Room 35--Watch out! It's the waltz!


If you were in Europe during the 19th century, you might be looked down upon if you dared to dance the waltz. What?! Itís such an innocuous dance. Well, not in some minds. The waltz evolved out of two earlier stately dances known as the minuet and the allemande.

The waltz itself is Viennese, and it evolved in Austria and Bavaria under such names as the Dreher, the laendler and the Deutscher. It was created as a peasant dance in early Austria, and involved robust moves and lots of space. Often, partners were hurled into the air in moves that occasionally led to injury and miscarriage. Because peasants wore loud, thick shoes, it was also very noisy. When it first became popular in Viennese dance halls in late eighteenth century, these aspects began to change.

The waltz was termed the "forbidden dance" for one reason. When it moved into Viennese dance halls, partners were allowed to touch! This was unheard of, and led to the dance being slandered by many officials of the church and leaders of the Austrian community. Because it was a favored dance of the young (like the twist, hully-gully, watusi, rubberband and other outrageous dances), however, it continued to be danced. Because of its transition to dance halls and city gathering, it evolved into a light dance for polished floors and parties. Its music also changed, becoming more refined and orchestrated. Notable instruments used to play it were the piano, the violin and the bass. In 1787, it was brought to the operatic stage, inviting huge debate. Mozart was a huge fan of the waltz, and in one of his operas, Don Giovanni, three waltzes are played at once in one scene! Clearly, the dance could not be stopped.

By the 1800's, Paris had fallen in love with the waltz. It took quite awhile for England to warm up to the waltz. In July 1816, the London Times reported: "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." (How scandalous!)

Even in 1866 the English magazine Belgravia stated: "We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment - the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music - can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance."

A lot of the disapproval was voiced by the older generation, but seldom mentioned is the fact the reigning Queen (Victoria) was a keen and expert ballroom dancer with a special love of the waltz! The Waltz King as he was known in Vienna was Johann Strauss, Jr. Here is a sample of one of his finest works, the Voices of Spring Waltz.

Listen!

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