History of the Spanish Waltz/Spanish Dance

The Spanish Circle Waltz, or simply "Spanish Dance" or "Spanish Waltz," depending on whether one is referring to the dance or the musical rhythm, has its roots in English Country Dancing.

The waltz took an allemande form toward the turn of the 18th century, in a new form of triple meter that would poise it to become more like the waltz and different from the allemande's 16th century Renaissance origins and later 18th century popular forms of the Baroque era.

Those familiar with square dances and contra dances will recognize this dance form's early predecessor to the waltz with movements such as "Allemande left," and "Allemande right," also spelled "Alamand,"Alman," "Allemanda," or "Almaine," in various dance manuals which is rooted in the French word for "German" as it is how the French believed the Germans danced during the Renaissance period when the allemande forms were introduced. There is no record that confirms this from the Germans, though it is highly likely as that waltz later sprang into urban ballrooms from Germanic folk dances which were rather unique in being turning oriented from which we get the word "waltz," rooted in "waltzen," German for "turning." Thus, the contra and square dance moves "Allemande left" and "Allemande right" involve in the typical iconic turning of dancers around each other in (shockingly) closed position. Those dancers in a country or conservative dance culture would merely hold hands well spaced as they turn around each other. Being shocking ballroom dancers, we will remain in our own trademark closed position as couples when turning.

From this basic allemande form the waltzes and waltz rhythms found their way into country dancing. Waltzed forms of set dances received renewed popularity with the ballroom couples' waltz craze that began to take over Europe after the Napoleonic Wars to change the face of ballroom dancing from set dances to couples dances as we know it today.

By the 1820s the waltz had been thoroughly hybridized into country set dancing. The Spanish Waltz ironically has nothing to do with Spain. As dance crazes spread across Europe and shortly thereafter America, music was written for them with gusto and diversity in all the countries a dance moved through.

For reasons left to history, Spanish songs became favorite pairings with this waltzed set dance for the original English choreographers to the point even if the song played is not always Spanish, the dance is still referred to as the Spanish Dance. The Spanish Waltz's popularity peaked with the American Civil War, and could still be widely found toward the end of the 19th century and even until World War I in some regions. Today, the waltz rhythms and even elements of the dance itself can still be widely found in English Country Dancing, largely as the remaining legacy of the 19th century.

Victorian dance articles by Leilani Howard, Sacramento Ballroom Society
www.sacballroomsociety.org