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Usually the first dance taught to beginners, the Modern Waltz is thought to have originated fom a folk dance of Austria and Southern Germany. In the early 19th Century, the "Waltzen" became popular through many parts of Germany and Austria.

By 1800 it was described as being danced with light shoes, and having the same quick gliding rotating movements steps as the Waltzen but done to a slower tempo. A more sedate form of the fast Viennese Waltz, danced at a leisurely 90 beats per minute, also evolved in America around 1870. This version of the Waltz retained the characteristic turning figures and added others such as a dip, and was danced with the partners holding their hands on each others hips. The Boston also had the distinction of being the first ballroom dance to be done with feet parallel (rather than turned out as in ballet).

The present form of the dance has been variously described as being derived around 1910 in England both from the European and American versions. Either way, there the dancers began taking advantage of the slower tempo to add more figures, some with extra syncopated beats, some with slow 'picture' steps. These give the dance light and shade, and make it more interesting to perform and to watch.

The basic figures are based on a diagonal pattern that produces a smooth progression around the floor, travelling anti clockwise. A dance of even weight changes, and a slow tempo, it is easy for beginners to pick up. However, competition dancers still require fitness and strong legs to dance it well.


A dance performed by couples in ballroom hold to music with a 4/4 rhythm and a 120 beats/minute tempo. A faster dance of this nature was variously called the One Step or Two Step in the Victorian era. This had one step per beat or two steps per bar; hence the dual nomenclature. It was embellished into a nightclub performance dance by Vernon and Irene Castle, and popularised by Harry Fox in the stage show "Ziegfeld Follies" in New York in 1913.

Fox's involvement has been taken as the origin of the name "Foxtrot", although the term had been used previously by the military for an equestrian gait, which could well have been used to describe the dance. The original dance had a tempo of about 160 beats per minute, and was described as being extremely jerky. It is still taught in dance studios of the schools of Arthur Murray and Fred Astaire. This original "Foxtrot" is called "Rhythm" or "The Blues" elsewhere.

It rapidly became popular in New York and a year later in London. It was fashionably regarded as a rebellion against 19th Century dancing, as it used parallel feet (rather than the turned out feet of the Victorian dances). Around 1922, the trotting steps were discarded for a less energetic movement called the Saunter. By 1927 the dance was called the Slow Foxtrot and was characterised by smooth gliding movements.

Since that time, the dance has been developed into two derived forms internationally: the Quickstep and the Slow Foxtrot. The Slow Foxtrot is performed to slower music (120 beats/minute), and retains the walks and pivots of its predecessor. It has continued to have a smooth flowing aesthetic, which makes it a great contrast on the ballroom floor to the antithetical Tango.


The Quick step is a descendent of the Boston and the One Step which appeared on the scene with the arrival of Ragtime and Jazz music in America towards the end of the nineteenth century. These two were the first dances based on the forward step. They used a heel lead followed by two or more steps on the balls of the feet.

As Ragtime evolved into Swing through the 1920's, new dances such as the Charleston, the Shimmy, and the Black Bottom became popular. The Charleston was said to have originated in the Cape Verde Islands. It evolved into a vigourous round dance done by Negro dock workers in the port of Charleston.

It was first performed on stage in New York in 1922 in a black revue by George White, and then in the stage show "Running Wild" in 1923 by the Ziegfield Follies, which toured U.S.A. It was popularised in Europe by Josephine Baker in Paris in the 1920's. It was danced with wild swinging arms and side kicks to music at 200 to 240 beats per minute. It subsequently became very popular worldwide, but the wild character of the dance induced many sedate ballrooms either to ban it altogether, or to put up notices saying simply "PCQ", standing for "Please Charleston Quietly".

The Black Bottom and the Shimmy became very popular in the USA between 1910 to 1920, and became a national craze after being performed in the Zeigfeld Follies in 1922. These dances became absorbed into a faster version of Foxtrot after a visit by Paul Whiteman's band to the UK in 1923, becoming known as the Quickstep.

The Quikstep was developed to to interpret music with a faster tempo. It is a fast moving dance based on walks and Chasses danced to music of four beats per bar at 50 bars per minute, or 200 beats per minute. It retains the walks, runs, chasses and turns, of the original Foxtrot, with some other fast figures such as locks, hops, and skips added.

Viennese Waltz

The Waltz is a dance performed to music with three beats to the bar, and gives the dance a delightful romantic lilt.

The first record of a dance to 3/4 rhythm is a peasant dance of the Provence area of France in 1559, as a piece of folk music called the Volta, although the Volta has also been claimed to be an Italian folk dance at this time. The word "volta" means "the turn" in Italian. This, even in its earliest days, the dance appears to have involved the couple turning as they danced.

During the 16th Century, the Volta became popular in the royal courts of Western Europe. The Volta required the partners to dance in a closed position but with the lady to the left of the man! As in any turning dance, as the couple perform their step around their partner, they have to take a larger than usual step to get from one side of their partner to the other. In order to do this in the Volta, the partners had to hold each other in such a close embrace that many declared it immoral. Louis XIII (1610-1613) had it banned from court on this account.

Thus although the Volta may have originally been in 3 time, it evolved to be in 5 time. In 1754 the first music for the actual "Waltzen" appeared in Germany. Any connection between the Waltzen and the Volta remains obscure, except that the word "waltzen" in German also means "to revolve".

The dance became very popular in Vienna, with large dance halls being opened to accommodate the craze. In 1812 the dance was introduced into England under the name of the German Waltz and it caused a great sensation. Through the 19th Century, the danced stabilised, and was further popularised by the music of Josef and Johann Strauss.

Currently, the Viennese Waltz is danced at a tempo of about 180 beats per minute, with a limited range of figures: change steps, hesitations, hovers, passing changes, natural and reverse turns, (travelling or on the spot as Fleckerls), and the contracheck.


Originally the Tango was (and still is) light spirited Flamenco dance from Spain. With the Spanish conquest of much of South America, this Tango together with other Spanish folk dances naturally emigrated with settlers from Spain, although its involvement in the formation of the Modern Tango is suspect.

The Tangano, an African dance imported with the negro slaves, is a more likely precursor. Over the years one or both became merged with other dances in the New World. In particular, in Argentina in the slums of Buenos Aires in the late 19th Century, they became merged with the Habanera (a folk dance from Havana in Cuba). The resulting dance became known as the Milonga.

Although initially popular with the lower classes of Argentine society, the Milonga/Tango had a most disreputable reputation for being developed in the backstreets and bordellos of Argentina. For over 100 years it was considered far to risqué for a dance hall. However, by the turn of the 20th Century, it had gained acceptance with the upper classes, as it was cleaned up considerably and started to become fashionable in Europe.

It's importation into the upper classes of Western Europe was catalysed by France's greatest music-hall star: Mistinguett, who gave the first ever demonstration in Paris in 1910. Interest in the dance rapidly exploded as a "Tangomania", initially through Paris then London and New York. The first world war did nothing to cool this interest, with Rudolph Valentino popularising the Tango further in his film "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" (1921). More recent film demonstrations have been given by Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar in "Scent of a Woman" (1992), and by Arnold Schwarzeneggar and Tia Carrere in the "True Lies" (1994).

The character of the Milonga is of a very soft private dance, with visual emphasis on the leg movements. This character was changed dramatically in Paris in the 1930's, where the dance was combined with the proud torso of the other ballroom dances, and given a staccato action. This moved the visual emphasis to the torso and head, a characteristic which remains to this day. The intensity and drama of the Tango comes from the predatory, cat like movement when walking. It is a dance of both domination and seduction, the secret of which lies in the posture and hold.

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