A common question at dance studios is what is the difference between the traditional waltz and the Viennese waltz? Often students incorrectly assume a Viennese waltz is simply the traditional waltz danced at a faster pace. This is not the case, though a good guess as speed is one of the defining differences between the two dances. So what distinguishes these two dances?
Ok, so we already mentioned speed, but it is not just a slight increase in tempo we are talking about. The traditional waltz is slower and allows for a dreamy sort of character in the dance. The Viennese waltz, on the other hand, is very fast (sometimes as much as four times faster). Some dancers refer to the speed of a Viennese waltz as “canter timing,” and it usually has two steps per measure of music as opposed to the traditional waltz’s three steps. This causes the Viennese waltz to have less of a dreamy character and more of a fast, fun, and purposeful character.
Aside from the dramatically increased speed, the actual footwork and body positioning is a bit different in the two dances, as well. The traditional waltz, with its slower timing, allows for turns and other maneuvers in the midst of linear movements. A Viennese waltz, on the other hand, moves so fast that there is little time for the embellishments of the its slower counterpart. A Viennese waltz usually consists of a number of turns and rotations. These are often done in alternating directions, both to add visual appeal to the dance and to help combat dizziness from the rapid spinning. As a result, some refer to the Viennese waltz as a “rotary” waltz.
Similarly, in a regular waltz the dance partners have moments when they can pause (for example, to perform a dip or a kick step), but in the Viennese waltz such steps are non-existent. Instead, the only breaks in the movement are usually caused by a maneuver in which the partners open their connection while still moving, then reconnect and continue on with the dance. These steps usually only last for a beat or two, and do little to change the overall drive of the dance.
While it may be odd to think of a dance as having a personality, it is really more a description of the tone of a dance style. Just as salsa is fun and flirty, tango is firey and passionate, and swing is irreverent and fun, waltz and Viennese waltz have their own tones, or personalities, that are easy to distinguish. The traditional waltz is slower and more romantic. When danced well, the participants have an emotional connection that translates in their movements and tells the story of that dance. The Viennese waltz, on the other hand, is much more upbeat. The rapid tempo prevents much expression of connectedness between the dancers, instead only allowing for the drive and purposeful movement of the participants.
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Image Source: Austrian Zimmers