The Slow Waltz: A German Dance with English Glamour
The Slow Waltz is a dance of the heart. It comes from the soul, due to its sentimentality. “The Waltz”, its name in English, is a very German dance despite of its English influence – and it is also very romantic. These characteristics are always present, even though it was influenced by the down-to-earth English. In the Slow Waltz, rather than trying to conquer the room, the couple wants to dip into an eternal space.
A Detailed History of the Slow Waltz
The Slow Waltz also grew out of the English school. The Viennese Waltz, on the other hand, found only a few supporters in England. Until 1914 it was danced only in the English High Society. With the outbreak of the First World War, the predominantly Austrian Waltz orchestras had to leave – and they virtually took “their” Viennese Waltz with them. This had fatal consequences for the Viennese Waltz; it thereby literally disappeared from the screen, also in Germany. The Waltz was almost dead until 1929. Only in its country of origin, Austria, did it continue to bloom as a folk dance and survived in this form for many decades until it was revived.
In the meantime its younger relative, the Slow Waltz, established itself. This dance is supposed to have developed from the dance “Boston”, a dance which by 1912 had almost completely edged out the Viennese Waltz. This is, however, not quite correct. It would be more correct to say that both dances have the same origin. By the time the Slow Waltz arrived in the USA and in Boston, it had already adopted a great deal from its older brother. Whereas the Boston was threatened by distinction also in Europe before the First World War, the Slow Waltz was born. In times of war, though, dancing naturally plays a minor role. So it wasn’t until 1918 that the people really felt like dancing again. Soon people were dancing again – also waltz. This time, however, at a slow pace, the pace of the Boston, with figures from the Boston, but still not really like the Boston. And also not like the Viennese Waltz. A new basic step was developed, with the characteristic open and closed change forwards and backwards of the Boston, with turns and hesitating steps. It took a few years before this new variant of waltzing became widely accepted. In England, the Foxtrot with its passing steps had just become en vogue. This step also greatly influenced the Slow Waltz. From the original character of the waltz there was hardly anything left. This was standard until 1921.
The English reformed and regularized almost everything danceable in that year. At the “Great Conference,” made up of several smaller conferences, the waltz was also on the agenda. At the third conference in October 1921 it was unanimously agreed that the waltz had to remain a waltz. Forwards, backwards, in the turn; everything was to be danced in the closed pose again. From now on, the closed change, the right turn and the left turn were firmly established as the basic figures. Open changes were from now on only accepted in exceptional cases in the forward position. Backwards, they are still allowed today as a standard figure. To counteract any mix-up of the Foxtrot and the Slow Waltz, the passing changes were banned from the Foxtrot recalling the character of the old waltz. The big difference between the old and the new waltz is that the modern waltz needs much more space for its turns. During the turn, the room is simultaneously conquered. The new waltz is therefore a very spacious dance and also a (German) turning dance. This combination of old and new is typical for the progressive English style and continues to characterize the Slow Waltz today. This new dance was also sharply separated from the Boston. In the Slow Waltz you make one step per beat, on every third step you close your feet and try to make the passing step only in the backward position. This new striding technique supports the progressive movement.
In 1926, the Boston, still existing in Germany at that time, was succeeded by the Slow Waltz. The old waltz didn’t exist anymore in the 1920s. Nobody wanted turns anymore. You move forwards, and only forwards. Not until the beginning of the thirties was the waltz met again with a more positive response. From the Great Conference in 1929 onwards, the young German dance teaching generation deliberately looked to the English, still the leaders on the dancing stage. An Englishman, called Silvester, cautiously taught the Germans the Slow Waltz, at that time simply called “modern waltz.” In the new choreography around 1930, you always referred to Bradley, Silvester, Ford, Stern or Smith. These great names of the English style became more and more famous and dominated the worldwide dancing stage.
The second great conference in 1929 standardized the Slow Waltz in its final form. The classical waltz, by the way, was completely ignored at the conference. At that time the dance was still called “the valse”, as there was only one waltz for a true Englishman. Only with the end of the Second World War did one differentiate between the quick and the slow waltz, between the Viennese Waltz, kissed awake like the Sleeping Beauty after a long sleep, and the Slow Waltz.
If one were to categorize the dances of the English style according to the degree and space of their forward movement, the Tango would be ranking last, because its movement is always interrupted. The Slow Foxtrot and the Quickstep following it, on the other hand, are the dances with the greatest movement. The Slow Foxtrot embodies the perfectly shaped variant of the English style. The Slow Waltz then ends up exactly between the two poles “Tango” and “Foxtrot.” It combines the space-saving English way of movement with the German turning technique. On account of this, it is softer, more melting, more feminine and far from the cool, down-to-business-like Foxtrot. It is characterized by its very gentle movements and its rhythmical swings from one peak to the next. This demands maximum concentration and a highly developed sense for musical harmonies. It has been a competition dance since 1929 and part of the World Dance Program since 1963.
Step 1 and 4 always at the first beat. Mostly one step per beat
29-34 beats/minute, competition pace: 30 beats/ minute