The Waltz is the oldest of the ballroom dances, dating from the middle of the Eighteenth Century. The German "Lander", a folk dance, is supposed to be the forerunner of the Waltz. During this time period a dance developed which was called the "Walzer", a word owing its origin to the Latin word Volvere, which indicates a rotating motion. Napoleon's invading solders spread the waltz from Germany to Paris; then the dance glided across the channel to England and finally made its way to the United States.
When the Waltz was first introduced into the ballrooms of the world in the early years of the Nineteenth Century, it was met with outraged indignation, for it was the first dance where the couple danced in a modified Closed Position - with the man's hand around the waist of the lady.
Beginning about 1830, the waltz was given a tremendous boost by two Austrian composers Lanner and Strauss. They set the standard for the Viennese Waltz, a very fast version played at about 55 - 60 measures per minute. The fast tempo did indeed present problems. Much of the enjoyment of the new dance was lost in the continual strain to keep up with the music.
It is not known exactly when the waltz was introduced to the United States. It was probably brought to New York and Philadelphia at about the same time, and by the middle of the Nineteenth Century was firmly established in United States society.
During the later part of the Nineteenth Century, Waltzes were being written to a slower tempo than the original Viennese rhythm. Around the close of the Nineteenth Century, two modifications of the waltz developed in the United States. The first was the "Boston", a slower waltz with long gliding steps; there were fewer and slower turns and more forward and backward movement than in the Viennese Waltz. This version eventually stimulated the development of the English or International Style which continues today. The American Style Waltz is similar to the International Style except the American Style has open dance positions and the dancers legs pass instead of close. The second modification was the "Hesitation Waltz", which involves taking one step to three beats of the measure. Although the "Hesitation Waltz" is no longer danced, some of it's step patterns are still in use today.
Today both the faster Viennese Waltz, made forever popular by the Strauss family, and the slower American and International style waltzes are extremely popular today with dancers of all ages.