In the modern era of standardized ballroom dancing there are only two Waltzes in both American and International style - Waltz (slow waltz) and "Viennese Waltz" (fast waltz). The primary differences between "American Style" and "International Style" Waltz is that the feet close together and the dance frame stays closed in "International Style" while "American Style" the feet pass and open dance positions, solo movements, and solo turns are allowed. This article will be confined to "American Style" slow waltz, commonly called Waltz.
Waltz is a "smooth" dance that travels around the floor counter clockwise (line of dance). The object of a smooth dance is to travel smoothly around the room, covering as much of the dance floor as possible. It uses the standard smooth dance frame and the lead is preceded by the characteristic Waltz lowering through the supporting leg.
Waltz is danced to music written in 3/4 time with 3 beats per measure. There are no slows or quicks, just 1,2,3 and syncopations thereof 1,2,&,3 etc. Listen for the "boom" in the music. Boom, 2, 3 - boom, 2, 3, etc. The heavy beat, the "boom", is always the 1 beat. The Waltz has a standardized tempo of 28 to 31 mpm (measures per minute) while "Viennese Waltz" has a tempo of 50 - 60 mpm.
The distinguishing characteristic of Waltz is rise and fall (an up and down swooping feeling). There are three kinds of rise used in Waltz - foot rise, leg rise, and body rise (there is NO rise in "Viennese Waltz"). Rise starts between the 1st and 2nd beat then continues through 3 and lowers at the end of the 3rd beat. Any or all combinations of rise may be used depending on the particular dance element being performed. There is little or no travel (horizontal movement) during rise and fall. Waltz does NOT have continuous horizontal movement. It travels on 1 then hesitates during rise and fall (on 2 and 3) preparing to travel again on 1. It does, however, have continuous movement. The horizontal and then vertical movement blends together into a beautiful, continuous flow around the floor. Traveling forward is accomplished by a heel lead while the rise on 2 and 3 is thought of as toe, toe (heel, toe, toe). The movement accent in Waltz is always toward rise, which is the 2 beat. The 2nd beat is drawn out as long as possible.
In addition to rise and fall, sway is the other Waltz characteristic. Sway happens simply by being completely balanced on the 1 beat. Sway, added to rise and fall, gives Waltz that unmistakable swooping, flowing, effortless look.
The following two basic patterns will get you around the dance floor. The Progressive will get you down the straight a ways and the Hesitation Left Turn will get you around the corners.