Viennese Waltz

Viennese Waltz is the dance which most conjurs up images of classic formal “ballroom dancing”. It is the only ballroom dance that predates the previous century and its music was popularized by Johann Strauss.  Viennese Waltz has developed into an elegant, smooth and gliding dance. The refined image of the tuxedo for the man and the graceful lilt of the flowing skirt for the lady gives us today’s Viennese Waltz.

From Strauss Waltzes and Tchaikovsky Ballets to music by contemporary artists, Viennese Waltz music has inspired people to dance for generations.

Teaching Elements:

  • Footwork–Develop the concept of crossing actions
  • Timing–Learn to use different timings while dancing figures
  • Rise & Fall–Develop the use of legs and feet.
  • Turns–Learn to change directions quickly and comfortably
  • Compare/Contrast–Waltz, Fox Trot


The dance we know today as the Viennese Waltz was known simply as the Waltz initially. It is called so today to distinquish it from the Slow Waltz which developed much later. The word “waltz” itself, anglicised from the German “vals”, is said to have come from the Italian word “volver” meaning “to rotate”.

The original Waltz began in southern Germany and/or Austria sometime in the seventeenth century. It was an outgrowth of the “landler”, a country dance played in 3/4 time. The Waltz used similar music but added smooth gliding rotational movement which is one of the distinguishing features of all forms of Waltz to this day. It was looked on as vulgar and provincial by the aristocracy since it involved a man and a woman together embraced as a couple, a sharp contrast from the stately society dances of the time such as the quadrille and the minuet. This dance was banned in certain areas for its perceived degenerative nature.

However banned it might have been, this dance would not go away and became popular to the degree that it became ubiquitous in central Europe, danced in every community. Eventually even the high society started to embrace it and it started to be performed and danced at even the most elegant of functions by the early 1800’s.

The music of Johann Strauss and the famous ballrooms of Vienna popularized this dance and music form and it is from this time forward that it tends to be referred to as the Viennese Waltz. The composers of this era lent a sophistication to the Viennese Waltz that has since made it synonymous with grace and elegance.

England held out the longest in embracing this dance and its revolutionary concept of a man and a woman dancing as a couple together in public. As late as 1866 this quote appeared in a London magazine:

“We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings … – the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music – can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance.”

By the beginning of the 1900’s the pre-eminent dance couple of the ragtime era Vernon and Irene Castle were demonstrating the dance to all the upper classes of Europe and North America. It was included in their book “Modern Dances” from 1914 including the latest variation the “Hesitation Waltz”.

After World War I the dance continued to be standardized and eventually developed in England into the form known now as the International Style Viennese Waltz which is danced in professional competition in that division. The dance also made its way to the United States, as well, where it developed into the American Style Viennese Waltz and is danced in professional competition in the American Smooth division.

A related dance in North America is the Old Tyme Waltz, an Old Tyme Country dance with similar patterning but danced to old tyme country music (mostly fiddle music).


Viennese Waltz is played at 58 to 60 bpm (bars per minute) for the International Style and 50 to 56 bpm for the American Style. It is usually played in 3/4 time, but Viennese Waltz can also be adapted to many of the pieces of music written in 6/8 time.

Waltz, sometimes known as Slow Waltz, by comparison is usually played at the much slower tempo of 28 to 30 bpm.


Smooth gliding movements that gracefully slide across the floor characterize this dance. Socially it is often danced as a “Hesitation Waltz” stepping only on the first count of each measure or as a quick 1-2-3 forward to back or side to side and moving relatively slowly around the floor. It is this form that is most related to the true Viennese Waltz, that is to say, how it was and continues to be danced in Vienna at formal balls as a social dance.

International Style Viennese must always remain in closed hold while the American Style Viennese allows for underarm turns and position changes for manoevering adaptability and also for interesting and fun choreography. It is for this reason that the American Viennese is slightly slower, allowing for potentially more complex material.

The ballroom dance version of the Viennese Waltz is known for its sweeping rotational look as it glides very quickly around the floor and it is a dance that takes considerable skill to master. It’s formality and traditional charm conjure up the elegant imagery of a former era.  It is this dance that comes to mind for most people imagining classic ballroom dancing.

Viennese Waltz songs and artists include:

  • Blue Danube – Johann Strauss
  • Kiss From A Rose – Seal
  • Have You Ever Really Loved A Woman? – Bryan Adams
  • That’s Amore – Dean Martin