VienneseBall.org

Invitation to the Dance

Learning the Viennese Waltz

 

Vienna Philharmonic Ball 2003

At a true Viennese Ball a significant fraction of dances will be Viennese waltzes.   At the beginning they will announce "Alles Walzer" - Everyone Waltz!  In order to avoid being sidelined, you will want to be able to dance the Viennese Waltz. 

The Viennese Waltz is quite different from and should not be confused with the more common Slow Waltz.  In the Viennese Waltz you rotate 4 times faster (30 RPM) than the Slow Waltz.  The Slow Waltz cannot realistically be danced to the tempo of waltzes such as The Blue Danube.

Although there is a widespread myth that the Viennese Waltz is difficult to learn, it is in fact one of the very simplest of dances.  There are very few steps to master.  Once you know the basic steps, an hour or more of practice with a dance partner is required in order to become comfortable with the pace of the music.

It should also be mentioned that the modern Viennese Waltz is different from the vintage "rotary" waltz that was danced by everyone in the 19th century.  The rotary waltz can be danced to Viennese waltz tempos, and is slightly easier to learn than the modern Viennese waltz, so it could be a viable option if you have very limited lesson/practice time before the ball.  However, because it is a dance step that is much less well known, it may limit your opportunities for dance partners, especially in Vienna.

The basic steps for the modern Viennese Waltz are:

  • The Natural Turn (clockwise to the right)

  • The Hesitation (or Change) Step

  • The Reverse Turn (counterclockwise to the left)

If you are a beginner and have very limited time to learn the Viennese Waltz before attending a ball, it is recommended that you concentrate on the natural turn and hesitation steps.  Learning the reverse turn is entirely optional, and should not be attempted until after you have become very comfortable with natural turns.  The reverse turn was a late addition to the Viennese Waltz, and requires more effort when going around corners of the ballroom.

Because the Viennese Waltz is so simple, some dance instructors like to embellish it with other sequences of steps.  These "variations"  are almost never danced at Viennese Balls because they often require the couple to slow down or stop, disrupting the flow around the ballroom.

You will need to be able to dance at a brisk tempo of between 50 and 60 measures per minute (150-180 beats per second).  For most of the evening you will be turning continuously as you and others circulate around the ballroom.

The Natural Turn

The natural turn consists of three steps in which you move forward and rotate clockwise 180 degrees, followed by three steps in which you move backward and rotate again by 180 degrees.

For the forward turn you move forward on your right foot, rotating it to the right by 90 degrees, followed by your left foot, rotated another 90 degrees so that it is now facing backward.  The third step is to bring your right foot alongside you left foot.

For the backward turn you move backward on your left foot, rotating it to the right by 90 degrees, followed by your right foot, rotated another 90 degrees so that it has fully reversed.  The third step is to bring your left foot alongside your right foot.

The important point for beginners to remember is that you start on your right foot going forward, and on your left foot going backward.  This is true for both the lady and the gentleman.  The only difference is that the lady goes backward when the gentleman goes forward, and goes forward when the gentleman goes backward.  They are always out of phase by one measure.

As one of the finer points, unlike the Slow Waltz, couples do not step up onto their toes on the second and third beat of each measure.  Instead, they may step down very slightly (perhaps one inch) on only the first beat of each measure by bending the knees while keeping the back straight.  (Similar to the posture for lifting a heavy weight.)

Closed Dance Position

Couples dance together in closed position where the lady and the gentleman face each other, with less than one foot of space between them.  The Lady is offset to the right of the gentleman so that the center of her body is directly across from the right hip of the gentleman, and the center of the gentleman is directly across from the right hip of the lady.  This way, when the gentleman steps forward with his right foot, it moves between the legs of the lady, and when she steps forward with her right foot it moves between his legs.  This position also allows the gentleman good visibility to the left of the lady, and the lady also has good visibility to the left of the gentleman.  Ideally, while dancing the lady and gentleman will both look slightly to the left of each other.

The gentleman will keep his back straight, neither leaning forwards or backwards.  The lady may lean very slightly back and to her left.  She should not be leaning forwards.

The gentleman will extend his elbows out to the side as wide as possible, and place his left hand up and toward the lady so that she may place her palm against his palm.  He will place his right wrist just under her left armpit, with his right palm against her back.  The lady will lightly rest her left arm over his right arm, with her palm against the front of his right shoulder.

The positions of the arms must be very firm, rather than limp, because the lady depends on the pressure between the arms in order to follow the lead of the gentleman. The lady support her own weight and does not hang on his arms.

When first dancing as a couple, it is best to avoid the common tendency to look down at your feet.   One of the best ways for a lady to practice following is to close her eyes and "feel the force" from her partner.

Although it is the primary responsibility of the gentleman to lead, he is unable to see people behind him when he is stepping backward.  The lady has the responsibility to hold him back, should he start to back into another couple or an obstacle.   

As couples practice Viennese turns, they will find it helpful to hold each other more closely.  As in figure skating, they will find it easier to turn more rapidly.

The Hesitation (Change) Step

The hesitation step is very simple.  It can be used for a momentary pause, to move around an obstacle, to recover from any temporary sensation of dizziness, or in order to change between natural and reverse turns.    (People who learn the Viennese Waltz may initially feel slightly dizzy, but it is a temporary sensation that vanishes with practice.)

It is also a standard ballroom practice that the gentleman always begins by stepping forward on his left foot, with the lady going back on her right.  Hence it is common for a gentleman to begin with one hesitation step immediately before going into a natural turn.

The forward left hesitation step consists of stepping directly forward with the left foot on the first beat, then slightly further forward with the right foot on the second beat, and bringing the left foot next to the right on the last beat of the measure.

The lady will mirror the steps of the gentleman.  She will step back on her right, back on her left, and then bring her right foot alongside her left foot.

The forward left hesitation step can then be followed by the forward right hesitation step.  Step directly forward with the right foot on the first beat, then further forward with the left foot on the second beat, and finally bring the right foot next to the left on the last beat of the measure.

The lady will step back on her left, back on her right, and then bring her left foot alongside her right foot.

There are also simple variations on the hesitation step where you can step backwards or to the side.

Practicing the Viennese Waltz

In order to practice you will need a willing partner, a large unobstructed floor, and waltz music with a fairly steady tempo.  Beginners will want to start with a slower initial tempo (perhaps 45 measures/minute = 135 beats/minute) and work up to standard tempo (60 measures/minute = 180 bpm).  You should be cautioned that most concert recordings of waltzes can be difficult because of fluctuating or overly-fast tempos.