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History of the Viennese Waltz

When the Viennese Waltz emerged in the second half of the 18th century in Austria, it was as controversial as it was popular. Today, it is so much part of Austrian culture that Austrians waltz into each New Year to the sound of the Blue Danube Waltz broadcast on public radio.

Monument of Johann Strauss, Vienna

What it is:

The rapid, twirling elegance of the Viennese Waltz is no thing of the past. As Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance continue to play on America’s small screens, Austria continues to perfect the art of the formal ball, and evolve the elegant forms and undeniable skill of its most famous dance. 
The Viennese Waltz is a rotary dance where the dancers are constantly turning either toward their right or toward their left, interspersed with change steps to switch the direction of rotation. A true Viennese Waltz only consists of turns and change steps. What makes it different from the English Waltz is the speed and the degree of each turn. In a properly danced Viennese Waltz, couples do not pass, but turn continuously left and right while travelling counterclockwise around the floor following each other.

How the Waltz Developed:

What sounds really formal in theory is really an exhilarating dance that has been popular in Austria and all over the world for more than 100 years. Its origin is obscure, but its early history is connected with the landler in 3/4time, the English country dance, and the Teutsche (German) dances of Bavaria in the fourteenth century.
While the ladies and gentlemen of the Baroque and Rococo grew bored with the formal minuet, the people in the countryside, and later in the suburbs, would embrace one another lustily in three-four time. Word soon got around among the blasé aristocrats that the waltz was a very erotic dance. On the largest estates, some noblemen began slipping away to the balls of their servants.
"The secret of the Viennese Waltz", wrote the art critic Hans Tietze, "is in resolving the oppressive, doubtful elements of the Viennese character into art, in a pure, expressive form." Throughout the 19th century, the waltz remains the very expression of Vienna's "soul".

The Viennese Waltz Today

Made even more popular by the music of Johann Strauss, who became something of a pop-star in his time, the waltz continued to be an integral part of social events in Austria and all over Europe. Today, the Viennese Waltz is the oldest and most romantic of the current ballroom dances; the music of Johann Strauss is broadcast to over 70 countries during the New Year’s Day concert of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra; Strauss concerts are part of the classical music calendar all over the country; and the Austrian tradition of holding balls and other dance events would be unthinkable without the waltz.

The city of Vienna alone holds 500 or so balls a year, which traditionally take place during ‘carnival’ season, from early November until ‘Shrove’ Tuesday. Locals and visitors alike dress up in their most beautiful gowns and tuxedoes to gather at, for example, the imperial palace in Vienna, where they enjoy performances, meet friends, and dance into the early morning hours. Until this last year, only two prominent balls took place in summer: The Concordia Ball and the Life Ball. In, 2010, the Summer Fête Impériale joined this exclusive - and worthy - subset.