The Viennese Waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances, with a rich and beautiful history. In North America, the dance is often left untaught until people reach the highest levels, perhaps because traditionally it was not included in the competition syllabus until the Championship level. Because of the faster pace of the dance, and the challenges of moving together at that speed, people are afraid of it, but it shouldn’t be feared. A little technique can make the Viennese Waltz one of your favorite dances.
The basic Viennese Waltz movement consists of just three steps: Right Turns (called Natural Turns), Left Turns (called Reverse Turns) and Change Steps which change from one of those turns to the other. Both partners dance the same steps, taking turns doing the forward and backward movements.
Because the name of the dance includes “Waltz” and because it is danced in three-beat timing, people often associate the Viennese Waltz with the Modern, or Slow, Waltz, but that’s a mistake. The two dances are different in almost every way imaginable, mostly because the speed of the music requires very different technique. The following technical information will help you improve your Viennese Waltz to avoid the most common problems that we see in this dance.
Even though the Viennese Walz rotates constantly, you must not think of it as a rotational dance. Think of it as a linear dance. The movement is always along the line of dance. Those who get caught up in the rotational action are destined to rotate on the spot, drilling a hole in the floor and going nowhere. You must think of almost every action as continuing to progress your movement along the line of dance.
One of the most common errors we see is a rise of the body during the closing of the feet. In the Slow Waltz, the rise is necessary but because of the speed of the Viennese Waltz there can be no rise. One must think “Down” instead of “Up” throughout the dance.
In the Reverse Turn, for the partner going forward, the footwork is Heel Flat, Ball of foot, and then as you finish your turn, pulling the foot in (without rising) with a Ball Flat action. This keeps the body down, contributing to the linear movement you want to achieve. This tends to be fairly easy for the partner going forward, because we cross our left foot in front of our right foot on step three to keep us aligned with our partner. It is much more challenging for the partner going backwards.
When doing the back half of the Reverse Turn, the right foot goes back Ball Flat, the left foot points to the side with only the Ball of the foot and then, in the most critical part, we drag the entire Flat right foot to close to the left foot. This is where most dancers, including competitive couples, make mistakes. They tend to bring their right foot into the closing position without that dragging action. They lift the heel of the right foot! Without the flat foot action during the closing movement, the body will rise. This causes a “popping up” of the bodies as the feet close rather than a smooth, level action that retains energy down into the floor. When you pop up in this way (even a little), the energy goes upwards, robbing you of power to move forward on the next step.
For the Natural Turn, footwork is Heel Flat as the right foot goes forward, then Ball of left foot and Ball Flat of right foot. The back steps consist of Ball Flat for the left foot, then Ball of right foot and Flat for the final step. Again, on the back half we must be aware of that all-important Flat foot on the sixth step of the turn, dragging the left foot into a closing position against the right foot without lifting the heel. Keep the knees flexed and the body down so that you don’t pop up!
Rise and Fall
The Viennese Waltz is a fast dance, with three steps taking place for every second in the music. Each partner is turning a full 360 degrees every two seconds! There is no time to apply rise and fall action, and anything we do to create rise and fall would take away from the linear movement. Rise and Fall in this dance happens naturally through the movement of the bodies in the lateral swing. Far too often we see people trying to create rise and fall like you see in Slow Waltz. This creates a constant popping up and down that is quite unpleasant to watch.
Rotation vs. Swing
As was already mentioned, too many people dance the Viennese Waltz with a rotational energy. They see and focus on the turning action, thus drilling a hole in the floor with little movement down the line of dance. I understand why they think this way. The musical emphasis seems to be on the first beat in the music. Hearing the strong “One” count in the music, they take a big first step, making it impossible to also take a big second step. That causes the movement to be very circular. For the movement of this unique dance, we must emphasize the second step which is a lateral swing, a strong swinging action to the side. When you make this step properly by really separating your feet, you create the kind of linear movement that characterizes this dance.
Another common problem is that people overturn their bodies on each of the three-step halves. This also contributes to excessive circular action. The body should be aligned at a diagonal at the end of each of the three steps, finishing the turn in between that step and the start of the first step in the pattern. Keeping your head in the correct leftwards position will help considerably in keeping this alignment.
In the Viennese Waltz, each partner takes turns being the source of the power. The person going forward must in effect step on the gas pedal to initiate momentum. The partner going backwards has to coast in those steps. If both are driving at both halves of the pattern, the partner going forward must travel much farther to get around their partner. This is tiring and creates a look of conflict. The partner going forward is on the outside of the turn, while the one going backwards is on the inside of the turn. Whoever is on the outside must travel a greater distance to reach the other side of their partner. Imagine a CD where you draw a mark on the edge of the inside hole and another mark lined up with it on the outside edge. Both marks will always be lined up, but the one on the outside has to travel a greater distance with every rotation. So we have to work together to move the same amount.
You may see top couples demonstrate what looks like a lot of sway in their bodies during the Natural Turn (there is no sway in Reverse Turns). Sway is developed over a very long time. It’s an advanced concept, produced by understanding and applying the correct stretching of key parts of the body and spine to counteract forward momentum. The sway on a Natural Turn in Viennese Waltz is quite different from that of the Slow Waltz, because of the speed of the music. Don’t try to add sway in the Viennese Waltz as that will simply cause your body to gyrate wildly as you turn, like a spinning top that is about to end its rotation.
At Delta Dance, we teach the Viennese Waltz twice a year in group classes at each of our locations. Join us for the three-part program covering these issues and more in detail.
The basic tips shared in this article will help social and novice dancers develop a higher quality Viennese Waltz. Use the comments form below if you have questions about this mini lesson.