History of the American Waltz

The American Waltz is the dance's most common name today, but it is also known as American Slow Waltz, American Box Step and sometimes the Boston Waltz or simply the Boston. The Boston Waltz is the dance's original name because it was introduced in Boston during the 1830s.

The dance was much slower than the prevailing standard waltz of the 19th century, the rotary or circular waltz and the Viennese Waltz, being danced at merely 28-30 measures per minute, rather than the Viennese or Quick Waltz's 54-58 measures per minute. This allowed dancers not only the ease of a slower tempo, but afforded them more time during the music's measures to introduce elements like rise and fall which we have come to distinguish waltz by in the modern mind.

The Boston was the first dance that kept feet parallel rather than turned out like ballet, otherwise known to historical dance students as those dances with "hook behind" steps. Many people found this a much easier basic dance pattern. Perhaps this is because the
hemlines of gowns of the Romantic Era of the 1830s were inches off the ground compared other periods, making backward steps more feasible.

As time progressed, the Boston Waltz grew in popularity well beyond the region of Boston. While the Boston's original form of the 1830s is now considered extinct in modern ballrooms, others debate that that the Boston never really died out, but rather merely evolved into today's American Waltz. When the Boston Waltz was combined with the Hesitation Waltz of the 1910s, which focused on hesitating during parts of music measures for a slow, drawn out effect, it became what most people consider to be the style of American Waltz today. At the same time it also seeded the origins of the International Standard Waltz, also commonly known simply as the English Waltz or Slow Waltz, which is what is done in Europe and highly featured in modern ballroom competitions.

The difference between American and International Standard Waltzes lies in their style. American Waltz is more theatrical, with wide arm movements, open work outside of closed
frame such as under arm turns and side by side independent dancing of the couple. American Waltz also allows more opportunity to pass the feet. International Standard or English Waltz remains in closed frame at all times with its technicalities relegated more toward footwork rather than the wider body movements of American Waltz, and may focus more on picture lines stressing balance.

Today in American country dancing, the Boston Waltz is still danced in some form, though it is traditionally overshadowed in popularity at country dances by country style, progressive
waltzes done in a perpetual promenade hold. This is due to the waltz legacy from the 19th century reflecting a resistance to dancing in rather intimate closed dance frame position of waltzes, which in some places was considered either immoral, or impolite to make the lady dance backwards.

Dance Video Clips

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ge9b8jld1oM&feature=related 1920s American Waltz, note the first solo couple's patterns haven' changed much from today's.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUjoNqOCKzU Early 20th century Hesitation Waltz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrX9VeP8Pj4 American/Boston Waltz lower level competition, (Waltzed in the first half of clip, second half is tango).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4B3uBOGbLeQ&NR=1 Modern country dance competition for Boston Waltz

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xcEli2NARE American Waltz show dance

Victorian dance articles by Leilani Howard, Sacramento Ballroom Society