It is a popular belief that the waltz, like so many other things used in England, was " made in Germany." This supposition is supported by the fact that the waltz reached us via Germany, and that the most famous waltz tunes stand to the credit of German musicians. But the waltz, nevertheless, originated in France, and was known in England as far back as the reign of Henry III. Some enthusiasts even state that the waltz came from Russia. This seems doubtful, and reliable records place its origin definitely in France.
Most people imagine that England never saw the waltz until 1795 when it came from Germany. This is quite a mistake. The waltz, as it reached us in 1795, had been a popular French dance for over 400 years. It originated in Provence, and was called the Lavolta. As such it was danced in France throughout the sixteenth century, and was the delight of the Valois Court. This Lavolta first came to England in Henry III.'s reign, and was danced by that king with great success. It was then known as the Volte, and for this reason may be considered truly one of our oldest and most popular dances.
Fig. 1. The first of the six steps to be acquired in learning to waltz. It is taken by the pupil straight between the teacher's feet, and carries the dancers nearly half round the circle. The complete Photos by set of steps describes a circle [Jacolette
After the time of Henry III. the Volte quite died out of fashion in England, though it still flourished in France. It was not until 1795, when the waltz came to us from Germany, that we danced it again. And, by a not unreasonable error, this German waltz is supposed to be the first we ever knew.
Round the circle
Fig. 2. The second step, in which both dancers turn a little further
The description given by Thoinot Arbeau in 1589 identifies the volte with the Saltatio duorum in gyrum, which is Trevoux's definition of the waltz. Therefore, the Volte, or Lavolta, was undoubtedly the valse a trots temps.
The first German waltz tune, "Ach, du lieber Augustin," is dated 1770, which fixes the approximate date when this dance became general in Germany. In 1795 England was reintroduced to the dance first introduced by Henry III., and treated it with scorn and ridicule. It was not until 1813 that it began to receive any real attention. Finally, it became the rage in 1816, when danced at Almack's by the Emperor Alexander. Since then - for nearly a century - the waltz has been the most popular English ballroom dance. It has seen the decline of the mazurka, the barn dance, the polka, and innumerable other innovations, and still goes triumphantly on its way - the queen of dances.
This is scarcely surprising, as a genuine waltz is undoubtedly the most graceful, fascinating, and seductive of all known dances.
When English dancers first adopted the waltz it was incorrectly named, being known as the valse a deux temps (two beats) instead of a deux pas (two steps). As performed in 1816 this dance consisted of two steps done to three beats, which, of course, is not the case to-day. Gradually this changed to a "hop" waltz, which was a big hop on each foot alternately performed in a circle. The two hops accupied six beats of music, and constituted the waltz a deux pas.
It is not generally known that it was the advent of Queen Alexandra that led to our adoption of the smooth, gliding v. waltz as we know it to-day. The Danish Prince danced in that manner, and we quickly followed her lead.
It is rather interesting - in view of the present influx of Bostons, two-steps, onesteps, and Judy-walks, in which the gentleman clutches his partner as tightly as possible - to remember that when waltzing was first innovated over here it was an unheard-of thing for the gentleman to put his arm round his partner's waist. The waltz was the first dance in England in which this was done, and at first the idea was thought so shocking that the gentlemen held their partners by both hands at arms' length, and waltzed thus. This practice did not long survive; but it is adopted to-day by most teachers, as it is the simplest, easiest method of teaching a beginner. If a child is held close to the teacher, it is difficult for her to see the teacher's feet, or for the instructor to see what mistakes the pupil makes. Held by both hands at arms' length, the teacher is able to give the support and balance necessary to a beginner, and also to see and correct quickly any error in the steps.
This is clearly demonstrated by the pictures accompanying this article.
The waltz of to-day is a dance consisting of six steps, repeated again and again, each series of "six steps constituting a complete circle, and each circle carrying the dancers gradually round the ballroom. Each step fits into one beat of the music, which is in three-four time - three beats in a bar. It takes two bars of waltz music to complete one series of six steps, and one complete circle. The music has a slight accent on the first of each bar, and the steps numbered one and four are correspondingly longer than the others. This slight difference gives the waltz its fascinating swing and rhythm.
Fig. 3. The third step. At its completion, the dancers occupy exactly opposite positions to those in which they started, and have finished half the circle