Discover the magic of waltz dance styles – American, International, Viennese, country western, and more ✨ Dive into the world of ballroom dance!
Types of Waltz Dance Styles
The waltz is one of the most enduring and popular ballroom dance styles. With its elegant, sweeping movements set to music in 3/4 time, waltz has captivated dancers for over two centuries. Today, waltz has evolved into a diverse range of styles, each with its own distinct tempo, technique and history. Here is an overview of some of the major types of waltz dance.
The original form of classic ballroom waltz is the Viennese waltz. As its name suggests, this fast-paced waltz style emerged in the late 18th and early 19th century in Vienna, Austria. The folk dance of the era known simply as “waltz” was adopted by the upper classes and performed in elegant ballrooms. The Viennese waltz is danced at a tempo of about 180 beats per minute, significantly faster than other waltz styles.
The Viennese waltz features constant turning and rotational movements as couples swiftly revolve around each other and progress around the dance floor with smaller gliding steps. Dancers maintain a close dance frame and upright posture as they link together fast spins, underarm turns and sweeping pivots. There is continuous motion around the floor clockwise, as well as vertical rise and fall. With its speed and constant movements, Viennese waltz creates a sense of motion and liveliness on the dance floor.
In the early 20th century, English dance teachers standardized the waltz, creating the style now known as International waltz. This elegant ballroom dance became popular for dance sport competitions and social dancing. International waltz is performed at a tempo of about 120 beats per minute, making it noticeably slower than Viennese waltz.
International waltz emphasizes soft, smooth and progressive movements around the floor. The rise and fall motion creates a graceful, floating effect. Dancers move as one, keeping a steady frame and maintaining contact in closed dance position. Steps flow together seamlessly and move in a clockwise direction around the room. Common steps include change steps, reverse turns, natural and reverse turns, hover corte, left whisk and chasses. International waltz style follows strict syllabus guidelines for competitions.
Developing alongside the International style was the American waltz. Sometimes called English waltz, this style allows for more freedom and open dance positions. The tempo is about 110 to 130 beats per minute, placing it between Viennese waltz and International waltz.
The American style waltz incorporates a wide variety of steps including boxes, pivots, locks, oppositional changes, cross hovers and Underarm turns in closed and open position. Movements are more lively and dance holds are relaxed compared to the International style. The partners frequently break contact, move apart and rejoin with underarm turns or side by side movements. American waltz blends the classic 3/4 rhythm and rise/fall of traditional waltz with contemporary, jazzy influences.
Country Western Waltz
Country western dancing incorporates a unique style of waltz danced to country music. Also known as C&W waltz, this style is relaxed and improvisational. The tempo ranges from about 100 to 130 BPM. Partners stand in an open C&W dance frame allowing independent movements and footwork.
Country waltz consists of walking steps, hitches, locks and pivots as couples travel counterclockwise around the floor. Dancers often incorporate underarm turns, dance breaks with shadow positions, and lifts and drops. Step patterns emphasize smooth weight transfers and long gliding steps rather than an exaggerated rise and fall motion. Country waltz steps blend with other C&W dances to create a distinctly country style.
The Cajun waltz is a traditional Louisiana folk dance performed to Cajun fiddle tunes. Also called a French or Cajun One Step, this energetic waltz style dates back to the early 1900s. The Cajun waltz is danced in closed position with a subdued rise and fall. Partners glide around the floor with small sideways steps, often improvising variations.
Basic Cajun waltz steps include walking forward and back, turning in place, and pivoting to change direction. Dancers maintain connection through shoulder and hip contact as they progress in a clockwise direction. Accordion and fiddle music give Cajun waltz its distinctive Louisiana flair. This waltz style hearkens back to the dance’s folk roots.
The cross-step waltz, also known as the Boston waltz, originated in France in the 1950s. As its name implies, a key characteristic of this waltz is the crossing of feet throughout movements. Dancers step with feet crossed in front, cross feet while stepping backward, and pivot across each other with crossed feet.
Other cross-step waltz movements include underarm turns, wraps, throws, and rock steps performed in closed position. Crossover steps provide texture and interest to the traditional waltz rhythm and rise/fall technique. Cross-step waltz has become popular at social dance events.
Other Folk Waltzes
In addition to Cajun waltz, various other folk waltz styles have developed around the world. In Scandinavia, rotary folk waltzes are danced socially and competitively. Austria features folk waltzes like the schnellpolka and dreher performed at balls. Italy has the elegant ballo liscio waltz tradition. Mexico has its own style of vals Mexicano performed to Mariachi music. These regional folk waltzes allow dancers to add national flair.
Newer waltz styles continue to emerge by blending elements of traditional waltz with other dance forms. Contra waltz or freeform waltz includes improvised moves and open dance positions. Choreographed waltz routines are popular in competitive ballroom dance. Artistic ballroom waltz allows the expression of moods and characters. West Coast swing waltz stylizes the classic dance with West Coast technique. Modern waltzing keeps this beloved dance fresh and vibrant.
Fundamentals of Waltz
While waltz styles may differ, they all share common fundamental elements. Waltz dance steps synchronize with music written in 3/4 time. Dancers usually count steps rhythmically as “1, 2, 3” to match the strong downbeat followed by two weaker beats. Steps flow together smoothly and musicality is very important. Partners rotate clockwise around each other and move around the perimeter of the dance space.
Waltz footwork patterns include step-close, box step, change step, and progressive variations. Steps feature a graceful rise and fall motion that accentuates the music’s rhythmic emphasis. Partners may dance in closed position or open up to underarm hold, handhold and shadow positions. Proper body alignment, frame, lead and follow technique, and connection between partners enable seamless teamwork.
Mastering the basics of waltz timing, rhythm, and footwork provides a solid foundation to explore different waltz styles. Learning waltz technique starts dancers on a journey of discovering their favorite types of waltz from among the rich “repertoire” that has evolved over centuries.
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The Popularity and Evolution of Waltz
What accounts for waltz’s enduring popularity throughout history? The classic “box step” waltz pattern comes naturally to many dancers, as it resembles the natural gait of alternating steps. The graceful rise and fall and sweeping rotational motions feel pleasant and meditative. Waltz’s 3/4 time signatures lend themselves well to countless beautiful melodies from classical, folk, pop and music around the world.
Waltz reminds us of vintage romance and elegance yet also feels modern and fresh in new interpretations. In particular, younger generations continue to revive waltz by fusing it with contemporary styles. Competitive ballroom waltz dazzles with athleticism and intricate choreography. Musicality and interpretation are being emphasized in social waltz dancing. Online waltz dance videos share new styles with global audiences.
Just as waltz evolved over two centuries from folk origins to worldwide popularity, this dance form continues to reinvent itself. New generations of dancers and musicians discover waltz and make it their own. Whether dancing a fast Viennese Waltz, American Waltz, or folk waltz style, the joy of spinning and gliding to triple time music remains as magical today as ever. Waltz is truly an ageless dance.