WALTZ evolved from forms of earlier dances in the mid-eighteen hundreds along with the popularity of Johann Strauss’s music. The term waltz originated from the Italian word “volver,” which means revolve or turn. It is one of the first dances where dancers took a close embrace facing each other. The dance was not immediately accepted by the upper class and was considered scandalous because of the facing close embrace.
Waltz music is written in three beat increments and this is a requirement of waltz. First determine a song has a three beat rhythm that usually is similar to a boom-tick-tick with a strong downbeat followed by two upbeats (generally a higher tone). Waltz music is written in ¾ time and usually counted in phases as 123, 456. Tempo averages 120 BPM’s for slow waltz but is about twice as fast for the Viennese waltz. All of the forms of waltz use some rise and fall starting with a flexed knee and gradually reaching the highest rise in the dance on count 3 and 6. The feet do not leave the floor and the movement glides around the dance floor in a counterclockwise direction using right and left box turns and other movements like progressive steps, series of non-turning half boxes and a few movements for flourish. The knees bend at the same time so there is no hip movement but rather a swing through the movement using heel leads on the first beat of three moving forward. Partners use a slight offset position with the follow slightly to the lead’s right side with the head and spine held leftward without dipping the shoulders.
Most cultures have a form of waltz dancing to three beat rhythms but we will cover some of the characteristics of only four types of waltz dancing: Country Western waltz, American waltz, International waltz and Viennese waltz. What follows are some simple basic ways to distinguish the four styles of waltz, some music recommendations and a few videos from our video gallery of the various styles of waltz.
Viennese waltz: If the tempo is near 200 beats per minute (BPM’s) then the best waltz style is a Viennese waltz, which is much faster than the other forms of waltz. While the preferred music is an authentic Strauss waltz, other composers and types of music may exhibit the three count fast tempo that works well for Viennese waltz. There is less rise and fall, as well as, less sway in the Viennese style of waltz since it moves so rapidly. Click here for some recommended Viennese waltz music. Here is a Viennese waltz team video from 1999 at the Dancetime Center’s showcase.
Country western waltz provides a great deal of freedom of movement that includes the other forms of waltz but is danced to a slower tempo than Viennese waltz. Some dance educators believe that this form of waltz is either the same as or very similar to the American style waltz. While this is a reasonable assumption, the country western waltz uses movements that are not particularly common in American style waltz, for instance, dancers frequently dance in shadow position, whereas in American the majority of movements are done in a one hand hold in closed, promenade or outside partner position. The country western waltz also uses running progressive steps more often than the other forms of waltz. Most of the movements in Amerian waltz can be done in country western waltz. The main difference is the music, that is, country western style waltzes (and maybe boots). Check out some of the music suggestions here, Country Western Waltz Music Recommendations. Here is a beautiful country western waltz performance performed by Dan Gibbons and Pam Ford.
The International waltz is similar to American style waltz with the main difference being that the dance partners maintain a closed position throughout the dance. It is not customary to open up in the International waltz. Also, it was heavily standardized in the early twentieth century in England to make it easier for judging panels to score the dance during dance competitions. This process of standardization made the International waltz the perfect form for Dancesport. It is still danced in Europe socially but less so in America but it is the most common form of waltz for competitions. The music is similar to waltz music commonly used for Amerian style waltz but some of the competition music is slightly slower. The American and International waltzes over the years are trending to share most of the movements and at times it is difficult to distinguish them. Here is a gorgeous International style waltz with Dan Gibbons and Adrianna Pacheco at a Dancetime Center showcase.
The American waltz is the most popular form for social dancing in the United States and is also popular in other parts of the world. It is very versatile, in that it is danced in all the various dance positions like closed, promenade, shadow and outside partner and has a large number of movements and patterns. It moves like the other forms counterclockwise around the dance floor. It is a popular form for performances and is also done in Amerian style Dancesport competitions. Check out some of our waltz music recommendations here – Ballroom Waltz Recommendations. Here is a great video of Jim Desmond and his Pro-Am partner dancing at a Dancetime showcase.
We always include some American waltz in our Ballroom Latin Intro classes to introduce dance students to the basics of waltz. This is a great class to learn the box step, turning box, hesitation and standard timing, lead/follow technique, timing, rise and fall and turning technique. These movements, elements and techniques are used in all the rest of the social, performance and Dancesport dance genres so it’s a great way to learn the elements of dance.