The Viennese Waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward the
leader's right (natural) or toward the leader's left (reverse), interspersed with non-rotating change
steps to switch between the direction of rotation.
A true Viennese waltz consists only of turns and
change steps. Other moves such as the fleckerls, American-style figures and side sway or underarm turns are modern inventions.
The Viennese Waltz as we know it today is actually the original form of the Waltz! It is the oldest of all ballroom dances emerging in the second half of the 18th century influenced by German and
Austrian dance styles.
The first record of a dance to 3/4 rhythm is a peasant dance of the Provence area of France in 1559, as a piece
of folk music called the Volta, although the Volta has also been claimed to be an Italian folk dance at this time.
The word "volta" means "the turn" in Italian. Thus, even in its earliest days, the dance appears to have involved
the couple turning as they danced.
In 1754 the first music for the actual "Waltzen" appeared in Germany. Any connection between the Waltzen and
the Volta remains obscure, except that the word "waltzen" in German also means "to revolve".
The Viennese Waltz was quite the scandalous dance style when it first emerged. Not only were ankles
visible from the ladies but both men and women were in hold! However it later gained acceptance and even
popularity among the upper class.
Nevertheless, the dance became very popular in Vienna, with large dance halls being opened to accommodate the craze:
Zum Sperl in 1807, and the Apollo in 1808 (said to be able to accommodate 6,000 dancers). In 1812 the dance
was introduced into England under the name of the German Waltz. It caused a great sensation.
Through the 19th century, the dance stabilized, and was further popularised by the music of Johann Strauss.
The Viennese Waltz differs from the Waltz mainly in its speed. The Viennese Waltz has about 180 beats per
minute (BPM) whereas the Waltz only have 90 BPM.
This dance style is danced at this up-tempo with a limited range of figures: Change Steps,
Hesitations, Hovers, Passing Changes, Natural and Reverse Turns, Fleckerls, Pivots, and the Contrachecks.
One of the distinct hallmarks of the Viennese waltz is the combination of athleticism and grace it demands from its
enthusiasts. This form of waltz keeps all the beauty and lyricism of the slower forms of the dance but adds in
the physical challenge of perpetual spinning and impressive speed. Like its slower cousin, Viennese waltz, is danced
with steps in sets of three and has both box and progressive forms of footwork. Because of the quickness of the
music and the steps, strong technique is essential for dancers of Viennese waltz.
Another of Viennese waltz's hallmarks is its rotation. Couples fly across the floor rotating with a natural
turn clockwise or a reverse turn counter-clockwise.
The variety of moves depends much on the style of Viennese
waltz: the International version is danced in hold, which limits the types of moves that can be included, but
the American Viennese waltz includes moves that do not require partners to remain in hold. Often, gracefully
sweeping arm gestures are incorporated into the dance.
The Viennese Waltz is a dance performed to music with three beats to the bar. This means that if a step is taken
on each beat, then each bar starts with the opposite foot to that of the previous bar. This can be a source of
great difficulty for the beginner, but when mastered gives the dance a delightful romantic lilt.
Danced in 3/4 timing (1 2 3), the Viennese waltz is the fastest version of the waltz, with International Viennese
waltz falling between 56-58 MPM (168-174 BPM) and American Viennese waltz falling at 54 MPM (162 BPM).
Many of the traditional waltzes that are still popular are Viennese
waltzes, such as waltz giant Johann Strauss's "An der schönen blauen Donau," known in English as "The Blue Danube."