boston in 1834, by Lorenzo Papanti, a Boston dancing master. Initial opposition was quickly overcome and the mid-1800’s in America firmly established the dance.

The Waltz Evolving

Music has been very influential in the advancement and acceptance of the waltz. The new waltz melodies had their beginnings in the beer gardens of the early eighteenth century Vienna, as well as the rural inns and taverns situated on the outskirts of Vienna and the banks of the Danube.

Two Austrian composers Franz Lanner and Johann Strauss became popular during the mid- 1800’s. They were both band musicians, and their compositions set the standard for the Viennese Waltz, a fast version of the waltz. This gave the waltz a tremendous boost, with an air of sophistication, and ensured its continuation into the 1900’s.

The waltz is one of many popular ballroom dances. In fact, the waltz became the example for the creation of many other ballroom dances. It has endured over the years and is still an enchanting dance.

It is performed primarily at ballroom dances, but also at social functions such as weddings and anniversaries. And how can we forget Dancing with the Stars, a TV reality show which promotes ballroom dancing!

Why not get up off that couch or chair and try a little ballroom dancing!