Phenakistoscope of the Waltz
Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day
Today's Musings, History & Folklore
"With a single set of quadrilles, and several country dances, we carried it on to a pretty late hour; and at length, having called upon our musician to strike up a waltz, I was just about to whirl Eliza round in that delightful dance, accompanied by Lawrence and Jane Wilson, and Fergus and Rose, when Mr. Millward interposed with:—‘No, no; I don’t allow that! Come, it’s time to be going now.’" ~ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, Anne Brontë, 1848
March 4th, 3/4 is Waltz Day, referencing the 3 count time signature! However popular the waltz today, it was initially viewed with great suspicion by the general populace as it spread from the courts of Europe in the late 18th century. Dancing masters saw the waltz as a threat to the profession. The basic steps of the waltz could be learned in relatively short time, whereas, the minuet and other court dances required considerable practice, not only to learn the many complex figures, but also to develop suitable postures and deportment. Additionally, the waltz was also criticized on moral grounds by those opposed to its closer hold and rapid turning movements. Religious leaders almost unanimously regarded it as vulgar and sinful! 1-2-3 ... 1-2-3!
The St Bernard's Waltz
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Now considered one of the most elegant and romantic of dances, Waltz Day celebrates the waltz in all its forms and rhythms. However, when first making its way into polite society from the courts of Europe, the waltz, with its closed hold and swirling rhythm was considered scandalous and indecent!
Information from Cheryl Wilson's "The Arrival of the Waltz in England":
The early years of the waltz’s arrival in Britain beginning around 1812 were marked by skepticism, and nobody was more skeptical than George Gordon, Lord Byron, whose poem “Waltz: An Apostrophic Hymn” appeared anonymously in 1813.
Written in the persona of “a country gentleman,” the poem skewers the dance itself and the German culture from which it (including the string of Hanoverian monarchs from George I to Victoria). Byron’s attention to the sexuality of the dance and the impact of allowing such foreign entertainments into the English ballroom set the stage for the ways that English writers would continue to use the waltz as a literary and cultural reference throughout the nineteenth century.
Byron’s poem personifies the waltz as a promiscuous and corrupting force, altering the spirit of English dancing and, by extension, English women!
Waltz—Waltz—alone both legs and arms demands,
Liberal of feet—and lavish of her hands;
Hands which may freely range in public sight,
Where ne’er before—but—pray ‘put out the light.’
Methinks the glare of yonder chandelier
Shines much too far—or I am much too near;
And true, though strange—Waltz whispers this remark;
‘My slippery steps are safest in the dark!’
An entry in the Oxford English Dictionary shows that it was still considered "riotous and indecent" as late as 1825. And in California the waltz was banned by Mission priests until after 1834 because of the "closed" dance position.
For more information about the introduction and evolution of the acceptance of the waltz, click the vintage dancers.