Coming to America – How The Waltz Waltzed to the Country

The waltz has humble origins. The dance’s name is derived from the German word for “to turn”, which is Walzen. The dance has possible roots in the western Tyrol region of Austria’s folk music. But some people think that the choreography is related to a couples dance from the 16th century called the volta. No matter where the dance originated from, by the end of the 1700s, it spread all over the European continent. It was especially popular with wealthy middle-class teenagers. It was the best way for expression for the new bourgeoisie that was confident and creating new customs.

Coming to America - How The Waltz Waltzed to the Country
Coming to America – How The Waltz Waltzed to the Country

The Journey of the Waltz

The choreography of the waltz is far away from the precise one of dances like, for example, the Minuet. The Minuet has the dancers keeping each other an arm’s length distance apart from one another. The waltz lets the partners have their arms placed around each other as they stay close and spin around on the floor. There was a novel written in 1774 that contained a scene where a ball began with Minuets until there was a new song that started to be played. It was to be expected, but the conservative critics became outraged at this new dance. They thought it had too much body contact. Before the waltz, dancers would only hold hands at most when they were doing elaborate dances. A governess of the French royal family named Madame de Genlis, back in 1818, stated that a young woman would be corrupted if she did the waltz. There was a manual for good manners published in 1833 that said that only women that were married should be dancing the waltz. It was deemed too immoral for unwed women to dance it.

All the bad publicity the waltz was receiving didn’t stop it from gaining popularity. The dance was famous enough that it helped a brand new type of establishment come into fruition. That new establishment was the public dance hall. One of the first public dance halls in Europe was opened back in 1760 in London by Teresa Cornelys, who was a Venetian opera singer. It was run like it was an exclusive club, where the patrons would be able to listen to the music, play cards, and dance. The other capitals of Europe followed the example. The waltz was spreading exponentially, and there were five ballrooms in the Apollo Hall of Vienna in the early 19th century. Young people loved the new dance craze. It fueled a fad that didn’t stop growing for many decades. Thousands of balls were attended by half of the city’s population back in the middle of 1832.

The waltz was steadily becoming even more popular, which inspired many composers in Austria. The simplistic country dance was turned into songs filled with verve by these composers. Those songs then inspired even more composers. It resulted in the waltz spreading to the United States, especially after the Civil War had happened. There were American versions of the waltz popping up. But in the early 20th century, the waltz’s popularity started to fade due to its association with Germany.

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