Sharing The Joy Of Dancing


The age of the minuet was followed by that of the Waltz. As the French Revolution approached, the minuet, a form that exuded the essence of earlier decades, died a natural death. The English country dances, expressing the self-satisfaction of the bourgeoisie, fared little better. The young people, whose preferences led the way in creating new forms, had lived through the revolutionary events of the 1780s and '90s. They now looked to dance as a way to unleash deeper emotion, to satisfy the needs of body and soul, and to mobilize more vital and dynamic expression than that permitted by the sober and decorous rules of the dancing masters. The overflow of feeling and the striving for horizons broader than those understood by the traditional canons of French Rationalism were among the factors that generated the Romantic movement in the arts of Europe. This new direction was clearly expressed in the Waltz, a dance filled with the Dionysian spirit.

The Waltz started as a turning dance of couples. It was especially popular in south Germany and Austria, where it was known under such different names as Dreher, lšndler, and Deutscher. More than any other dance it appeared to represent some of the abstract values of the new era, the ideals of freedom, character, passion, and expressiveness. This may explain somewhat its eruption into the limelight of international popularity. This popularity was scaled in 1787 when it was brought to operatic stage. Vienna became the city of the Waltz, for there it surpassed everything in wild fury. It swept over national frontiers, and in 1804 the French were reported to be passionately in love with this light, gliding dance. "A Waltz, another Waltz" was the common cry from the ballroom floor, for the French could not get enough of the dance.

Some guardians of the public morality disapproved of the "mad whirling" of the Waltz and it did not arrive in England until 1812. At the Prussian court in Berlin it was forbidden until 1818, though Queen Luise had danced it while still a princess in 1794. The guardians could do no more than delay its total victory, and it conquered the world without sanction of courts, of dancing masters, or of other powers. After many centuries of leadership, France no longer set the fashions. In 1819 Carl Maria von Weber's Invitation to the Dance represented the declaration of love of classical music to the Waltz. Shortly thereafter began the age of the Viennese Waltz kings, most notably expressed by the Strauss family.