If you have a slow dial-up connection wait until document finishes loading in your browser before clicking on items in contents.
If the lines of text are too long you can fix the problem with these instructions.
back to homepage
The Viennese Waltz is the classic, old, original waltz. A waltzing couple rotate around each other as they fly gracefully around the room. This article discusses the origin and nature of the Viennese Waltz, also known as the Vienna Waltz, the rotary waltz, and in Vienna as the Wiener Walzer. Since Johann Strauss Jr. wrote so many Viennese waltzes the Viennese waltz is sometimes called the Strauss waltz, though that term more properly refers to the music written by Strauss. Some people mistakenly call it the Vietnamese waltz, which does not exist. This article lists formal balls around the United States. There are appendices on options for learning to dance, how to do the Viennese Waltz including step diagrams, clothes, etiquette, what makes a good ball, recorded music, dance floor friction and debutante functions.
The Viennese waltz is both a competition ballroom dance and a social ballroom dance.
The age of the Viennese waltz is uncertain, but from Goethe's comments one might infer it to date from the mid 1700's, probably as early as 1750. It should be noted that before the first World War, "waltz" meant a fast waltz, unless specified otherwise. The fast waltz was the original waltz. By the 1930's, among competition ballroom dancers, "waltz" came to mean the slow waltz, which evolved from the "Boston", and the fast waltz was renamed the Viennese Waltz, with reference to the city that originally made it famous. For more on this change in the meaning of the word see Appendix H. The Boston originated in the 1870's, but did not achieve any popularity until the early 1900's. The competition slow waltz has many complicated maneuvers that work only at slow tempo. Among country and western dancers, the word waltz retains its original meaning as the international style Viennese waltz, though some country-western dancers do onestep to waltz music instead. Another thing that some people call a waltz is the box step. Even though the name Viennese makes it sound foreign, Viennese Waltz was the most popular dance at balls in the USA before 1910.
Why did the slow waltz gain popularity? The slow waltz has never shown much potential as a social dance; balls based primarily on slow waltz have never been, and never will be, popular. Some powerful forces outside the world of dancing are opposed to balls; they would naturally prefer that if any waltz be taught, it be the slow waltz. The best customers of dance teachers are amateur competition dancers, who want to master the endless intricacies of competition ballroom dancing. Dance teachers prefer dances with more figures to teach so they can teach more lessons. The original waltz had few figures. The international competition slow waltz has many figures, and it is a true ballroom dance. The American style competition "Viennese" waltz also has many figures, but the only ones that are true ballroom dance figures are the few borrowed from the original Viennese waltz. The rest would mostly best be described as show dance figures, though in a strict technical, not cultural, sense they are latin figures.
Many of the most knowledgeable and proficient ballroom dance teachers are enamored with ballroom dance as an art form, like ballet, and have little regard for its simpler forms and its historical use for social interaction. Since ballet has been mentioned, it should be pointed out that ballet and ballroom are entirely different disciplines; it makes as little sense to hire a ballet teacher to teach ballroom as to hire a biology teacher to teach physics, unless the ballet teacher is willing to seriously study the best books about ballroom dancing.
There were many more balls in the USA before 1910 than there are now. Emily Holt's 1901 "Encyclopaedia of Etiquette" had 56 pages devoted to balls; now they would receive little or no mention. On p. 160 of her book she says "So few are the cities, towns, or even small villages where dancing classes are not held that there seems hardly any excuse for a man to attend a ball and refuse to dance...". When balls were popular in America, the adversaries of dance argued that ballroom dancing could cause divorce and illegitimacy. Now few know how to dance, we have few balls, but we have much higher rates of divorce and illegitimacy.
Popular music serves to further illustrate changes in American culture. In 1969 450,000 people attended the Woodstock rock concert in New York state. The behavior of some was very different from what it would have been in church on Sunday morning. In 1872 100,000 people attended a World Peace Jubilee concert in Boston where the waltz king Johann Strauss Jr. conducting his music was one of the star attractions. It seems unlikely that their behavior was much different from what it would have been in church on Sunday morning. Music of both Strauss and Stephen Foster were popular at the time of the wild west. Little country and western music comes to us from that period. "Home on the Range", written in the 1870's celebrates life and nature. By contrast most country and western music of the 1900's is considerably more pessimistic. Perhaps a change back to the less pessimistic cultural tone of the 1800's would be a good thing. This change is probably most needed by those who are most disadvantaged, inner city youth. Popular culture can influence self image and self confidence. Accordingly, this article also discusses low cost balls which can put this recreation within the means of any group.
Those interested in waltz history will want to see the following: this preface, the first two paragraphs of the next section, the latter part of Appendix A, the paragraph about ladies period costumes in Appendix D , Appendix H, the paragraph about the box step in the article about social ballroom dancing at this website, the history paragraph in the article about balls in Vienna at this website, and the entire article about American balls in the 1800's at this website. For history of the tango see the section by that name in the social dancing article.
If the lines of text in this article are too long on your screen, click the square icon in the upper right hand corner of your browser to reduce the size of your browser. On some browsers, you can drag the lower right hand corner of your browser to adjust line length. This article is too long for most people to read the whole thing on the computer screen, but the list of contents above provides links to conveniently navigate the document. It prints out to less than 90 pages from my browser. If you do not have your own computer, you probably cannot print this article at a library computer, but many document copying shops have internet access and can print it out for you.
If you only want to know what has changed in this most recent update, see the changelog.
back to top
Music in 3/4 time goes back at least as far as "Das Lied vom lieben Augustin", written in 1679. The Viennese Waltz dates from the 1700's, probably as early as 1750. It got to England after the War of 1812. In 1814 the Viennese Waltz was credited with helping to put the ambassadors to the Congress of Vienna in the frame of mind to amicably settle the mess left after Napoleon's first retirement. It is still popular in Vienna. They have about 150 public balls listed in the ball calendar in the first three months of each year, with some balls having attendance up to 5000, in a city of only 1.5 million. There are more than 300 balls if you include ones not listed in the published calendar. These are not predominantly Viennese Waltz balls, but most have a fair amount of Viennese Waltz. See the separate article at this web site about the balls in Vienna.
What is it like to do the Viennese Waltz? In 1774 Goethe wrote a possibly autobiographical novel, "The Sorrows of Young Werther", which describes a dance attended by country folk at a lodge in the country side. The dance was in fact popular with such common folk before it was taken up by high society. At the dance young Werther dances with a beautiful young lady who is an exceptionally good dancer. The Encyclopedia Britannica's article on dance history quotes the description he gives of what it is like to do the Viennese Waltz: "Never have I moved so lightly. I was no longer a human being. To hold the most adorable creature in one's arms and fly around with her like the wind, so that everything around us fades away." Everything around you and your partner fades away because the rest of the world is whirling relative to you, but your partner is not. You no longer feel like a human being because of the wonderful sensation of flight that can occur in a well executed Viennese Waltz. Werther made the point that this particular young lady was an exceptionally good dancer, which explains why this particular dance was so remarkable. And in young Werther's case, being a romantically inclined young man with a beautiful young lady in his arms no doubt helped, too.
The Viennese Waltz can be beautiful to watch, but it is even more beautiful to dance. Different kinds of dance evoke different feelings in the dancer just like different kinds of music evoke different feelings in the listener. The famous Viennese Waltz music such as the Blue Danube was written after the dance became popular, and the music expresses the feeling of the dance as experienced by the dancers themselves. Attending a Viennese Waltz Ball can be as clean, wholesome and uplifting an experience for the dancer as attending a beautiful church on Sunday morning is for the devout. A really good Viennese Waltz ball has a magical air about it, a magic that shows in many of the ladies' faces. No other social dance that is within the reach of ordinary people makes one feel so good about oneself and one's partner as the Viennese Waltz. Perhaps that is why it seems so appropriate to dress up for the event.
When danced athletically with large steps the Viennese Waltz has been compared with downhill skiing. Because the world is whirling around you as you dance, it seems like you are going 50 miles per hour, even though you are moving at the speed of a brisk walk. When danced gently with small steps it feels like a pelican looks when he glides through the air low above the water. Sadly, both skiers and pelicans have to do their thing alone; dancing is a shared experience, much more so than sitting side by side in a roller coaster ride. The steps of the Viennese Waltz can be done alone or with a partner; it is incomparably more enjoyable to do with a partner, and does not take on the quality of flight without a partner. It is the best social dance ever invented, and probably the hardest to learn to do well. Merely swinging a club does not make you a real golfer; the fine points make all the difference. The Viennese Waltz is like this too.
The Viennese Waltz as danced in Vienna and most of Europe has almost no variety. Only the natural turn, rotating to the right, the reverse turn, rotating to the left, and the change figures to change the direction of rotation. Partisans of other forms of dance are totally mystified about how so many people could like a dance with so little variety. People ski for thrills, and play golf apparently to scratch an itch for perfection. Neither has a lot of variety. The attraction of the Viennese Waltz is based on both thrills and perfection. A golf pro might give a beginner a score of 5% on his swing when he first learns to hit the ball. It is so difficult to learn to do the steps of the Viennese Waltz in time to the music that most beginners assume they know the dance when they achieve this milestone. In fact, just barely dancing with a partner in time to the music rates one a score of about 5% in the Viennese Waltz. The instructions given later in an appendix tell you how to be much better than a 5% dancer.
It is easy to illustrate the importance of the fine points of hold and footwork taught in instructional tapes and books. If a couple is doing everything right then the dance will have a nimble maneuverability and effortless flying quality. Maneuvering deftly through the crowd on a dance floor is essential to the fun. Being more familiar with the man's point of view, I will now describe that in more detail. Psychologically, the man feels that the lady accepts him as her champion in the heroic enterprise of weaving at high speed through a milling crowd without bumping into or tripping over anyone while taking three steps every second and revolving thirty revolutions per minute. If his wonderful lady partner were to suddenly insist on dancing at arms length instead of using the proper hold, then to him maneuvering through the crowd would feel ungainly and clumsy. Also, his right arm is likely to tire from the centrifugal force of holding the lady. Our crestfallen hero presses on clumsily feeling somewhat rejected by his lady. In Vienna, most couples dance with body contact between the partners. This is not necessary, but very close proximity is. The lady needs to do her part to overcome the centrifugal force and maintain the proper proximity to the man. If she were to do this by clinging with her hands he would feel strained and unbalanced. She can remain balanced over her own feet in spite of the centrifugal force if her feet are slightly behind her. If she were to use the proper hold and proximity but suddenly start to dance flat footed rather than using the proper toe-heel footwork, then he would feel deadening resistance and perhaps roughness, rather than the smooth effortless glide he likes so well. I suspect it is even more noticeable to the lady when the man does not dance correctly. (And I shudder to think what her descriptions would be).
Finally, there is the matter of dance floor friction, sliding of the feet. In the waltz, one is perpetually pivoting on the toe or on the heel of one foot or the other. Everyone knows that friction is critical in skiing. If the skier wore snow shoes instead of skis, he could not ski down the slope, the friction would be too great. If freezing rain covered the slope with solid glassy ice, he could only slide out of control down the slope, the friction would be too small. It makes no sense to wear snow shoes to ski; similarly, it makes no sense to wear rubber soled shoes to dance. It makes no sense to ski on an icy slope; similarly, it makes no sense to dance on slippery powder on a dance floor. The waltz was invented centuries ago when shoe soles and heels were leather, and floors were mostly bare, well worn, unfinished hardwood, and the dance floor friction was good for dancing. Artificial floor surfaces and shoe soles can provide the right dance floor friction, but only with careful selection. The appendix on clothes tells where to buy leather soled shoes, and the appendix on dance floor friction tells how to glue leather soles on the bottom of rubber soled shoes.
back to top
Following is a list of annual social dances, not competitions, that I have attended in America. Balls in Vienna are discussed in a separate article.The dates given are in the past, when I last attended. You will need to contact the ball organizers to have an invitation mailed to you. You should do this as early as possible because these balls are not always the same month from year to year. Also, notice that some of the balls occur at two times during the year. This is not official information about each event, just my recollections. This list is by no means complete. There is no systematic way to learn of these events; the only way I have found is to ask people at these events if they know of any others. To my knowledge none of these balls discriminate on the basis of race, religion or national origin.
The name of this web site is www.waltzballs.org. This does not mean that the balls listed below are part of any organization. I chose .org rather than .com because I provide this page as a public service, and do not receive any money from it. I have to pay for my ball tickets just like you do. The organization consists entirely of myself. The balls have kindly permitted me to list them in this web page. I do not list any ball that does not wish to be listed. Any ball certainly has permission to give the web address of this article in their announcement or program. My e-mail address is given in the article about the author at this website. All e-mail addresses in this article are given with "at" spelled out, rather than using the "@" sign, to avoid programs that automatically scan the internet for e-mail addresses to send junk mail to.
You do not need to know how to dance to attend these events. Many of the attendees just sit, watch the dancing and listen to the music.
These balls all had enough floor space to be adequate for dancing. I have attended other balls that do not have enough floor space for the dancing to be enjoyable. To estimate how much floor space will be adequate for dancing see Appendix E.
Milwaukee, WI: "A Night in Old Vienna", 6:00 to Midnight, Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008 at the Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel. Telephone: 414-444-1961 or 414-837-4138. www.concordorchestra.org Event started in 1986. Dress: black tie or period costume. Price $70 per person. This event sells out two weeks after the announcement is sent out; request an announcement well in advance, and get your check in as soon as the announcement arrives. Unlike the more expensive dinner events, this one is not a fund raiser for something else, and shows how inexpensively an elegant dinner and ball can be produced. Net proceeds from a raffle do go to charity; raffle tickets cost extra. Tables with informational handouts were in the lobby outside the ballroom, and nice pictures were posted on the lobby walls. The ballroom was decorated with Austrian provincial flags. Cocktails in lobby 6:00, ballroom opened 6:30, dinner 7:10, dancing to 12:30. Dinner served at circular tables surrounding dance floor consisted of soup, salad, croissant, sorbet, main course, dessert and coffee. Dinner music by Kurt von Eckroth and his zither. Dance music by the 30 piece Concord Chamber Orchestra supplemented by a variety of recorded dance music during orchestra breaks. The program listed 10 waltzes, 6 polkas, one each march, quadrille and galop. There was a brief period of opera singing by Maria Jesus Una de Viehboeck of Vienna. The waltzes were a proper 60 bars per minute. Normally this would be about right, but the urethane finish on the floor was sticky with normal chrome tanned leather dance shoe soles, so the waltzes should have been slower to compensate. On a previous occasion 54 bars per minute felt about right on this sticky floor. With 37% teflon soles the friction was about right or maybe slightly slicker than ideal. The dance shows were American style Viennese waltz, and ballet. There was a Viennese waltz mixer: couples who wanted to participate were told to change partners about five times during a waltz. The waltzing was interrupted for a quadrille lesson at one point. There was a raffle drawing. After the last orchestra session, the dancing ended with recorded ballroom music. 320 attended, floor 30 by 90 feet (9.1 by 27.4 m.). There was 8.3 square feet (0.783 sq.m.) of dance floor space per attendee, which provided adequate space for dancing.
Washington, D.C.: "Evening of Viennese Waltzing", Saturday Feb 16, 2008 in the Organization of American States Building, which is on the mall between the White House and the Washington monument, and a bit to the west. Event started in 1983. 9PM to 1AM. White tie optional. Probably 70% were in black tie. Contact Mr. Robert A. Schadler 202-338-3239. Email cwestciv at yahoo.com. Ticket price $175. The building was built for diplomatic receptions and balls. This is the one ball every year that is open to the public. The lobby is a large indoor garden with plants, fountain and benches. Upstairs at the end of a very long staircase is a small but elegant ballroom colored white, with fluted columns supporting Roman arched ceiling, and circular tables. An elevator is also avialable. The 18 piece Con Brio orchestra provided the music, which was mostly Viennese Waltz, with the remainder two tangos, two polkas, a march and a foxtrot. The waltzes were very danceable. The useable portion of the dance floor was 43 by 72 feet (13.1 by 21.9 m.). 288 attended. This ball copes with a small ballroom in an original manner. They could provide seating for everyone by covering more of the dance floor with tables and chairs. Instead, if they sell more tickets than seats they assign more people to a table than there are seats, and expect people to timeshare the seats since some of them will be dancing at any given time. This is possible because dinner is not served at the ball, only a dessert buffet outside the ballroom on a balcony overlooking the indoor garden. There was 10.75 square feet (1.0 sq.m.)of dance floor space per attendee. The floor had good friction for dancing.
San Francisco, CA. Saturday, Nov 12, 2011, the "Gala Autumn Waltz Ball" put on by the Waltzing Society. Event started in 1956. Web page www.sfwaltzingsociety.org, email gail at sfwaltzingsociety.org. Ticket $155. Location, the Scottish Rite Center 1545 Lakeside Drive Oakland California. White tie, black tie optional. Coctails 6:00, dinner 6:30, grand march 7:30, waltzing and a few polkas until 11:30. Very grand ballroom. Dance floor space 70 by 96 feet. About 130 present. 51 sq.ft. (4.8 sq.m.) per attendee, way more than enough space to dance. The dance floor was useable but sticky with leather soles. It was just right with 37% Teflon soles. The Saratoga Symphony Orchestra provided the music with about 25 musicians. This event is not at the same location every year; you might have to wait until you get your announcement to find where they will be the next time. This event has pioneered a novel solution to the problem of very long Strauss waltzes. They sometimes cut them in half to get more, shorter dances. It works fine. The waltzes were 60 bars per minute, fine for the few accomplished dancers, but the many beginners might have preferred 52 bars per minute. The orchestra played two quadrilles. It would have been better for beginners if some of the onesteps, twosteps, foxtrots, and tangos from the first half of the twentieth century had been played, which are available in symphonic arrangements. During orchestra breaks recorded dance music was played, mostly latin.
Ft. Collins CO: "Wild Asparagus Ball", Saturday, May 5, 2012. They have a similar event, the "Wild Goose Masquerade Ball" in October. Both are held at the Lory Student Center ballroom on the university campus. Music by the "Denver Pops Orchestra", which goes under the name of the "Mostly Strauss Orchestra" for this event. I counted 40 musicians, but they had not started playing yet, more may have come on stage at the last minute. Event started in 1984. Web page at fotd.org. E-mail fotd at fotd.org. The dances were mostly viennese waltzes, but also polka, tango, slow waltz, swing, cha cha, foxtrot, even a chicken dance. The viennese waltzes had more extreme tempo variations than typical of balls in vienna, or of concert recordings. Danceable area of floor 57 by 117 feet (17.4 by 35.8 m.). Seating at rectangular tables. Elaborately choreographed opening march Price $20, hors d'oeuvres, no dinner, couples and lots of singles, with an unusually young crowd. In May the dress is about evenly divided between coat and tie and black tie, with some merely wearing dress shirt and tie. The air conditioning for the ballroom is not adjustable separately from the rest of the building, so the event is a bit warm for dancing; most coats come off after about an hour. Most ladies wore long dresses. The ball in October is a costume ball with everything from sport-coats to tail-coats and many unusual costumes. About 200 attended. Tables with informational handouts were available in the lobby. There was 33.3 square feet (3.1 sq.m.) of dance floor space per attendee. Normally this would have been more than adequate. But with a large number of swing dancers and non-dancers on the floor, the floor was a bit crowded on the viennese waltzes, and hard to move continuously around the floor. In the past the floor friction has been fine, but it was sticky enough this time that I wish I had tried my slick shoes. All I used was the normal leather soled shoes.
Salt Lake, UT: "Vienna Ball", Saturday Feb 10 2007, 8-12 PM, Unversity of Utah Union Ballroom. Web page http://www.saltlakesymphony.org. Admission $50. Black tie suggested but not required. Music provided by 50 members of the Salt Lake symphony, and by the Wayne Christiansen Trio. Event started 1986. Floor shows by the BYU Ballroom Dance Team. No group in America puts on better dance shows than the BYU dance team. Dinner at circular tables. Seating for 360 people. Dance floor 109 ft. (33.2 m.) by 39 ft. (11.9 m.). There was 11.8 sq. ft. (1.09 sq.m.) per person. The large symphony orchestra played superbly danceable Viennese waltzes, a march and some polkas. When I attended this ball two years earlier, the orchestra played some nice easy onesteps at 100 beats per minute, I was sad to see that they did not play any this time. The trio played a variety of ballroom and latin dances. The floor was too sticky even with 37% Teflon soles. Hopefully this will be corrected by the time you attend.
Detroit, MI: "Viennese Strauss Ball" Saturday Feb 6, 2010 at the Palazzo Grande banquet and event center 54660 Van Dyke Ave, Shelby Township, Michigan, in the northern suburbs of Detroit. Web page http://www.austriansociety.org/ofDetroit/StraussBall.html. Email edda.sinz at sinz.org, 248-650-0889. Cocktail hour 6:00PM, dinner 6:30, debutante show 8:00, dancing 8:45-12:00. Music provided by 22 piece Macomb Symphony Strauss Orchestra, and the 9 piece Eric Neubauer Ensemble swing band. Black tie suggested. $80 per person. Dance floor I stepped off at 45ft by 110ft (13.7m by 33.5m). The literature provided showed 30 by 90 feet, this had to be an error. 348 diners plus 48 debutants and escorts was 396 in attendance. 12.5 sq.ft. (1.16 sq.m.) dance floor per person, plenty of room to dance. The dance floor was glassy smooth marble, but it was quite sticky, stickier that other marble I have danced on, but not sticky enough that I could use my 37% teflon shoes. The dancing was mostly Viennese waltz, but with a nice sprinkling of foxtrot, cha cha, jive, rumba, tango, polka and slow waltz. The foxtrot was especially valuable to afford beginner ladies a chance to dance. The Viennese waltzes were very danceable. The debutante show was not typical of American or Vienna. Young men participated as in Vienna; this is rare in America. There was a pretentious American style introduction of each debutante. I have been to 22 balls in Vienna and have never seen debutantes introduced there. The young couples did a march routine to the Radetsky march that was more elaborate than typical of Vienna. They did an elaborate polonaise dance to the polonaise music from the movie "Pan Tadeusz". In Vienna it is typical to march in to the Facher polonaise, a much less pompous piece of music, but not to actually attempt the polonaise dance. The elaborate group dance routine in Vienna is most often done to polka mazur music. In America the polonaise is not typically used at all. They did a Viennese waltz as in Vienna, but not smooth as in Vienna. There was a lot of hopping in the waltz either because of poor instruction or because of the sticky floor. Then the young men stepped aside and the debutantes did an American style father-daughter waltz to viennese waltz music which served to show that most of the fathers could not waltz. After the debutante show, there was dancing for everyone. Midway through the dancing, there was another debutante show of a line dance, popular in America but never seen in Vienna.
The next two balls are primarily student balls, though the public is invited.
Austin, TX: "Great Waltz", Saturday Oct. 27, 2012, 8-12 PM, ballroom in the Texas Union building on campus at the University of Texas. Web page http://texasballroom.org. Email to uttexasballroom at gmail.com. The most convenient parking is a multilevel garage two blocks west of the Texas Union Building. A traffic light in the middle of the block makes it safe and convenient to walk across Guadalupe street. Music provided by about 30 members of the Austin Civic Orchestra. Event started in 1982. This event is typically not announced on their website until two or three weeks before the event. Dance floor estimated to be 47 by 80 feet (14.3 by 24.4 m.). Circular tables on two sides of the dance floor. About 125 people attended. With 30.0 square feet (2.79 sq.m.) per person, there was ample room to dance. Even though the event was sponsored by the student's dance club, it was open to the public. Non-student ticket prices prices $20 at the door, students less. The dress code "formal", which meant coat and tie. The room was too warm to dance in a wool coat, so most of them came off. It was like two balls in one, with students sitting and dancing together, and adults sitting and dancing together. It was about two thirds students and one third adults. The orchestra played a march, many Viennese waltzes, a few fast polkas, tangos, foxtrots. All were very danceable. Each time the orchestra took a break there was about 20 minutes of recorded dance music, mostly latin. During one orchestra break a competition dance couple demonstrated international tango and slow waltz. The floor had a new urethane finish on it that was slick enough to be comfortable to dance on with chrome tanned leather soles. Previously this floor had been so sticky that slick shoes were needed. The students and adults voluntarily sat at different tables. The students did not need tables designated for singles, because they are all single, but the adults did. Some of the adults came to dance, some were proud parents who only came to watch. If a single lady sat between two married men, the single men assumed she was married and did not ask her to dance. At the end of this ball I saw one such lady leaving by herself sad and dejected, probably having never danced. I had assumed she was married and never asked her to dance.
Durham, NC: "Viennese Ball", Friday 19 Feb 2010. Sponsored by the Duke University Wind Symphony, web site music.duke.edu/ensembles/wind-symphony . Ticket price $12 at the door, $8 for students, no advance ticket sales. Dress code semi-formal to formal. This event held at an armory in Durham. It was the fourth armory I found in looking for the right one, so remember that it is the armory at the intersection of Morgan and Foster streets in downtown Durham. Parking was diagonally across the intersection in a multi-level parking garage. Event started in 1974. There was a dance lesson from 7-8 then the ball was from 8 to midnight. Dance floor 62 by 90 feet (18.9 by 27.4 m.). A table with cookies, crackers, water and vegetables was provided for refreshment. 207 tickets sold. There was 26.9 sq.ft. (2.5 sq.m.) of floor space per person, and plenty of room to dance. The event was open to the public, but was mostly students from Duke and from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. About 10% of the people were non-student adults. Music was provided by a string orchestra alternating with a 9 piece brass polka band. There were 20 chairs on the stage for musicians but I forgot to count the memebers of the string orchestra. The music was mostly Viennese waltzes and polka schnells, which are both fast. No medium speed polka francaise or slow polka mazur like old balls in Vienna, and no medium speed quickstep or slow foxtrot and tango, etc. like balls in Vienna today. When neither group of musicians were playing recorded music was played. A group dance show was provided by student couples dancing to viennese waltz music, doing viennese waltz figures and show dance figures. They danced to recorded music since there was no way they could have danced to the live music. The string orchestra played waltzes at a very un-danceable 68 bars per minute until enough people complained and the last few were played at a very danceable 56 bars per minute. The standard tempo is 60 bars per minute. Since so many of the dances were un-danceable it would have been nice to have the walls lined with folding chairs the way it was done the first time I attended this ball. There were few folding chairs, certainly not enough for the demand. The dance lesson included polka and waltz. I have been to 22 balls in vienna and taken a lesson in Vienna and I know how the Viennese waltz is danced. The volunteer from a vintage dance club who taught the lessons did not. The alignment errors in the waltz lesson varied from step to step. The alignment error on step six was 60 degrees, a very large error indeed. It is easy to see where this must have come from. In the 1800's the adversaries of dance were (and still are) determined to discourage and eventually eliminate the waltz. Accordingly various deformed versions of the waltz were devised that would be less fun to dance, and would discourage it. Grove in 1895 [3, p.420] refers to American waltz variations such as the "Hop-waltz", "Slow-waltz" and the "Lurch". Dancing at half tempo to fast waltz was sometimes called the slow waltz but more often called the Boston. But the others would have been described as the authentic true waltz by their inventors. A vintage dance group on the west coast was recently pushing the hop waltz as the true waltz. I think this young man in his diligent historic researches has discovered the mysterious "lurch". The floor was too slick for comfortable dancing with leather soles, and too sticky with rubber soles, but rubber was definitely the preferred choice. Unfortunately I did not have my 37% leather 63% rubber shoes with me, as they would presumably have been the best choice.
My resources are limited, and I cannot attend all the balls that exist to verify that the opportunities for dancing are adequate at each ball. You may find a ball that is more convenient in the links section of this website. If you make inquiries about dance floor space you can make an educated guess as to whether the dancing will be adequate.
back to top
This appendix is a general discussion of the process of learning the Viennese Waltz. Since some are interested in learning old versions of the waltz, the discussion ends with some history of the waltz. The next appendix gives detailed instructions.
The basic international steps are the most practical for social dancing both in the USA and in Europe. The natural turn (Austrian Rechtswalzer), reverse turn (Austrian Linkswalzer) and change figures are all that you need to know. The so called American style Viennese Waltz danced by American style ballroom dancers includes the basic international figures but adds many extra figures having nothing to do with a real Viennese Waltz. One could presumably win a contest in American style Viennese Waltz with out ever doing any real Viennese Waltz figures. Most of these extra figures appear to have been concocted by American dance teachers in the 1900's who were inspired by swing dancing, show dancing and ballet. Some of them have been given names with a Viennese flavor to make them seem more authentic. They are not authentic and they are not very satisfying to do. The only time fancy figures are used in Vienna is during the debutantes performance which opens each ball; they are never danced socially. American country and western dancers, in contrast to American ballroom dancers, dance international standard Viennese waltz. They call it simply "waltz", and most dance only change figures; only a very few can do the rotations.
There are different phases of learning to dance the Viennese Waltz. First, learn to do the steps slowly, then learn to dance by your self in time to the music. If you have trouble keeping up with the fast music, go as fast as you can without the music until you build up your speed. Then learn to dance with a partner. At first you will get dizziness and motion sickness; after about 10 hours of practice this should start to subside, and after a few more hours eventually disappear. When you first learn to dance correctly, dancing will still be a struggle. It may take a lot of practice before you can relax and do it easily and naturally. Then you must learn to maneuver around obstacles.
Ladies in high heels may on rare occasion trip. If this happens when the man is a beginner, both will go down. When the man gets sure footed he can catch the lady and neither will fall, if she is close enough to him. It would probably be best for ladies to learn in flat shoes or low heel pumps. People with osteoporosis who cannot risk a fall, or with other conditions who cannot risk very vigorous exercise, should not try to learn the Viennese Waltz.
If a couple cannot afford lessons, they can teach themselves using video tapes or using written instructions given in the next appendix. A couple may, at certain times, be able to use the floor at some kind of dance school, meeting hall or gymnasium, for very little cost. With a portable music player on the man's belt, an extra pair of headphones and a stereo "Y" adapter, a couple can practice quietly with their own private music on "his" and "hers" headphones. When I was learning most of my lessons were done this way.
The traditional way to learn the Viennese waltz for common folk in Europe was no doubt to barely get started with rudimentary instructions from parents or friends, then dance it for years until one got really good. To start out really good requires intensive lessons and practice.
It took me 65 hours of private lessons dancing with lady teachers to learn the Viennese Waltz, and I practiced by myself in addition. However, a teacher in Vienna told me she could have taught me in 20 hours. I had four lady teachers in America of varying degrees of experience. Possibly if all of my instruction had been with the most experienced, I might have learned in 20 hours. Unfortunately, I was not told by the first few teachers about the uneven timing of the steps, and wasted effort trying to make the timing even. In any case, the instructions given in the next appendix contain details that I was not aware of in my struggle to learn, so you may be able to learn faster than I did. In any case, it will take a while, so be very, very patient with yourself and your partner.
When seeing my written instructions on how to teach yourself to dance in the next section, most people will recoil at the idea of reading how to dance. They would much rather be shown. I paid about $2600 to be shown. Sure it is tedious to read how to dance, but it is certainly not $2600 worth of tedium! Brace yourself and dig in; you CAN do it.
If you are teaching yourself, make sure that the combination of shoe soles and practice floor provide as nearly as possible the proper dance floor friction. See the appendix on dance floor friction for more information.
Instructional video tapes on international style Viennese Waltz are available from Dance Vision, http://www.dancevision.com 702-256-3830 or 800-851-2813. and Butterfly Video, Antrim New Hampshire 603-588-2105 or 800-433-2623. The instructions in these videos are not as accurate nor as complete for the basic natural and reverse turns as the instructions in this website.
It is not always better to take lessons than it is to teach yourself, even if you can afford the lessons. It is tricky to find a teacher qualified to teach Viennese Waltz. An unqualified teacher can be much worse than no teacher. I have danced with many lady students of a swing dance teacher who also taught Viennese Waltz. These lady students rocked back on their heels and leaned hard against the man's hold, expecting him to sling them around and drag them down the line of dance. This may have been "ring around the rosie", but it was not Viennese Waltz. I met a lady ballroom dance teacher who said that after she got good at the other dances she learned Viennese Waltz in a very short time. I danced with her. She stepped in time with the music, but she was so rough and clumsy that I felt she still needed more practice before she should claim that she knew the Viennese Waltz.
Competition dancers already know how to do the Viennese Waltz, but they will have some learning to do anyway. The maneuvering in social Viennese Waltz is essential to the fun, and will be completely new to competition dancers, who compete in an oval pattern on a practically empty floor.
A historical footnote is of interest. The Viennese waltz started in the countryside in Austria and Germany with dirt farmers and country folk. Curt Sachs, in his 1937 book "World History of the Dance", in the first paragraph of the section "The Age of the Waltz" quotes Goethe on his early youth in Strasbourg. Goethe was born in 1749. Sachs says of Goethe, "He and Lotte swung round together in the minuet, and he persuaded her to dance the English contre and 'even the waltz'. But as they 'whirled round together like the spheres, it was certainly a little rough to begin with, because so few know how to dance it'. ...Out in the country, in Sesenheim, on the contrary, the 'allemand, waltz and dreher were the beginning, middle and end. All the people had grown up with this national dance'." Sesenheim does not show on most maps; it is between Strasbourg, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe, latitude 48.8, longitude 7.98. Note that English country dancing was done in Strasbourg in Goethe's youth. However by 1791 Sachs quotes an anonymous author in Berlin who writes that "the waltz and the waltz only is now so fashionable that one sees nothing else at dances; if you just know how to waltz, everything goes fine".
When the waltz was new, professional dance teachers were trained in ballet. Ballet teachers had been taught that all good dancing was based on ballet. They wrote about the waltz not as it was actually danced, but the way it should be danced if it were to become legitimate ballet. This completely missed the point that the waltz was legitimate in its own right, and did not have to be transformed into ballet to become legitimate. Ballet teachers described it imprecisely and inappropriately using foot positions and terminology from ballet. They would have it danced with feet turned out, stepping delicately like a ballet dancer. This is unlikely to have been an accurate description of the way dirt farmers danced it. Most common folk in Austria learned to dance from their parents or friends, not from ballet teachers.
There was much establishment opposition to the waltz when it was new. Other, non-ballet descriptions of the waltz were perhaps written by some of the many serious opponents of the waltz who wanted to transform it into other dance forms they found less objectionable. The descriptions of what was objectionable about the waltz by admitted opponents are sometimes more accurate descriptions of the waltz than the fake waltzes described by people pretending to be in favor of it.
When it finally got popular enough to spread beyond the German speaking world, dance teachers in the English speaking world started teaching it and writing books about it. Some of the old books are online at http:// memory.loc.gov/ ammem/ dihtml/ dihome.html. The English speaking world was more Puritanical than the German speaking world, and could not as readily accept the close hold which is natural with the Viennese Waltz. Perhaps this is why the English speaking world published their own versions of how to do the Viennese Waltz, rather than translating German language instructions.
The first book on ballroom dancing written in English in complete technical detail using ballroom terminology rather than ballet terminology was Alex Moore's "Ballroom Dancing", written in England in 1936, and still by far the best book on ballroom dancing. The tenth, current edition of this book is available from http://www.routledge.com and http://www.bn.com. A supplement to Moore's book by the ISTD, "The Ballroom Technique", is very useful for the other ballroom dances, but does not cover Viennese Waltz. Even though Moore's book is primarily about competition dancing, it is also good for social dancing. Under the heading of "The Waltz" it describes the slow waltz; Viennese Waltz is described on p. 283. He describes Viennese Waltz in diagonal notation, which, though adequate for the other dances is not really precise enough for Viennese waltz. Even Alex Moore omits the timing of the steps, which had been correctly given earlier in Edward Scott, "The New Dancing as it Should Be" [1, p.76], London, 1910, and is given in the next appendix. (This is not about "New Dancing", rather it is the second edition of his book "Dancing as it Should Be"). I was first informed vaguely of the step timing by an unusually knowledgeable dance teacher. I determined the timing precisely by studying video tapes in slow motion; I have no idea how Scott did it, but we agree exactly.
In the 1800's there were several alternative methods of doing the waltz that were published in English. Any one of these could be used now to teach the dance with "historical accuracy". Apparently not all of these methods were the result of progress. On p.68 of the same book, Edward Scott mentions "The Sauteuse.--The 'Hop' Waltz. A makeshift, silly step, only practiced by people who are too idle to learn, or are unable to waltz properly." In the 1800's the adversaries of dance were (and still are) determined to discourage and eventually eliminate the waltz. Accordingly various deformed versions of the waltz were devised that would be less fun to dance, and would discourage it. Grove in 1895 [3, p.420] refers to American waltz variations such as the "Hop-waltz", "Slow-waltz" and the "Lurch". Dancing at half tempo to fast waltz music was sometimes called the slow waltz but more often called the Boston. Grove was using descriptive terms to identify American waltz variations, not necessarily the terms Americans would have used to identify them. The others would have been described as the authentic true waltz by their inventors, and still are by American "vintage dance", "Victorian dance" or "folk dance" groups. One vintage dance group will select the hop waltz as the true waltz, another vintage dance group will select the lurch as the true waltz and another might select some other American fake waltz that Grove and Scott, being in England, did not know about. On p.67 Scott says "the correct Waltz is that which combines the greatest measure of enjoyment with the most perfect grace of action." By this criterion none of the American fake fast waltzes even came close. Even if one started out with one of the fake waltzes one's style of waltzing over time would be likely to evolve toward the real waltz because it is easier and more natural when dancing at fast tempo to fast waltz music. Slow waltz music came later. The earliest piece of slow waltz music that I know of, "fascination" was not written until 1904; hundreds of fast waltzes had already been written. So presumably most avid experienced American waltzers of the period were doing the real waltz, now called the Viennese waltz which is danced at fast tempo to fast waltz music. The Boston evolved into what is today known as the waltz in ballroom dance competitions all over the world, and is danced at slow tempo to slow waltz music. It is not just a slowed down fast waltz; it is a different dance.
A set dance is a dance where all the women do the same thing at the same time, and all the men do the same thing at the same time. Some people who are fond of set dances like to make a set dance of Viennese Waltz. They recommend a certain number of natural turns alternating with a certain number of reverse turns. I personally do not like set dances, and think that any attempt to make a set dance of Viennese Waltz destroys the spirit of individuality that is a prime virtue of the dance. This comment refers to social dancing only, and is not a criticism of any show a dance team might perform for an audience. Military authorities like marches, which are really set dances, because they serve to condition the troops to unquestioning obedience. Perhaps some community leaders who advocate set dances should examine their own motives. I rebel at any hint of subjugation.
back to top
This appendix has links to step diagrams of the basic figures of what to ballroom dancers is the international standard Viennese waltz, and to country and western dancers is simply the waltz. The acute analytical mind will notice that the orientations of the steps in the natural and reverse turns do not seem consistent with the waltz rhythm. This apparent inconsistency is resolved in the detailed explanation of the natural turn. Foot positions are only about 10% of the information in this appendix. Do not be tempted to ignore the other 90%, or you will become the proverbial 5% dancer. Learning to be a good Viennese waltzer in the shortest possible time is not light hearted frivolous absent minded casual play, it is hard work, requiring study and concentration. Any other approach is doomed to failure. A simple easy dance is best taught as a finished product in its final form. The Viennese waltz is best taught as a process of learning. Only the final stage of the process results in the final form of the dance. The fastest way for a couple to learn is to practice separately before they get together to practice as a couple. That is the way these instructions are presented. In the "individual practice" section "kitchen exercises" are presented that can be done in a typical kitchen without music and without a partner. Your learning should start with the kitchen exercises.
To use the diagrams without getting confused, print them out. As you step through the diagram and your body turns, hold the paper in front of you and turn the paper around in your hands to keep the paper oriented the same way relative to the room. Separate diagrams are not shown for man and lady, because both should practice the same steps without a partner before dancing with a partner. When dancing together, when the man does steps in the order 123456 the woman does the very same steps in the order 456123. Since the steps will be repeated endlessly in practice, it does not matter which step you start on. When a particular foot is shown with a solid line, that shows where the foot is when the step is first taken. When the same foot is shown with a dashed line, that shows where that foot is later on when the next step with the other foot is first taken. The diagrams are in the next paragraph; to print how to read them click here.
To print the diagrams of the MAIN FIGURES, the rotations, click on these two links: NATURAL TURN, and REVERSE TURN.
Note that these two figures are not entirely mirror images of each other. Note that shoes must have leather, not rubber, on the bottom of both the heels and the soles to do the pivots shown. Leather on the soles is required; leather on the heels is optional. If heels are rubber, a toe pivot is required where a heel pivot would be easier and more natural. To print the diagrams of the minor figures, the change figures, click on these four links: right foot forward change, left foot forward change, right foot backward change and left foot backward change.
The alignments shown in these step diagrams for the natural turn and the reverse turn do not agree exactly with the official ISTD alignments. This is because I believe the alignments in these step diagrams more accurately represent the practice of the very best dancers. The ISTD alignments are presented in diagonal notation, which is precise enough for other dances, but not for Viennese Waltz. The angle of step 6 in the natural turn is exactly half way between the two diagonal specifications "facing center" and "facing diagonal center", so either would be wrong. The form of change figures shown here do not represent the practice of many competition dancers and country and western dancers. The left foot forward change can be used to show the differences. Some competition dancers dance the left foot forward change with lateral shift.
This form of change figure is not practical for threading your way through tight spaces in social dancing. Most country and western dancers dance the left foot forward change in a straight line.
This form of change step does not assist the lady in closing her feet on step 3. Change figures are quite amorphous. What they all have in common is that they consist of three steps, starting and finishing with the feet together.
The first thing that you must know is that you need not be born with any special talent; you can learn all you need to know. It helps if you are a perfect physical specimen, but that is not necessary; a lady who weighed 90 pounds more than she should enjoyed the Viennese Waltz very much. It will take a long time and much effort to learn, so be patient and enjoy the process.
These instructions are complete enough that you should become a good dancer, perhaps 80%, much better than the 5% score mentioned in the first section of the article. To get to 100% you need to practice social dancing at the balls.
Before you start you must find a smooth surfaced floor, not a shaggy rug, to learn on. You must get shoes which have soles and heels which provide approximately the correct dance floor friction. This is important; do not ignore it. See the appendix on dance floor friction for more information.
You should learn to waltz individually before you attempt it together with a partner.
The term "line of dance" normally means the direction, north, east, south, or west, that dance traffic is expected to follow. The line of dance turns left at each of the four corners of the dance floor.
FIGURES IN VIENNESE WALTZ. Dancing down the line of dance while rotating to the right, clockwise, is called the natural turn in English, and the Rechtswalzer in German. Dancing down the line of dance while rotating to the left is called the reverse turn in English, and the Linkswalzer in German. To switch direction of turns while still dancing down the line of dance three step figures called change figures are used. To spin in one spot the fleckerls are used, and the contra check to switch direction of spin. The fleckerl is not used much today even in Vienna, but it is thought by some authorities to be the origin of the Viennese Waltz; others think it grew out of a dance called the Landler, but nobody knows for sure. The fleckerl is quite different from the spin used in swing dancing, or the spin used in American style Viennese Waltz.
DEFINITION OF STEP. Steps will be described as lasting a span of time during which various things happen. Steps will also be described as "happening" or "being taken" at an instant of time, which may or may not be in time with the music.
We will discuss what happens during each step. Non-dancers are likely to think that a step begins when the foot is picked up, and ends when it is put down. This definition is not acceptable in ballroom dancing, because it is very important what happens after the foot is put down. I like to think of a step on, say, the right foot, as starting when the right foot is picked up, and ending when the right foot is picked up again, at the start of the next step on the right foot. With this definition there are always two steps in progress, one with the right foot and one with the left foot. Many in the ballroom community prefer a definition that only has one step in progress at any instant; they like to say that a step starts and ends when the moving foot passes the standing foot.
Consider a marching band. They step in time to the beating of the drum. This does not mean they pick their feet up in time with the drum, rather that they put their feet down in time with the drum. Their foot rocks forward after it is put down. Their steps are said to be in time with the music. When dancing, after a foot is put down, it could slide, rock, pivot or stop entirely. The step timing is defined by when the foot stops sliding. It could still rock or pivot after it has already "been taken". If this is confusing to you now, do not worry, it will become clear as you get more familiar with the subject.
The music repeats the beats 123. The dancer repeats the steps 123456. At fast tempos good dancers only concentrate on stepping on the beat on the "1" in every 123. Thus they step on the beat on steps 1 and 4. The other steps fall when they may. The result should be pretty close to what is now described in more detail.
A horse does a gallop when moving fast and a trot when moving slow. When a horse trots, it takes steps at even intervals; when it gallops, the steps are not even. Similarly a Viennese waltzer's steps are not evenly timed at fast tempo, but they are at slow tempo. In this sense, the Viennese Waltz at fast tempo is a gallop, not a trot, for the dancer. The result of this is that the movement is easier, more natural, and takes less energy than if even timing of the steps is forced. At slower tempo, the Viennese waltz becomes a trot with even timing of the steps. At slow tempo it is a trot for the dancer only in that the steps are evenly timed; the dancer does not bounce like a trotting horse. More on this later in this appendix.
The natural turn consists of six steps. There is continuous steady rotation of the body throughout all six steps. If the timing were even on all six steps, the body would turn 60 degrees between each step. At fast tempos the timing is not even, and the number of degrees between steps depends on which step is being taken. The timing is: x1xx23x4xx56x1xx. A steady rotation of 30 degrees per "x" or step number is represented. Steps 2 and 5 are delayed relative to what they would be with even timing. This timing is not the same as the music. On steps 1 and 4 the feet should be timed precisely on the major beats of a bar. The major beats will occur at one second intervals, since the standard speed for competition viennese waltz is 60 bars per minute. Practicing to a metronome ticking at one second intervals would help beginners to learn to ignore the music on the minor beats. Having someone rap a table once per second while looking at his watch should suffice if you lack a metronome. It is hard to try to duplicate the timing shown above. Instead, try to get the step alignments right; then if you rotate at a constant rate, your timing will automatically be the timing shown above. Note in the text below that on step 5 the body is not facing the same direction that the foot is pointing.
Most of the time in the six steps your weight will be on the heel or the toe, but not on your flat foot. This helps smooth movement of the body, agility, and turning of the feet on the floor.
First Step. If you have just completed a natural turn and are about to continue with another natural turn we will take as the starting point the point when your feet are together and your body and feet are facing about 60 degrees to the left of the line of dance. Standing on the left foot rotate your body to the right and take the first step with the right heel touching the floor first at a point straight down the line of dance. When the step is first taken your body should have rotated to face straight down the line of dance. The weight is first taken on the heel of the right foot, the foot then goes flat and you finally step off on the toe of the right foot. There is enough rotation during the first step that you will pivot about 90 degrees on the toe of the right foot. If you are taking large steps to move rapidly down the floor, you will lunge into the first step and drive through to the second step, keeping the body erect the whole time.
Second Step. During the second step the left foot will move down the line of dance. Rotate the body to face about 90 degrees to the right of the line of dance before the left toe hits the floor on the second step. The left leg will be reaching out to the side of the body when the left toe strikes the floor. Never let the left heel touch the floor throughout the second step.
Third Step. Slide the right toe until the right foot comes to rest against the left foot, with the left and right toes touching, and the left and right heels touching. At this point both heels will be off the floor, and your back will be facing about 60 degrees to the left of the line of dance. This step is quick and is merely a matter of collecting your feet under you. Only about 30 degrees of body rotation occurs between when the toe touches the floor in step two and when the feet come together in step three. The feet do not stay together any time at all; it is like a moving billiard ball hitting a stationary one, which merely interchanges which is moving and which is stationary. However, the feet do not hit each other, that would be uncomfortable; they merely come together. The right heel lowers to the floor to take your weight. Push off backward into the fourth step.
Fourth Step. Rotating the body, step backwards straight down the line of dance with the left toe. When the left toe hits the floor you should be backing approximately straight down the line of dance. Do not drop the heel suddenly. As you move your weight back on the left foot, it will execute a rocking chair action with the weight rolling from the toe of the foot to the heel. The heel should not touch the floor until the moving foot is beside the standing foot. At some time while the weight is on the back of the left heel the left foot will pivot on the heel to catch up with the rotation of the body. When dancing with a partner it will be necessary to step a little bit out to the side on step 4.
Fifth Step. Place the right toe at a point down the line of dance. The toe will come to rest pointing 60 degrees to the left of the line of dance. At this point the body will be facing about 90 degrees to the left of the line of dance. When the toe first comes to rest the inside edge of the toe will be on the floor. As weight is taken onto the right toe, the toe will go flat on the floor, but the heel will still be in the air, and will never drop to the floor during this step.
Sixth Step. Slide the left foot flat until the left foot comes to rest against the right foot, toe to toe and heel to heel. At this point the left foot will be flat and the right foot will still have the heel off the floor. The body will be facing 60 degrees to the left of the line of dance when the feet come together. There is only about 30 degrees of body rotation between the time when the the toe comes to rest in the fifth step and the time when the feet come together in the sixth step. Now you are ready to start over, raise the left heel and push off the left toe into the first step.
Sway. In steps 2,3,5 and 6 one should lean slightly in the opposite direction from the direction of movement along the line of dance. This happens naturally when taking large steps. Even with small steps, some ladies need the man to lead this kind of sway to help them perform their steps properly; others do not. There is a different kind of sway that arises in social dancing because of banking to turn when weaving through a crowd. This results in a pleasant feeling of swing and sway when zigzagging through a crowd.
The reverse turn is almost the mirror image of the natural turn, with "right" interchanged with "left". The big difference is the third step.
Third Step. Slide the left toe with the left heel moving ahead of the left toe until the outside of the left heel has crossed in front of the standing right toe. Your left foot will be between your standing right foot and your partner's feet. When you are practicing by yourself it may not be apparent how there could be enough room between your standing right foot and your partner's foot for your left heel. However, when you are dancing with a partner you will be going around each other. This creates centrifugal force tending to sling you apart from each other. You prevent this from happening by keeping your feet slightly behind yourself. This creates plenty of room for your heel.
You could dance the reverse turn entirely as the mirror image of the natural turn, but it would then be very difficult to curve to the left while doing a series of reverse turns. If each partner crosses his or her feet when each comes to the third step it is possible to move in a very tight curve while doing a series of reverse turns. For this reason the conventional way to do reverse turns is with the cross on the third step. The foot cross in the reverse turn is trickier than the foot closing in the natural turn. Normally more natural turns are danced than reverse turns.
If the man is going to commence the dance from a standstill doing 1,2,3 of the reverse turn, the lady need not start with her feet in a crossed position. She can start with her feet together normally and cross them the next time around. When starting from a standstill the body need not be 60 degrees from the line of dance. With practice the man will develop his own preferred way to start.
When taking very large steps in the natural turn, some body swing will be appropriate. On the natural turn, the body should execute a kind of pendulum swing during the time interval occupied by steps 1, 2 and 3. The reverse turn should not have this swing, which would make it harder to cross feet. This does not mean that it is not possible to take large steps in the reverse turn, just that a different technique is required. To take large steps in the reverse turn, lower into a slight crouch with bent knees, then very large steps will be possible with no body swing.
The change figures are used to shift between natural and reverse turns. They are almost as simple as taking two normal steps down the line of dance and then a third step consisting of merely sliding the moving foot to close beside the standing foot. The man can lead this after either step 3 or step 6 of either the natural or reverse turn. The rotation of a turn will not stop immediately when you shift to a change figure, and the residual rotation will carry you to the proper alignment to start the opposite turn. When the man does forward changes the lady does backward changes. When the man does backward changes, the lady does forward changes.
Change figures are also necessary when dancing through a tight spot on a crowded floor. In this case you might want to dance several change figures before getting back into a rotation. When dancing a string of changes, alternate between left foot and right foot changes. Dancing a string of changes can present difficulties for the lady unless the man leads it correctly. The man should practice a string of change figures by himself going backward to appreciate the kind of lead that the lady needs. Closing the feet on the third step when going backwards is difficult unless the body is rotated to the correct angle relative to the line of dance. The body will rotate slightly from left to right and back repeatedly when doing a string of changes. The change figure diagrams that are linked to in the first paragraph of this appendix show the man's part as he would dance a series of change figures in such a way as to make the lady's part easier. She would go straight down the line of dance, he swings from side to side to orient her so it is more natural for her to close her feet on 3.
Change figures used to transition between natural and reverse turns would be oriented differently, though the same step, step, close pattern would be followed. This transition should be accomplished while the contact point between the two partners continues to move straight down the line of dance. If starting a change figure from step 3 of a reverse turn, the feet would not be together at the start.
Since fleckerls are difficult, and not much used we will not really tell in detail how to do them, but instead tell generally what they are. The couple use the same dance hold as in the natural and reverse turn, but spin around each other in one spot. Start with the reverse fleckerl. Each partner moves to the right in a small circle as the couple turns to the left about a stationary spot on the floor at the center of the small circle. Their bodies will contact directly above the center of the small circle on the floor. Here, the instruction "step to the side" means the foot moves in an arc around the periphery of the small circle. The steps are as follows. 1. Step to the side. 2. Cross your moving foot in front of your standing foot, as in step three of the reverse turn. 3. Step to the side. 4. Cross your moving foot behind your standing foot. 5. Step to the side. 6. Cross your moving foot in front of your standing foot. The woman does 456123 when the man does 123456. Note that this has the effect that when one partner is stepping to the side the other is crossing. To change direction using the contra check the man rocks forward on the left foot, back on the right, steps on the left then rotates the opposite direction in the natural fleckerl, which is the complete mirror image of the reverse fleckerl. The amount of turn in the fleckerls can be anywhere from one rotation in six steps as in the traveling turns, up to two rotations in six steps, which is very difficult, and guaranteed to make you dizzy even if the traveling turns no longer do. An alternative method for the man is to combine steps 5 and 6 into one action. Starting at the position of step 4, pivot on the balls of both feet at the same time far enough around that the feet are in the same position as described by step 6. Another alternative for the man is to start the two feet pivot at the position of step 5 and proceed to the position of step 6. The two feet pivot affords the man an opportunity to lead with more torque. In social dancing an easier form of the fleckerl is sometimes used, where the man does all foot crossings in front, since the crossing in back is more difficult. This has the disadvantage that the couple is less likely to stay in one spot while they spin.
Initial practice for both the man and the lady should be without a partner and without music. It may not be convenient to go to a dance floor to practice. In the beginning, you may not need to. The average kitchen has a hard surfaced floor large enough for useful practice. Start at the position of step 6, go through steps 1,2, and 3 ending at the point where the toe touches down in step 4. Do this without music in one continuous smooth rapid movement, like swinging a golf club or throwing a baseball. Pay close attention to the angle of rotation of the body at each step, and to the toe-heel footwork. The relative step timing only needs to be approximately correct. As you step say out loud "-1--23-4". If you are doing anything wrong, you will be learning bad habits instead of good habits, so be very careful that you are doing every detail correctly. In the beginning it will be a bit of a struggle. When you get comfortable with it, it will be a smooth easy relaxed motion, provided the floor friction is about right. Start slow and gradually build up tempo. You should reach a tempo so that the time interval between 1 and 4 is no more than one second. Achieve a fast tempo with small steps before attempting large steps, then gradually build up to large steps. When attempting large steps at fast tempo lower on step 1, stretch on step 2, rise on 2 and 3, and make the distance between step 6 and step 2 as large as humanly possible. It will take all of the strength and energy you have. If you cannot cover a large distance without a partner, it will be even harder with a partner. Similarly, start at the position of step 3, do 4,5 and 6 stopping where the heel touches down on step 1. It is not as important to cover a large distance in this exercise as in the previous exercise.
The easiest most natural way to take large steps in the natural turn results in rise and fall. Less rise and fall is natural with extremely fast tempos than with slower tempos. Less rise and fall is natural with smaller steps. With smaller steps it may be convenient to do the natural turn in a smooth glide with little or no rise and fall. The toe heel footwork will be the same with or without rise and fall, but the use of the knees will be different. If rise and fall is used it should be a smooth undulation, not a sudden bump.
If rise and fall is used, the maximum rise in the natural turn is on steps 3 and 6 just as the feet come together. The maximum fall will be midway between two successive peaks of the rise. It will be after the foot is put down on step 1 but before the foot is put down on step 2.
Even though rise and fall is most helpful for the partner doing the large steps 123, the partner doing 456 will also do rise and fall so they stay together with no slippage at the body contact.
The reverse turn can be danced with large steps and rise and fall just like the natural turn, but this is difficult. Rise and fall can make crossing the feet more difficult on the reverse turn, so the reverse turn is often danced flat with much less rise and fall. The easiest way to take very large steps in the reverse turn is to keep the body low all the time.
When you are ready to practice entire rotations you will need a hallway or corridor, or a dance floor. Speed up the tempo, without music, until you can go very fast. Try to get very smooth movement. It will get irritating if you turn in the same direction all the time, so switch from time to time. You will get very dizzy, and will suffer motion sickness. You should stop to recover when you experience motion sickness. You should start to get over the motion sickness after about 10 hours of practice. Eventually you will feel no dizziness or motion sickness whatever.
A spinning ballet dancer "spots" with the head pointed at the audience much of each turn. This presents a nice picture for the audience to look at but does not reduce dizziness much, and it does tire the neck. Spotting is not used in the Viennese Waltz. The man will have to turn his head some to see where he is going in a crowded floor.
When you get up to a fast tempo, try to practice individually to the music. Waltz music has three beats per second, three beats to the measure, also known as a bar, and 60 bars per minute. Concentrate only on the downbeat, which should occur when your heel hits the floor on "1" and when your toe hits the floor on "4". You must ignore beats 2 and 3 on each measure of the music. If you try to make steps 2 and 3 in time with the music it will make the dance needlessly difficult. If you have difficulty keeping up with the fast music, turn the music off and go as fast as you can without it, then try again. If you seem to have special difficulty staying in time with the music, do not despair, you will eventually find it easy with enough practice.
Beginners worry that if they dance too close they might step on each other. They are wrong. They are less likely to step on each other with body contact at the waist and proper hold and position than with any non-zero separation less than arms length separation. Arms length separation makes the maneuvers difficult, awkward and unpleasant .
This description of posture applies to both man and lady. Stand facing a wall with your waist lightly touching the wall. Your feet should be parallel to each other and pointing at the wall. Neither your nose nor the toes of your shoes should be touching the wall. Some ladies in particular will have to have their nose far from the wall so that their waist can touch the wall; the important thing is that the waist touch the wall. Your knees should not be locked and straight, they should be slightly bent, but not enough to touch the wall. Have your feet flat on the floor, with weight evenly on balls and heels of your feet. If you stand with this same posture when facing your partner, you will be doing your part.
What is meant by position is the particular offset or staggered way to stand in front of your partner. To print the position click here.
The side to side offset shown in the picture will be about as shown for all couples. The front to back separation will differ significantly for different couples depending on body shape. Technically, if both partners had perfect posture and balance, backward steps were always taken entirely from the hip, both partners always stepped at precisely the same instant, and no rise and fall was used, the offset would not be necessary. This is not realistic, so the offset is the only practical solution.
What is meant by hold is the way your arms hold your partner. The hold is illustrated in a painting from Vienna in 1906. To print the hold click here.
The man should not have his car keys or anything else in his right front pocket that might annoy the lady if it presses against her. Both the man and the lady should have their weight as much on the toes as on the heels. The dancers should not have their knees locked; they should be slightly relaxed. The feet should be pointing in the direction that the body is facing, not at an angle. There will be some left to right offset: the toe of each partner's right shoe should be pointing to the place between the other partner's feet. There should be body contact between the couple, right front to right front. At the waist each partner should find his partner's centerline about four inches (10.16 cm.) to the right of his own. The amount of this left/right offset will have to be adjusted for each couple. The offset will be greater at the shoulders than at the waist. Regardless of whether you are man or lady, your head should be to your left of your partner's head, looking over your partners right shoulder, and the lady's head should be turned, but not tilted, slightly to her left. If a lady beginner looks at her partner, or looks to her right, she will subconsciously rotate her body to the right. This will make it harder to avoid interference between the two partners feet. The hold is definitely not "cheek to cheek". You should find your partner's nose at least four inches (10 cm) in front of yours, and at least 8 inches (20.32 cm.) to your right. This wide frame at the top creates a noticeable flywheel effect which adds stability and control when maneuvering. Advanced dancers typically have more separation to the front and to the right between their noses than specified here. The body contact at approximately the center of mass makes it easier to lead, to follow, and to dance together as a single couple, rather than as two loosely coordinated individuals.
The man's left hand should be out to the left and midway between him and her, holding the lady's right hand. Exactly how the hands are clasped will vary with circumstances. A clasp that will work on an uncrowded floor with the hands extended well out to the side may not work well on a crowded floor where the hands cannot be extended. On an uncrowded floor the hands should be extended far enough out to the side that neither partner's forearm is vertical. Do not extend the hands so far out to the side that either partner's elbow is straight; both elbows should be bent. Sometimes the man grips the lady's right hand with his left hand too tightly or at an angle that is uncomfortable for her. The best cure for this is to not grip the lady's right hand at all, but offer the thumb of his left hand for the lady to hold onto with her right hand.
The lady's left hand should lightly grasp the man between the midpoint of his upper arm and his shoulder. Her left hand will be on top of the man's right arm. The man's right wrist should touch the lady's left underarm and the side of her body, and his thumb and fingers should be together flat on her back sloping downward centered on the lower edge of her shoulder blade. The height above the floor of the man's right elbow should be midway between the height of his shoulder and the height of his wrist. This is tiring and difficult in the beginning. This height of the elbow is used in competition dancing because it helps provide a precise and secure lead for the lady during difficult maneuvers. However, many social dancers do not feel the need to raise the right elbow at all.
While standing together with this hold, if either partner picks up either foot, and without rotating the foot attempts to step on the other partner's toes, it should be relatively difficult to do so. However, if you back off from the body contact, it will be easy to step on each other's feet. If the proper hold and balance is maintained while walking forward and backward with body contact, there should be no problem stepping on each other's toes. There should be no need to try to avoid stepping on each other. Step straight forward or back, do not try to step around each other. The person stepping backward should swing the leg back from the hip, not from the knee, to avoid blocking the person stepping forward. The person stepping backward should lower the heel slowly so that the heel does not touch the floor until the moving foot is along side of the standing foot. This is required for smooth movement of the body.
With this hold you and your partner should practice walking with the man going both forward and backward. This will help you fine tune the contact and the left to right offset of the hold for most comfortable movement. The contact will help you to feel bumps, and to learn to use your feet to produce absolutely smooth movement, with no bumping or scraping between you at the point of body contact. For this reason contact is useful at this phase even if you do not intend to dance with contact. The lady should not cling to the man, and the man should not clutch the lady, contact should be maintained predominantly by using the feet and balance to push slightly against your partner. The feet and legs are much stronger than the hands and arms, and do not tire as quickly. The hold must be gentle and comfortable, with no feeling of grabbing or clutching.
When walking backward and forward together, notice your relative positions. Are your noses separated front to back and side to side by the proper amount? A useful exercise at this point is to walk this way with the man's right hand behind his back, the ladies left hand behind her back, body contact, and the other hands flat against each other so there can be no clinging. This cannot be done unless the balance is correct for dancing, and will automatically cause the feet to be in the correct relationship. When walking this way and when dancing, the man is responsible for the motion, the lady is responsible for the lightness or heaviness of the contact. The contact must be light. If the contact is heavy, the man will feel like his motion is being resisted, or objected to.
I will call the hold described above the back hold. For completeness it should be pointed out that there is an alternative hold to the back hold. The difference is that the man's right hand goes around the ladies' waist and he uses it to clamp her body to his. At one ball in Vienna about half the couples were using this waist hold, and half the back hold. At the dance school I attended in Vienna, the back hold was taught. An old painting of an upper class ball shows the back hold also. From this I would assume that the waist hold is traditional primarily among people too poor to afford lessons. In any case, the back hold is more comfortable for both partners and permits more agility in maneuvering, even if it is harder to learn to dance with in the beginning. However, in social dancing a man who dances with an untrained lady may find that the waist hold works best.
When you are dancing with your partner, sometimes you will step forward, and your foot will pass under your partner to a point behind your partner. This is true for both man and lady. Other times, your two feet will be together side by side, and your partner's two feet will be together side by side. In this case, your feet cannot be under your partner, that is where your partner's feet will be. To avoid your feet being where your partner's feet are, you must have proper balance. Suppose you lean back so that if the hold is released, there is a sudden increase in the distance between you and your partner. You cannot lean back this way unless your feet are closer to your partner than they should be. Furthermore, when you lean back this way, it will tend to pull your partner off balance, resulting in your partner's feet being closer to you than they would otherwise be. Ideally, your balance should be such that your weight is balanced on your own feet, not affected by the hold or your partner's presence. However, such perfection is impossible for beginners. It is better to lean slightly toward your partner if you cannot be perfectly balanced. This will minimize the chance of your feet sliding into your partner's feet. This balance must be maintained through the various maneuvers that you do while dancing. You can test your ability do do this by releasing the hold while dancing.
If a lady wishes to dance with some separation, rather than with body contact, she should indicate this by pressing back with her left hand, which will be clearly understood by the man. She should not indicate her desire for increased separation by leaning back, since the man will probably interpret this as bad balance rather than as a signal for increased separation. If the lady makes a clear indication that she wishes increased separation, the man should extend his right hand to give her the room she desires, establishing a larger frame. However, the lady should be aware that dancing without body contact has some disadvantages. It does not make much difference in slow dancing on an empty floor, but it makes a big difference in fast dancing on a crowded floor. In fast dancing on a crowded floor, the lady needs to know precisely where her partner is going in order to follow quickly, and the man must know precisely where the lady is in order to lead quickly. She cannot rely entirely on the strength of the man's arms to maintain her left-right position; this is too much of a burden on him. Maintaining the proper left-right offset is much easier for the lady with body contact. Separation tends to make the left-right offset variable and indefinite, making it more likely that there will be interference between your foot and your partner's foot. When the lady is a very experienced dancer, she will be able to keep the left-right offset constant without the help of body contact. The fastest way for her to get the necessary experience is lots of dancing with body contact at the waist. Left-right offset is not the only problem with separation. The further her waist gets separated from him, the more he must maneuver himself differently to maneuver her through the crowd on the dance floor than he would if her waist were in contact. This is true to a noticeable extent even if she has body contact higher up but not at the waist. This takes extra mental energy on his part, not on hers. It is similar to backing up a motor vehicle with a trailer attached. The greater the separation, the more awkward it is for the man. There are cultural reasons why some people are reluctant to dance with body contact at the waist, as explained in my interpretation of the history of tango.
This is the end of the hold section. If you got here from the social dancing article, now is the time to click the "back" button on your browser.
back to top
Now it is time to try to dance together. Notice that the partner doing 4,5,6 should take smaller steps than the partner doing 1,2,3 so the partner doing 1,2,3 can get around the other partner. The man should be attentive to any difficulties the lady is having in getting around him, and assist with a slight pause and a slight sweeping motion of his body as she goes by. The contact point between your bodies should move straight down the line of dance. When dancing with a partner, step 4 will have to be shifted slightly out to the side to make room for the partner.
If there is any knocking of knees, something is wrong. One cause of knee knocking is failure to step out to the left enough in step 4 when doing the natural turn. One trick that is used to avoid the problem on step 4 is to rotate the foot so that the heel is to the outside and the toe to the inside when the toe touches down on step 4. It is also helpful to step back by swinging the whole leg from the hip rather than by swinging the lower leg from the knee .
The man should lead and the lady should follow. It is unworkable to have two people steering the same vehicle at the same time. Since the man is usually the biggest and strongest, it makes sense for him to do the driving.
When doing rotations at fast tempo it is possible that the rotational alignment of all six steps will become retarded or advanced incorrectly. All six steps will be stepping down the line of dance as they should be, but the orientation of the body relative to the line of dance will not be correct on each step. This will make the dance unnecessarily difficult, and prevent easy movement down the line of dance. When dancing with a lady it is impossible for the man to focus his attention on the rotational alignment of all six steps. He should focus his attention on the rotational alignment of step one. If he forces that to be correct, the others will fall into place, and movement down the line of dance will be noticeably easier.
There is quite a lot of centrifugal force tending to sling the partners apart. Overcome this force by getting your feet behind you, not by clinging to each other. To test your ability to do this, try dancing with body contact with the man's right hand and the lady's left hand behind your own backs, and the other hands pushing flat against each other with no grip. You should at least be able to do this doing natural or reverse turns in a straight line with no maneuvering. If you cannot do this you need more practice.
If you have a camcorder, dance with your partner in front of it, then view the tape in slow motion to see what you are really doing, which may be different than what you think you are doing. One thing to notice is that there should be no sudden "bump" of your head at any time; it should move smoothly. If your head bumps you are not using your feet and legs correctly. The most likely problem is dropping the heel suddenly on step 4. Another problem that can cause one partner to not be smooth is stepping forward on step one on the toe instead of on the heel. A temporary exercise that may help cure this is for both partners to bend their knees and lower down, and dance the waltz this way. This will tend to force step one to be taken on the heel.
You should practice as a couple stretching out and taking large strides. Even if you refuse to dance socially like a race horse, some practice this way will make you more sure footed and confident in your dancing.
The problem that the man will encounter when curving to the left doing reverse turns is that he may attempt to pull his lady to the left when he is doing step 1 so as to lead her into the curve. This will not work. She will feel that she is being pulled into an improper dance position and will properly resist. The right way for the man to lead the lady in this curve is in two parts. First, to dance around her more than usual during 2, 3 and 4. Second, on 5, 6 and 1, the feeling will be of holding back to sling her around to the left, which she will accept, not of pulling her to the left, which she will not. With practice you should be able to dance reverse turns to the music in a counter clockwise circle of 5 feet (1.5 m.) in diameter. Even though this is difficult to master, it is worth doing. It is many ladies favorite part of the dance.
Arrange several chairs in a random pattern with about five feet (1.5 m.) gaps between chairs to maneuver between. Dance as a couple every way you can through the chairs. You will need to take small steps. If the lady feels that the man is being rough with her, she should let him know. With enough practice he should be able to take her smoothly through tight maneuvers with her feeling pampered the whole way. After a time, bring the chairs closer together so that you are forced to do mostly change figures, not rotations, when threading your way through the chairs. When it is effortless, graceful, smooth and you can carry on a relaxed conversation while weaving through the chairs, then you are ready to quit practicing.
If you dance with a partner who incorrectly leans back pulling on you with wide separation, you will have to improvise footwork which will be different in some particulars from that given. As you get more practice, you will find special situations in maneuvering where you find it best to improvise footwork that occasionally violates the rules given for learning.
The man must realize that he leads the lady with his body movement, not with his steps. This is true even if he is dancing without body contact, since his arms should provide a firm frame that is fixed relative to his body. In maneuvering drastic modifications of steps are permissible as long as his body movement makes it easy and natural for the lady to follow him. Only practice will allow him to develop an instinct to make it easy for the lady to follow no matter what the maneuver.
When you have practiced together until it gets easy you are ready to go to the balls, again and again for the rest of your life.
Viennese waltz steps can be used at tempos much slower than 60 bars per minute. When the tempo is slow enough, it will be more natural to dance every step in time with the music, unlike the technique for fast music. The alignments for some of the steps will be different from what they are for fast tempo, but steps one and four should still have the same alignment. When doing Viennese waltz rotations to slower music, sometimes it helps the man to stabilize the movement by draging his toe between the position of step 3 and step 5. If the music is very slow, sometimes a momentary pause of the toe drag midway between 3 and 5 is appropriate.
Viennese waltz steps can be adapted to a variety of music other than waltz music. By making the first two steps taken during every bar of music on a musical beat it can be adapted to 4/4 rhythm, habanera rhythm, and other rhythms. This is described more fully in the waltz section of the article "Social Ballroom Dancing" at this website.
There is one final point that should be added to the training of every one learning Viennese waltz. Sometimes orchestra conductors will play Viennese waltzes too fast. No one can be expected to complain about this but dancers. Dancers will not complain unless they are sure of themselves. The method of counting waltz tempo given in Appendix E will give the actual tempo, but it is too tedious for the average dancer. There is a much simpler way to be sure that the tempo is too fast, without knowing just how fast it is. Measures of music can be counted by counting the 1 in each 1,2,3 of music. Look at the seconds tick by on your watch for about 20 seconds. If there are more measures than seconds, the conductor is playing too fast, faster than 60 bars per minute. There should be no more than one measure per second. If the conductor is playing too fast a complaint should be lodged.
Variations in tempo are annoying or even impossibly difficult for beginners, but a welcome challenge to experienced dancers, provided the variations are not to great or too sudden. At age 65 I relish occasional gradual increases briefly up to 70 bars per minute and gradual slow downs briefly to 50, but I realize this is out of reach for most of the attendees at today's balls, because they do not have the opportunity to gain the necessary experience. Furthermore, if it is out of reach of the lady I am dancing with, then it is out of my reach too. Competition music has no tempo variations. Occasional waltzers of today can only marvel at tempo variations that habitual waltzers of the 1800's could follow.
back to top
Observe the dress code of the ball. If in doubt, dress conservatively or call the information number in advance.
You are at the ball to have fun, but in both conversation and behavior be conservative; you are not in a rowdy smoke filled honky-tonk.
The man should escort the lady out onto the dance floor to dance and escort her back to her seat after the dance.
Among unattached single people, either the man or the lady can ask for a dance, and either can choose to accept or decline as they see fit. Do not feel that you must accept just to be polite; there too few dances to waste any of them. However, if a lady declines an invitation from a man, she should not presume that he will ask her again later the same evening. This article is about annual balls. The considerations for weekly social dances are different. If a lady declines invitations from a particular man three weeks in a row, he will probably not ask again for several years.
If a man wishes to dance with a married lady, he must ask the husband's permission to ask the wife.
If there is a march where a single file of couples march counter-clockwise around the floor, the man is on the left holding his right hand up at the level of the lady's shoulder holding the lady's left hand.
When dancing a Viennese waltz, go to the center of the floor if either partner wants a rest or cannot move with the traffic. Some of the waltzes last 12 minutes, so it is not unusual to need a rest. The outer part of the floor is where the main line of dance is. Rocking back and forth to the major beats of the music is a good way to rest.
Dancing the Viennese waltz takes much more coordination than driving a car. Do not burden a sober partner with your clumsy self if you have had more than a glass of wine. It is best not to drink at all. Ask for sparkling cider or grape juice instead.
Some balls are non-smoking events. Even at the others there is almost no smoking. Don't come expecting to smoke.
When dancing the Viennese Waltz, do not bump into or even graze other couples. Apologize if you do. If the floor is packed with jostling couples, do not attempt the Viennese Waltz. This may occur during the Emperor Waltz, because it starts with a march that tends to get everyone on the floor at once.
If either a man or a lady lands a partner who dances in an uncontrolled or bizarre manner, do not take risks, insist on going to the center to rock this one out, or to leave the floor and quit the dance. One time I politely continued to do the Viennese Waltz with a lady who was bounding up and down with greatly exaggerated rise and fall; it resulted in a fall.
Do circulate and meet people. This is a rare opportunity to meet others who share some of your tastes.
If you do not have an assigned table to sit at, bring something to mark your spot while you are dancing. Your shoe bag will do if you have nothing better. Do not get upset with someone if they innocently take your chair when you did not leave an item of clothing or something to mark your place at the table. It is their chair now. An exception to this rule: if there are not enough chairs for the number of people, put your things on the table or in the cloakroom, not in the chair. In this case you do not want to claim a chair; anyone who needs a rest between dances is welcome to use any chair.
Do not attempt to break up a dancing couple in the middle of a dance and substitute yourself for one of the partners; that always seems to happen in social dances depicted in movies, but practically never happens at real social dances, and would be very rude. If a man attempts to cut in, the dancing couple should refuse and send him away.
Since 1920, etiquette books in the USA have permitted cutting in on the dance floor. This makes absolutely no sense, and I have not found it permitted in earlier etiquette books. If adversaries of dance did not pay for the advertising of cutting in in movies and etiquette books, they should have. It is hard to think of anything that would better serve to dampen male enthusiasm for learning to dance.
The ball you attend may include a formal dinner. In addition to the plate in front of you there may be additional food and drinks in plates, bowls and glasses to the left and right of your plate. Which is yours, and which belongs to the person next to you? The drinks to the right of your plate are yours, and the food to the left of your plate is yours. There may be a confusing array of silverware. The silverware to be used first is on the outside to left and right of your plate. Use from the outside in. The dessert silverware will be at the far side of the plate.
back to top
At a weekly social dance one will wear the clothes one normally wears on the street every day, except that one will wear dance shoes, not street shoes. At special balls, one will dress up more.
At balls where coat and tie is permitted, no special clothing is required. This statement is so brief compared with the extensive discussion of formal wear to follow that it needs extra emphasis: do not feel that you really should have formal wear to attend a ball where it is not required. Perhaps if there were more coat and tie balls more people would participate. If ladies plan to dance they should not wear tight skirts which restrict movement. Astonishingly, even ladies who are good dancers sometimes get so preoccupied with fashion that they forget this point. A skirt full enough for running at maximum stride is needed for dancing.
Now, about formal wear. If the dress code is black tie, men must wear a tuxedo. What the women wear with black tie can depend on local custom, either a knee length or tea length cocktail dress, or a full length ballgown. Women should ask. Miniskirts are definitely out for this type of event. Many modern formal gowns are slender columns, too tight to dance in. If the dress code is white tie, men must wear a tailsuit, and women must wear a full length ballgown. Both will traditionally wear gloves with white tie. The lady wears long gloves that extend just above or just below the elbow if her dress does not have long sleeves. A full length ballgown should be off the floor enough that it will not be stepped on when dancing.
Sometimes dress codes are confusing. If the dress code is "formal", this is ambiguous. In some parts of the USA this would mean black tie, in other parts, coat and tie. "White tie, black tie optional", means white tie preferred, black tie OK. But simply "black tie optional" means either coat and tie or black tie acceptable.
If period costumes are permitted, men should remember that the heyday of the Viennese Waltz was the 1800's when black tailsuits were the norm at civilian balls. If men show up in 16th century or ancient Roman costumes, the atmosphere degenerates from an elegant Viennese waltz ball to a frolicsome costume party. If a man cannot show up in a tux or tailsuit it is better to wear a sport coat or business suit than a costume. If unrestricted costumes are permitted, occasionally an individual will show up with a "problem" costume whom everyone wishes could be evicted, but no one has the will to.
Ladies formal wear will normally be modern ballgowns of the type found in department stores. Sometimes they are called prom dresses. Only the full skirted ballgowns should be considered. Full skirted means a skirt with a large diameter, so you can take a very large step without being constrained by the skirt. The skirt should be hemmed so that when it is gathered about the ankles it is ankle length. Beautiful ballgowns are available even in moderately priced department stores. Satisfactory gowns are available for less than $100. Satin gowns do not wrinkle in a suitcase; taffeta does.
A ladies dress with two layers of slippery material covering the shoulder blades is almost impossible to dance with. An example would be a slippery dress covered by a slippery light jacket. The man would not be able to hold the lady's back, his right hand would keep slipping. One layer of slippery material will not usually be a problem.
When ladies wear period costumes, they should avoid the bawdy, bosomy extremes of the 18th century French court. Some ladies are tempted to use hoop dresses. These must be expertly constructed to be appropriate for the Viennese Waltz, otherwise they interfere with the close dance position. An ordinary hoop skirt will be forced up high in the back with a close dance position. I have seen at least one hoop skirt that was compatible with a close dance position, others that were not. In any case, hoops were only popular a small fraction of the 1800's, primarily from 1854 to 1869, so there are plenty of other styles to choose from. Another style was off the floor in the front but had a train in the back. The train was held up by a loop of string in the lady's right hand when dancing. These also required expert construction to work right. A 1906 painting of a ball in Vienna shows the train to be a wedge in the back of the skirt, squared off at the end. To see the ballgown click here.
You may need to adjust the brightness and contrast on your computer screen to clearly see the train. The train would normally trail straight behind the dress, but she has turned. Long gloves and long hair done up on top of the head topped with a small sparkling headband completed the outfit. A tiara risks seeming too ostentatious, a sparkling headband does not. More about the design of this special train for dancing in the last paragraph of this section on ladies clothes. To see another ballgown without a train from elsewhere in the same painting as above click here.
To see other period ballgowns without trains from a drawing published in America in 1899 click here.
A lady with long hair should gather it up so it does not fly out behind her when she whirls around. Her fast moving hair could cut the eyes of someone behind her just as the edge of fast moving paper can cut a finger. A wide, bushy hairdo creates a different kind of problem. If the man is not tall enough to see over the lady's head, a wide bushy hairdo is hard for him to see around so he can avoid collisions.
If a lady insists on applying hand lotion before a dance, she should wear gloves; otherwise she may require her partner to take his coat to the cleaners just because he danced with her.
Some ladies may wonder about the dresses worn in ballroom dance competitions. With very bright colors, sequins and feathers, many of these are show dance dresses more appropriate to be seen from a distance than up close. If you plan to have a competition dress made for use at balls, a more conservative style should be ordered. These dresses are very good for dancing. They are built on a base of stretch fabric in form similar to a one piece ladies bathing suit or leotard. Then a decorative top and very full skirt are added.
With a full length ballgown no one is likely to notice whether a lady has high heels or not. Most ladies wear heels. For safety, flats or low heel pumps would be preferable. To get good flats, a few women even wear men's lace up dance shoes. Their feet are enough smaller than men's that the result is not unfeminine. Women's flats with dance shoe soles are available from an outlet listed below. If heels are worn, real ballroom dance shoes should be used, as they have stronger arches and the heel is less likely to fold under. Shoes are discussed more fully at the end of this appendix. In the drawings of balls in Vienna from the 1800's that I have seen, the ladies at that time wore flats at balls, but today you see more heels than flats.
I have my own theory about the design of the train shown in a previous paragraph. I do not believe the trains were constructed as in a modern wedding gown where the train is simply a bulge in the back of the skirt. Wedding gown trains tend to look disheveled and partly undressed when held in dance position. I suspect the circular skirt in the painting had a vertical slit centered in the back, and the wedge shaped train was sewn to either side of the slit. The train would trail straight behind the center of the dress, even though it is laying to the right side in the picture. The train needs to be long enough that when the train is held up to the right side, the left side of the skirt is not pulled, restricting movement with a partner. The train will be held up by the corner of the squared off end of the train. As I see it, the train would be cut as a piece of cloth in the shape of a pentagon, or closed figure with five straight sides. The pentagon will be symmetrical about a centerline but the length of all the sides will not be equal. The train can be modelled with a loop of string, clothesline or rope with five clothespins attached representing the five vertices of the pentagon. One pin at the top of the skirt, two on either side of the slit at the bottom of the skirt, two at the corners of the squared off end of the train. The size of the loop and the positions of the end pins will have to be experimented with. This rope train can be laid flat on the floor, stretched straight between the pins, and used as a pattern to cut the train. There is more than one way to stretch a loop with five pins. Another rope needs to be added to achieve the simplest geometry and the shortest train that will work. When the rope train is "worn" by the lady, a piece of rope stretched straight needs to connect the top pin with the center of the squared off end of the train. When the rope train is laid flat with this center rope connecting the top pin with the midpoint between the two end pins, there will be only one way to form a pentagon. In order to make the rope train more accurately model a cloth train, another rope needs to be added. When the rope train is stretched into a flat pentagon, fasten a straight rope from the left slit pin to the right end pin. To see the result click here.
Then test the rope train by wearing it again. When the right hand holding the right end pin is raised into dance position the rope train will, hopefully, pull the left slit pin at about the same hand position that the cloth train would. If the train is long enough the left slit pin will not be pulled when the hand is in dance position. If it does pull, then try again with a longer distance from the slit pins to the end pins, but don't make it longer than necessary. Even though we have described three lengths of rope, this can all be done with one long length of rope without cutting the rope. To see how click here.
The top pin will be at the center of the length of rope. The rope will go from the left slit pin to the left end pin, continue to the right end pin, then double back to the center of the end section to return to the top pin to make the center rope. The rope will go from the right slit pin to the right end pin then to the left slit pin to make the diagonal rope. Just remember that the length of the center rope must be determined when the rope train is worn, whereas the length of the diagonal rope must be determined when the rope train is flat. The difficulty is to avoid a confusing tangle. An easy way to experiment would be to add such a train to an inexpensive prom dress or ballgown with a circular skirt about the diameter of the one in the painting.
I think men, more often than women, rebel at any requirement for formal wear. In my experience, there is a practical reason for it. I have noticed that a crowd where all the men are dressed alike seems less crowded to me than an equally dense crowd where the men are dressed many different ways. Variety in women's dress on the other hand, is delightful. The same basic principle could be used even for a group of people who could not afford coat and tie. If there were a school prom ball for inner city youth in a school gym, perhaps they could agree on white long sleeve dress shirts and ties, with no coats. An advantage of a white shirt ball would be that the room would not need to be cold to prevent dancers from overheating from vigorous exercise in dress coats.
For men, a black tuxedo is adequate for most balls, and required for some. Before 1900 this garment was called a tuxedo in America, a semi-dress coat in the U.K., and a Monte Carlo in continental Europe. While any style of tuxedo will get you into a black tie ball, if you are going to purchase a new tuxedo you might want to know what the most traditional style is. It is a black wool suit, usually worsted wool. The most traditional style is single breasted, a single button at the waist, no flaps on the pockets, no vents at the bottom of the jacket, satin facing on the lapels. The original style had what is called either a roll collar or a shawl collar. Later the style with peaked lapels became more popular. The pants are pleated in the front, do not have turned up cuffs, do not have belt loops, do have buttons inside the waistband to attach suspenders, and do have a black satin stripe or black braiding down each side-seam from just below the waistband to the bottom of the leg. It is normally worn with either a black satin cummerbund or a black waistcoat (vest). If the dress code is black tie, colored ties and cummerbunds may be considered unseemly. Black ties and cummerbunds are more appropriate. With a double breasted tuxedo one does not need a cummerbund or a waistcoat. Normally white suspenders are used to hold the pants up. The cummerbund can be anchored to prevent it from riding up or down with the activity of dancing by threading it through the loop in the suspenders between the two buttons in the back of the pants. A cummerbund is normally worn with the pleats up, so a ticket could be placed in them. The customary shirt with a tux has a normal laydown collar, cuffs with links rather than buttons, and a pleated front. Cuffs that do not double back on themselves are preferred, so the coat sleeve will not catch on the cuff. Because the pleated front is stiff, it may tend to blouse out in front. Have the shirt taken up if necessary, or buy the shirt at a shop that sells custom made shirts. While having the shirt altered, have the sleeves shortened, if necessary, to the exact length of your arms. If you do not, it will be noticeable when you raise your arms to the dance position: the coat sleeves will pull back, but the shirt sleeves will not. Custom fitted shirts are available online at www.customshop.com/. Cuff links and studs, usually gold faced in black are used with the shirt. An extra set of links and studs is good insurance against a lost or broken stud at the last moment. The tie is a black satin bow tie. The tux is based on the "sack suit", and most men can be fitted off the rack, and do not need a tailor made tux. Tuxes are available from mens clothing shops, from tux rental shops, and online at places such as www.etuxedo.com. I have never bought a ready made tux online, and cannot vouch for the service, but the prices on good name brand tuxes are very low. I have picked this outlet at random; a search on the internet will reveal many similar outlets. Tuxes in a store typically cost $500, but sometimes national chain department stores have tuxes for slightly more than $100.
Tuxedo pants do not have belt loops, so they cannot be worn with a belt. Pants could be worn riding on the hips, or held up with suspenders. This is an important point to keep in mind when ordering the pants, because, depending on fit, using suspenders can require up to 2 inch (5.08 cm) longer pant legs. The athletic nature of dancing makes suspenders the more reliable choice, and as previously noted provides a way to anchor the cummerbund.
A few will want tailsuits. Tailcoats never button or even come together in the front. Tailsuits off the rack are available for little more than tuxedos off the rack. Competition tailsuits cost about $1000, and generally look better than off the rack tailsuits. Savile row tailsuits are the only ones that look like the glamorous tailsuits seen in old movies, and cost about five times as much as competition tailsuits. Tailors who custom make tail suits for competition dancing are likely to make notched lapels unless specifically asked to make peaked lapels. Peaked lapels are the traditional style for tail-suits. Competition tailsuits are performance garments with only a left outside breast pocket and a right inside breast pocket. There are no pockets in the pants. You must take your car key off the key ring and your driver's license out of your wallet to find room for them in the pockets along with a handkerchief, a hotel key card, ball tickets, a pen, a comb, and a pocket notebook. I had an alterations shop put two side and two back pockets in the pants for $65. The side pockets open behind the satin stripe so as not to break the stripe. All pockets are the same height above the crotch as pockets on normal pants, so they are further below the top of the pants. The pants for my competition tail-suit are extremely high waisted. The waist of my competition suit is 2.7 inches (6.8 cm) higher than the pants that go with my tux. The base of the coat drops only about 2 to 3 inches (5.08 to 7.62 cm) below the top of the pants. The base of the coat should cover the base of the white waistcoat; the waistcoat should only show through the opening in front of the coat, not below the coat. Normal pants and a cummerbund are never proper with a tail-suit. Competition tail-suits are cut almost uncomfortably high under the armpits so that the shoulder pads will not lift when you raise your arms into the dance position. This is done in part by attaching the arm to the body at about a 45 degree angle from vertical; ordinary tailsuits, tuxes and dinner jackets have the arms attached at about 20 degrees from vertical. This means the arm hole is much smaller in coats cut for dancing, and it is harder to get into them. Tailsuits are normally black worsted wool, not mohair.
Since tailsuits must be custom made to look really good, it is encouraging that www.tc2.com now makes body scanners which promise to reduce the cost of custom made clothing.
The traditional weave for tailsuits is called barathea, which looks to me like a 75 degree steep twill in worsted wool, but it might be a plane weave in a twisted combination of yarns that gives it a twilled look. It is very expensive and not necessary for a good suit.
The major producer of custom made competition tail-suits in the USA is Onik in Los Angeles at 213-380-3272. Ron Gunn of England at 011-44-208-539-7075 makes competition tail-suits. Expect to pay $1300 for a British custom competition tail suit, and a bit less for an American custom suit. These high prices are not because they are tailsuits, but because they are custom made; tuxes are also expensive. Off the rack tailsuits have a slightly frumpy look compared with the elegant dashing look of custom tailsuits.
The best sources for social tailsuits are probably the tailors near London's Savile Row. They are very,very expensive, over $5000 in 2006. You have to come back for three fittings after the initial measurement. These fittings can be done on three occasions when they visit the country where you live if you are not in a hurry. You can easily find the Savile Row tailors by searching for "savile row" on www.google.com. I have not tried them, but the best tailsuit I ever saw came from one of them, I do not remember which. If you want more insight into Savile Row, read the autobiography of a Savile Row tailor, "Bespoke" by Richard Anderson, available as a paperback from Amazon.com.
Competition tailsuits, by contrast, are not traditional tailsuits, are not fitted as close to the body, and do not look nearly as good. Competition tailsuits often hang down from the shoulders like a bathrobe without a belt. This cannot be corrected by simply pulling them in at the waist; the fitted look requires a very different cut to look good. Competition tailsuits need elastic loops attached to the inside of the lower front of the tailcoat, the other end looped over buttons on the trousers, to prevent the body of the tailsuit from inclining backwards when centrifugal force pulls the tails back. The best Savile row tailsuits cling to the body in such a way that no such elastic bands are needed. This is because of the way they are cut, not because of any additional fasteners. Between the outer shell and the inner lining they do have a stiffer layer of hair canvas than would be used in a tuxedo or business suit. You do not have to go to London to be fitted by these tailors; they make trips to major cities in several countries. I have read that not all the tailors in this part of London are good, some are bad. By searching on the web you should be able to find articles that tell which ones have the best reputation.
Patterns for the Savile Row type of tailsuit can be found in the book "The Modern Tailor Outfitter and Clothier" by A. S. Bridgland in three volumes. A brand new reprint of the 1928 edition of this book is available from amazon.com. The paperback edition seems more durable than the hardback edition. This book is so valuable and has been out of print for so many decades that you should urge your local library to get it while it is available. Only the first volume has the patterns for the tailsuit but all three are valuable. Volume 2 has the glossary of terms which is necessary for understanding the text and volume 3 has instructions for sewing pants and coats. Volume 3 has a section "correct dress for the occasion" that recommends a luxuriously elaborate wardrobe. The book came out in editions dated 1928, 1933, 1936 and 1949. The last edition was probably after Bridgland's death, because it is authored by Whife instead. It is either an advantage or a disadvantage that the 1928 edition is based on the "direct measurement system", whereas the 1949 edition uses the "chest measurement system", depending on which system you prefer. By 1949 the style had changed slightly to shorter coat and vest fronts with the bottom edge higher. My competition tailsuit does not have the assortment of darts used in Savile Row tailsuits, which is probably why it requires elastic fasteners to cling to the body.
The 1928 Bridgland book that is now available as a reprint has some problems that were corrected by the 1949 fourth edition, which is the only other edition that I have seen. On p.62 Bridgland wants the vest to show under the coat front. This is a mistake. An earlier 1927 book by Poole "The Science of Pattern Construction for Garment Makers" says on p.103 that the vest should not show under the coat, and the fourth edtion of Bridgland's book by Whife says so too on p. 86-87. If you see video of the King of England, his vest does not show under the front of the coat. This is accomplished by making the bottom edge of the vest higher than usual.
Bridgland's book on p.20 points out that the patterns are not lines where the garments will be sewn, but rather where they would be cut if they were to be sewn with 0.25 inch seam allowance. This applies to all the patterns in the book. But the section on alterations on p.194 makes it clear that they would be cut for much larger seam allowance, typically 1.5 inches, or the alterations would not be possible. The patterns would be drawn on and cut out of brown wrapping paper. The paper pattern would be traced with tailor's chalk on the top layer of two layers of fabric. The two layers would be for the right and left sides of the garment. The two layers of fabric would be cut along the chalk line where quarter inch seam allowance is enough, well outside the chalk line where greater seam allowance is needed. A tailor tack presser foot would be put on the sewing machine and with a zigzag stitch and contrasting thread loose stitches would be sewn on top of the chalk lines, marking both layers of fabric at the same time. Then the two layers of fabric would be separated using a thread cutter to cut the loose stitches between the two layers of fabric.
When sewing different pieces of fabric together the normal presser foot would be used. The typical normal sewing machine presser foot that holds the fabric down is one half inch wide. If the mark stitches run along the side of the presser foot the seam will be in the right place a quarter inch from the pattern line. But the pattern lines that do not join to other pieces are not a quarter inch from seam lines, they are hemlines forming the actual outer edges of the garment. On the coat this includes the bottom, front and neck lines.
Bridgland on p.61 points out that that the pattern for the tail or skirt of the morning coat is only the portion that will show from the outside, not the whole thing, 1.25 inches needs to be added at the rear edge. This applies also to the tailcoat on p.62. Poole p.107 and Whife p.197 recommend 1.5 inches instead of 1.25 inches to be added to the rear edge of the skirt which will be folded back under not for a hem, but for a pleat to be sewn to the front edge of the back piece. It is essential that the darts be applied to the interfacing, interlining, canvas, or whatever you choose to call the thick material between the outer wool material and the inner slick lining which is used to give shape and thickness to the front of the coat. On p.14 of volume 3 Bridgland points out that domett, or batting is placed under the satin lapel facing. This would keep the dart in the interface from showing. Whife on p.197 points out that the right half of the back would be cut as shown to underlay the left half. Presumably the left half would be hemmed in line with the center seam up the back.
There appear to be some typographical errors on p.62 of Bridgland's first volume, as can be deduced by comparing with similar patterns on other pages. Bridgland must have had terrible handwriting. "15 from 1" should be "15 from 7". "less 0 to 8" should be "less 0 to 5". There is a sentence that is terribly confusing: "Deduct 1/2 inch from the over-shoulder measure...". I think what he means is take the over-shoulder measure, deduct 1/2 inch, then deduct the distance from A to 21, and make the remainder the radius of a first arc centered at 18. The intersection of this arc and a second arc centered at 20 will locate point 22.
With tailsuits the man traditionally wears white gloves. Cloth gloves are preferred for dancing; kid leather gloves look awful when sweat soaks through them. Cotton gloves are satisfactory for dancing. Nylon gloves are not; they are too slippery on the back of the ladies dress. The man wears a white shirt, with the shirt front, a waistcoat and bow tie all made of white cotton marcella or birdseye pique. Competition dancers replace the waistcoat with a white marcella cummerbund that looks like the part of the waistcoat that covers the top of the trousers; this way they stay cooler, and from a distance it looks almost the same. Since balls are social events, not performances seen from a distance, the real waistcoat is more appropriate. The shirt has a vertical loop in the back just under the collar; the waistcoat should be threaded through this so that it will not ride up to the level of the collar. The shirt has a removable plastic wing collar. The removable collar can be high enough to look appropriate with a tail suit; a normal cloth collar cannot. Gold colored studs and cuff links with white or mother of pearl facing are used. An overcoat to be worn with a tailsuit should cover the tails; some overcoats are available in "regular" and "long" lengths. If the coat is long, the sleeves and sleeve lining may be too long. This cost me $36 to fix at an alterations shop. There is an alternative solution that I have not tried. There are traditionally two buttons in the back waist of every tailsuit. If there were corresponding buttonholes in the bottom of the tails, they could be retracted so as not to show below the bottom of any coat.
Excessive cleaning and pressing can wear out wool suits prematurely. If the suit is wrinkled, but not soiled, hang it in the bathroom on the shower curtain rod with the tub full of hot water and the door closed. In four hours it will not have a wrinkle in it.
White dinner jackets are not appropriate for most balls. They are not the best choice for social dancing with many different partners because they are easily stained. However, if you want one for a less formal occasion, a few tips might be of interest. A white dinner jacket is almost, but not quite, a white version of a tuxedo jacket. It is always worn with black tuxedo pants, white tuxedo shirt, black satin bow tie and, if single breasted, with a black satin cummerbund. Whereas the traditional lapels for the black jacket are peaked, the traditional form of white jacket is with a shawl collar. Whereas the lapels of the black jacket should be satin, the white jacket should have lapels in the same material as the jacket. The color of a white worsted wool dinner jacket is not really white, it is cream color. This looks better than white, which is available only in polyester.
You will want leather soled shoes for dancing. You can either glue leather on the bottom of rubber soled street shoes or buy ballroom dance shoes. Both options are discussed below.
If you intend to use dance shoes, you may not want to walk outside with them; dance shoe soles are more porous and absorbent than street shoe soles. They get dirtier when they get dirty. They get wetter when they get wet, and take longer to dry out. At a weekly dance in your home town you may be willing to take the risk of wearing dance shoes to the dance. But it would be a shame to travel a long distance to a ball and step in a puddle of engine oil in the parking lot on your way into the ball. Carry your dance shoes in a shoe bag that is sold where you buy the shoes. Change into them inside, in the restroom if you are modest, and put your street shoes in the bag. The bag can be checked at the coat check, or taken to your table to mark the place where you are sitting, if you have nothing better for the purpose. If the ball has assigned seating you will not need to mark your place.
Ballroom dance shoes are different from ballet, tap, or jazz dance shoes. They have chrome tanned split leather soles. They are sturdier than jazz shoes, and have more heel than ballet shoes.
In continental Europe street shoes come in European sizes, but ballroom dance shoes come in British sizes.
A lady should wear shoes with covered toes, not open toed shoes. If her partner's shoe should accidentally peel back her toenail the result would be painful and bloody. Ladies competition dance shoes are available with both closed and open toes. Normally the open toed styles are used in latin dancing, not in ballroom dancing.
Ladies can get flats, which have the lowest possible heel, made by Tic Tac Toes. Not all of the shoes they sell have dance shoe soles; make sure the style you order is listed as having "split leather" soles. For instance, their "maryjane" and "shag" styles look the same, but only the shag have split leather soles. They also sell ladies lace up square dance flats "dancer" and "bernie". They can be reached at www.tictactoes.com 518-773-8187 or 800-648-8126. Another source of ladies flats is the "practice shoes" at www.coastdanceshoes.com.
Ladies who put fashion before safety, comfort and good dancing may insist on high heel shoes. Ladies high heel shoes present two special problems not present with men's shoes. Ladies strapless high heel pumps may come loose when dancing. To prevent this, some ladies have used clear adhesive tape over their arch and under the shoe. Some ballroom dance shoe dealers sell clear plastic slip on straps for this purpose. Ladies' heel tips wear out long before the rest of the shoe wears out. Most ladies ballroom dance shoes are made with replaceable heel tips. An alternative is plastic cup heel protectors that slip over the heel tips. Ladies should probably buy at least ten heel tips or heel protectors with their shoes, so they can be replaced as needed.
Dance shoes are advertised in ballroom dance magazines, notably American Dancer, published by www.usadance.org, and many suppliers can be found on the web. A good source for men's dance shoes is www.danceshoes.com. Do not be surprised if you have to mail the first pair back to get a proper fit. It costs about $20 to airmail a pair of shoes across the Atlantic.
If you want to save money, or if you feet are hard to fit, there is the option of gluing dance shoe leather on the bottom of street shoes. If you like a particular style of street shoe, you can convert it to a dance shoe by gluing chrome tanned (suede) leather on the sole and heel. If you cannot afford dance shoes, you can buy an inexpensive street shoe, or use one of your old worn out street shoes to convert to a dance shoe. A shoe repair shop may be willing to do this for you, or you can do it yourself. If old soles get a hole worn in them, new soles can be glued over the old. When soles that have been glued over the factory soles wear out, they can be pulled off with vice grips and new soles glued on to replace them. You would not want to remove the factory soles. Soles wear out several times before the rest of the shoe, so it will save money to make arrangements for replacing soles. For more details and instructions to do it yourself, refer to the section on soles in Appendix F by clicking here.
If you will be dancing on floors that are too sticky or too slick, you may want shoes with soles slicker or stickier than normal to compensate. These are described in Appendix F in the paragraph found by clicking here.
If you are not sure of your shoe size, and will be ordering shoes over the internet for yourself or a dance club, you may want the Brannock device, http://brannock.com, which is the industry standard way of measuring American shoe sizes. The device requires a bit of study to use since the scales are upside down and backward from what you might expect.
back to top
An event without adequate space to dance can be a nice party, and many people do enjoy such events. It seems inappropriate to advertise such a party as a ball. The dance floor needs to be large enough for the number of tickets sold, or it will not be possible to dance the Viennese Waltz. Attending a ball with inadequate floor space is about as frustrating as going to a movie where the projector is never turned on, or going on a ski trip only to find no snow on the slopes. If everyone is a good dancer, good movement is possible on a crowded dance floor just as good movement is possible driving on a crowded freeway. In the USA, unlike Europe, a significant number of the dancers will not have the skill necessary to move around the floor. If some of the cars are parked at random on a freeway, movement will only be easy if there are not very many cars on the freeway.
The standard reference for such things as how much floor space is needed for banquets or other uses for rooms is "Architect's Data" by Ernst Neufert. The second international English edition does not say anything about dance floor space. Based on my own experience attending balls I will endeavor to make up for Neufert's deficiency in this area. The subject is complicated, and requires more than a single number to give adequate insight into how much floor space is needed.
22 square feet (2.043 sq.m.) of dance floor per person on the dance floor is required, but much less may be required per ticket sold. How much is enough? This depends on what fraction of the crowd wants to dance, and what fraction wants to simply watch. Some of the attendees will be so well trained and practiced that the Viennese waltz will be easy for them, and they will dance most of the waltzes. Some will be such beginners that the waltz is very difficult for them, and they will dance only an occasional waltz. Still others will not dance at all. The floor space needed depends on the makeup of the crowd, the seating arrangement, the time available for dancing and the type of dances provided. Most Viennese Waltz balls in America have about four hours of dancing, and have plenty of seating at tables surrounding the dance floor so people can either dance or watch. The crowd is usually middle aged people. The dances are mostly Viennese Waltz and polka. Such balls with as little as 6.0 square feet (0.557 sq.m.) per ticket have been satisfactory, though there is no guarantee that this will be the case. Small or narrow floors need more area per ticket as explained in a later paragraph. Most balls that I have attended with more floor space per attendee were fine. A ball that I attended with 5.7 square feet (0.529 sq.m.) per attendee was not much fun, with too much stopping and not enough dancing. A ball with 4.0 square feet (0.371 sq.m.) per attendee was totally gridlocked, with no one able to move out of their tracks on the dance floor. Assurances by the host that there will be plenty of room for dancing should be ignored. The worst case I attended where such a claim was made had only 0.66 square feet (0.0613 sq.m.) per attendee. Find out the numbers before you buy the tickets. The host will know the number of people he expects, and the size of the floor if it is a rented portable floor. If it is a permanent floor, the building management will know the size of the floor.
The seating arrangement can have a big impact on the size of dance floor needed. At a ball where the tables are removed between the dinner and the dance, everyone is forced on the dance floor; there are not a lot of people sitting and watching. Under this circumstance it is necessary to know how much dance floor is needed per person actually on the floor, not just per ticket sold. I know from one such ball that 13 square feet (1.20 sq.m.) per person or 26 square feet (2.41 sq.m.) per couple was not enough, and was mostly gridlocked. Another ball with seating for about half the attendees was satisfactory with 8.3 sq.ft (0.77 sq.m.) per person. I videotaped a ball from above and determined that 22 square feet (2.04 sq.m.) per person or 44 square feet (4.08 sq.m.) per couple is enough for pleasant dancing with small steps, with not too much stopping. To visualize this density, imagine the floor to be a checkerboard with squares 6.6 feet (2.01 m.) on a side; there would be one couple per square. With 36 square feet (3.34 sq.m.) per person or 72 (6.69 sq.m.) per couple, one could fly at empty floor speeds but with maneuvering still required.
On a highway with all traffic moving at exactly the same speed, a four lane highway carries exactly twice the traffic of a two lane highway. Since all traffic does not move at the same speed, a four lane highway carries more than twice the traffic that a two lane highway does. Similarly, if all the dancers traveled at the same speed on a dance floor, it would not matter whether the dance floor was square, or long and narrow, just so long as it had the same area per dancer. However, all dancers do not travel at the same speed; some do not travel at all. Therefore the dance floor needs some minimum width for the conclusions about floor area per dancer to be valid. My guess would be that about 30 feet (9.1 m.) is the minimum width for validity of the above comments about floor space required per dancer. A floor that was long and narrow, with a constricted width in the middle, seemed to be dominated by the constricted width. It seemed unlikely that the traffic would have flowed worse if the whole length had the same width as the constriction.
I call these effects of small room width the "edge effects". My analysis of the data I have collected suggests a way to calculate the capacity of a dance floor taking into account these edge effects. If you subtract 9.06 feet (2.761 m.) from the length, and the same amount from the width of the dance floor, you arrive at a reduced area. Divide this reduced area by 4.58 sq.ft (0.42549 sq.m.) to get the number of tickets that can be sold satisfactorily. For example, suppose the dance floor is 30 by 90 feet. The reduced area is 20.94 by 80.94 feet, or 1694.9 sq.ft. 1694.9/4.58=370 tickets that can be sold. This formula is not perfect: it implies that a floor 9.06 feet (2.761 m.) wide could not be danced on, which is clearly not true. However, it agrees better than a simple density requirement with observations at crowded balls on floors as narrow as 15 by 77 feet (4.57 m by 23.46 m.) and as wide as 48 by 72 feet (14.6 by 21.9 m.). With more data, the numbers in this formula may be adjusted in the future. To be on the safe side, it would be best to use the smaller number of attendees where there is a difference between the numbers calculated by two different methods.
The edge effects may be worse than suggested by the previous analysis. A ball with a floor 46.8 ft. (14.26 m) by 23.4 ft. (7.1 m) and 140 people was very overcrowded with 4 hours of dancing. This was 7.8 sq.ft. (0.724 sq.m.) per person. The previous estimate of edge effects would suggest that 118 people would have been satisfactory, but the overcrowding made this seem very doubtful.
The numbers given for acceptable floor space per ticket sold are good for viennese waltz balls with four hours of dancing. Balls with less time for dancing need more floor space. One year a ball with 6.1 square feet (0.566 sq.m.) per ticket had two hours of waltz followed by two hours of rock, the next year four hours of waltz. The floor was very much less crowded during the waltzing when they had four hours of waltz. At another ball with only two hours of dancing, 11 sq.ft. (1.02 sq.m.) per ticket sold was not enough. However, lots of easy dances such as foxtrot and rumba may also have contributed to a large fraction of the crowd being on the floor. I attended a ball that was not a viennese waltz ball, it was mostly onestep and foxtrot, both easy dances, and 9 square feet (0.836 sq.m.) per ticket was not enough with four hours of dancing. However, a ball with mostly people too old to dance and mostly Viennese Waltz was fine with only two hours of dancing and much less floor space. If a late dinner is served, dancing will be necessary during dinner in order to achieve four hours of dancing. This sounds disorderly, but in practice it is not, and works just fine. The fact that much more floor space is required with only two hours of dancing suggests that most people come to a ball for dancing. Some ball organizers are not dancers and find this hard to believe. They place too much emphasis on performances, speeches and ceremonies, and do not leave enough time for dancing. Balls with nothing but dancing, not even dinner, are well attended and quite successful.
The mood of the crowd can influence the amount of floor space required. This was underscored at a ball where I was studying floor density, and noticed it changed quite significantly from dance to dance for no apparent reason other than perhaps the popularity of the music.
Even though balls with a low number of square feet per attendee have been satisfactory for an experienced dancer, they may not be from the standpoint of a beginner. Beginners at such balls may do more watching and less dancing because of the intimidating density of the crowd on the floor.
If you wish to know the size of a floor and do not have a tape measure with you, do not hesitate to count the number of steps it takes to traverse the length and the number to traverse the width of the floor. You can later calibrate your steps with a measured 100 foot (30.48 m.) interval. This is much better than estimating size by eye. Step counting is the way I use to report floor sizes in the list of balls.
Dance floor quality is primarily a matter of smoothness and slickness, not resilience. Resilience may be of some importance to a dance teacher who will spend countless hours on a floor. It is not likely to be of particular importance to casual social dancers, unless they fall. Smoothness, with no holes or snags that could trip a dancer is a safety issue. The floor should be very, very clean, since some ladies may have ballgowns with trains dragging the floor. The primary concern, by far, is the slickness, or dance floor friction.
Too much dance floor friction leads to sore feet, sore muscles, and, paradoxically, falls from moving feet catching on the floor. Too little dance floor friction means too much of one's concentration goes into not slipping so that one cannot enjoy the dancing. Maneuvering in tight spots is not possible if the floor is too slick. There is not much that one can ascertain about dance floor friction over the telephone before buying tickets. The appendix on dance floor friction describes how the host can measure the dance floor friction, and correct it, if necessary.
When maneuvering is required in social dancing the man must provide some of the lateral force required to move the lady as well as himself. The lady can exert less lateral force than she would when dancing the same maneuver by herself. The man must exert more lateral force than he would when dancing the same maneuver by himself. For this reason dance floor friction is of more critical importance for the man than for the lady. A floor that is acceptable to a lady may not be acceptable to her partner.
It is essential that the dance floor have the same slickness everywhere. This is because a step lasts only about a third of a second. There is not time during a step to adjust the lateral force exerted so the foot will not slip. The amount of lateral force must be determined before the step is taken, and must be adjusted according to the slickness that is expected. If the dance floor friction varied from, say, 2% from step to step, this would be unnerving and aggravating to the dancer, and he would have to assume in advance that the dance floor friction would be as slick as the slickest spot on every step. If the dance floor friction varied 6% from step to step, the dancer would be likely to pack up his dance shoes and go home. On the other hand, if the dance floor friction were uniformly sticky, the dancer would dance, but wish the floor were slicker. If the dance floor friction were uniformly slick, the dancer would dance, but wish the floor were not so slick. Any kind of powder or flakes on the floor will cause unacceptable variation in slickness for the exacting requirements of the Viennese Waltz.
If a clean floor has wax or varnish over wood, the dance floor friction will be determined by the wax or varnish on top, not by the wood underneath. In this case the dance floor friction will be uniform all over the floor. Of course, if the wax or varnish has worn down to the wood in spots, the dance floor friction will not be uniform.
For uniform slickness the dance floor must be cleaned of all dirt, grit, and dried spills before the dance. For a permanent floor, normally the building maintenance people will do this. Different cleaning methods are required on different floors. For instance, wet mopping can damage a bare unfinished hardwood floor. Cleaning methods that are fine for some finishes would damage other finishes. Cleaning supplies should be on hand during the ball in case of spills.
Viennese waltz music typically has a sustained tempo that is constant, with occasional temporary variations in tempo up or down from the sustained tempo for purposes of musical expression. Viennese waltz sheet music typically does not have a numerical tempo, but is simply marked "waltz tempo". One conductor who played too fast said he learned what waltz tempo was by listening to symphonic recordings. Symphonic performances are for listeners who are seated and not dancing; the tempo is entirely at the whim of the conductor. Performances for dancers should adhere to the preferences of the dancers, not the conductor. The tempo of a Viennese Waltz is of much more critical importance for the dancer than it is for the conductor. The management of a ball should find out what tempo the conductor intends to play, and correct him if he is wrong. Dance schools teach Viennese waltz at either 56 bars per minute for American style competition dancing, or 60 bars per minute for international style competition dancing. Most recordings of music purely for dancing use 60 bars per minute. These recordings are available at the specialty outlets that supply ballroom dance music that are listed in the appendix on recorded music. Music for social dancing dancing should have the sustained tempo portion of the music between 50 and 60 bars per minute.
The conductor should be aware that a Viennese waltz played at a different tempo does not feel like the same dance at a different tempo; it feels like a different dance. At 45 bars per minute it is no longer an uplifting dance with a sensation of flight; it is easy and pleasant, but not thrilling. At 75 bars per minute it is no longer a graceful dance; it is a frenetic struggle, even for an expert. Most people are, or should be, taught at 60 bars per minute. For beginners it is difficult, perhaps impossible, and certainly not enjoyable to dance as fast as 65 bars per minute. It is much easier to dance slower than you were taught than faster than you were taught. For the sustained tempo portion of the music, conductors should consider 60 bars per minute to be the maximum speed, never to be exceeded. As the speed is reduced, the dance gets easier, but looses the momentum that is so special about the Viennese waltz. Even at a speed as slow as 50 bars per minute, there is still enough momentum for the dance to feel almost like a Viennese waltz.
Musicians speak of tempos in beats per minute. Dancers refers to tempos in bars per minute, where they really mean measures per minute. With Waltz rhythm, 60 bars per minute is 180 beats per minute. There are three beats to the bar, which need not be evenly spaced as the dancer usually uses only the first, major beat to stay synchronized with the music. Where the music is to be slowed down for musical effect, it should not be slowed by more than 20%, or it gets annoying. Expert dancers relish the challenge of the tempo variations written into the waltz music of the 1800's. Most dancers today are not experts and would prefer no variation in tempo at all. The musicians should expect to play more nearly strict tempo than is customary at concerts or on symphonic recordings. The beginning of a Viennese Waltz typically is a long preamble played at a slow, varying tempo not intended for dancing. Its purpose is to give you time to find your partner before the dancing starts. At the very end of a Waltz, it is customary to play the music faster than 60 bars per minute to end the dance. The dancer would prefer any changes in tempo to be gradual, not sudden and spastic. Strauss waltzes include some sudden tempo changes which unavoidably throw the dancers out of step with the music until they can synchronize again. The speed of dancing cannot be changed suddenly just as the speed of rotation of a large heavy flywheel cannot be changed suddenly. If there are any pauses in the music, they should be held for an integral number of full bars; half bar or one and a half bar pauses sabotage the dancers. The Willi Boskovsky recording of Lehar waltzes should be used as a guide to performing danceable waltzes. His "Where the Lark Sings" drops below 60 down to 50, and raises above 60 up to 68, but so smoothly that one can dance the whole thing without missing a beat. The speed of 68 bars per minute is reached only momentarily. This speed is much too fast for sustained dancing, but is satisfactory as a very brief thrill only for expert dancers.
Conductors who try to play the sustained tempo part of the music at 60 bars per minute without a metronome will typically play anywhere from 50 to 70 bars per minute. Even if a conductor can play a more accurate tempo during a rehearsal, he is not likely to under the stress and excitement of a performance. The tempo of a particular conductor will not vary during a waltz, or from waltz to waltz, but will be consistently high or low. It sounds to him like about 60 bars per minute so it should be close enough, he thinks. He is wrong. Tempo for dancers is more critical than for listeners. The conductor should use some aid to get more exact tempo. A low cost electronic metronome available at a musical instrument store, or a simple home made pendulum will do. A conductor who prefers to perform without a metronome or pendulum should have his performance recorded, and the tempo checked afterward. If the conductor is not going to use a metronome, it might be better to aim for 55 bars per minute, so he would be less likely to exceed 60 bars per minute during a performance.
It is easy to make an adequate pendulum. Suspend a small object such as 3/8 in (0.95 cm.) hex nut by a thread such that the center of mass is 9.77 inches (24.84 cm) below the point of suspension. Small adhesive rubber bumpers available at hardware stores or houseware stores are convenient for fastening the thread to the underside of a music stand. When swinging through an arc of 30 degrees or less the period will be one second, or 60 swings per minute. If the conductor imitates the pendulum with his hand, the musicians will play with the right tempo.
For those interested in counting music tempo, this is how I do it. Bars must be counted; what constitutes a bar is different for different kinds of dance music. I count bars in the waltz by counting major downbeats, the 1 in each 1,2,3 of the waltz rhythm. I look at my watch and start counting on the first bar that occurs after 00 seconds on the watch. I count ten bars and make a mark on a paper. I then count from 1 to 10 again and make another mark. After five marks, I have counted 50 bars, and I immediately look at the watch to see how many seconds have elapsed. Dividing 50 bars by the number of seconds gives the number of bars per second. Multiplying this by 60 gives the number of bars per minute. I have also used beat counters that work by tapping a pushbutton in time to the music. These unfortunately used unreliable contact switches; they would have worked better with capacitive switches with sufficient hysteresis to make them easy to use.
Conductors should avoid a labored "oom pah pah" sound to the waltzes. Some conductors seem to feel that the only way to avoid this is to play fast, but this is not so. I have heard performances as slow as 54 bars per minute that had a fluid, soaring quality, and did not sound labored.
Arrangements of Viennese waltz sheet music can be obtained from Doblinger in Vienna, http://www.doblinger.at.
A ball typically has four hours of dancing. It is not usually practical for an orchestra to rehearse that much different music. It is quite acceptable for the orchestra to repeat the same tunes three or four times if necessary to fill up the four hours.
It should also be remembered that the Viennese waltz was popular in America at one time. Old fast waltzes such as "Home on the Range" might have too much of a country and western flavor for these events. More acceptable might be "In the Good Old Summertime", "After the Ball is Over", "Let Me Call You Sweetheart", "My Wild Irish Rose", "Babes in Toyland", "And the Band Played On", "Meet Me In St.Louis" etc.
A suggestion for improving attendance at these balls is to have a greater variety of dances. Many people who do lots of social ballroom dancing refuse to go to these events because of the lack of variety. Half the dances should be Viennese waltz. The other half should be a mix of other ballroom dances. If the event is not too formal, even latin and swing dances would be permissible. However, a word of caution is in order: easier dances get a higher percentage of attendees on the floor, and could require more floor space or lower attendance to avoid excessive density on the dance floor. The rule of 22 square feet (2.04 sq.m.) of dance floor space per dancer actually on the floor probably holds true regardless of what kind of dance. For tango, 33 bars per minute is the competition tempo, and the tempo most commonly taught; however, it is recorded and danced from 27 to 33. 33 should be considered an upper limit never to be exceeded. 30 is easiest for most people; 27 is harder than 30. Social foxtrot at 120 beats per minute and onestep at 100 beats per minute are easy ballroom dances for beginners, and should be given top priority. If these other dances cannot be accommodated by the orchestra, recorded music will do. Recorded music during orchestra breaks is the easiest way to provide these other dances. At least one or two of the dances played during the break should be Viennese Waltz, so orchestra members get a chance to dance the dance that they play.
One kind of music that probably should be added to balls is the polka-mazur. I do not know what the original steps were, but it can be danced with waltz steps at medium tempo. Recordings are 30-40 bars per minute, but 40 bars per minute would probably be best for easy waltz dancing to polka mazur music. Polka-mazur music was some of the most beautiful music written by the Strauss family. It was presumably the 19th century equivalent of slow dancing. There is more variation in style among polka-mazurs than among waltzes. Some of the better ones are: Josef Strauss, Aus der Ferne Op.270, Die Emancipirte Op.282, Brennende Liebe Op.129, Die Schwebende Op.110, Minerva Op.67; Johann Strauss Jr., Fata Morgana Op.330, Ein Herz ein Sinn Op.323.
If a ball is to be supported by beginner ballroom dancing lessons in dances other than the waltz, a minimal syllabus is suggested in the article Social Ballroom Dancing at this web site.
Room temperature at a ball should be very cool, even cold, to prevent the dancers from overheating. One weekly dance that I measured used 69 degrees Fahrenheit (20.5 degrees Celsius), and people seemed happy with it. Thermostat thermometers are notoriously inaccurate; I used a dial thermometer sold by photographic supply stores for measuring the temperature of a water bath. This has implications for the architectural design of the building. Often it will not be possible to make the whole building 69 degrees, so the air conditioning system should be designed so that the temperature in the ballroom can be set independently from the temperature in the rest of the building.
Drinking water should be freely available. At a four hour dance I sometimes drink up to a gallon (3.785 liters) of water. The water should not be icewater; hot sweaty people cannot drink as much water as they need if it is icewater.
Light levels should not be too dim. One should easily be able to see the expression in the eyes of one's dance partner. It takes a split second more time to see other dancers in black tuxedos clearly in dim light than in bright light; this is a noticeable problem when dancing through a crowd in dim light. Light levels should be at least as bright as 24 lux. With a Sekonic exposure meter in EV mode, film speed set to ISO 100, this is an EV reading of 3.3. The Sekonic meter would be held flat against the wall facing into the room. With a Pentax spotmeter pointing at a photographic grey card held flat against the wall, it is also an EV reading of 3.3. Pointing at a white sheet of paper, the same level of room illumination would yield an EV reading of 5.7 in the spotmeter. These are absolute minimum acceptable levels of illumination.
If resources permit, it is well to decorate the ballroom. Artificial potted palms and flowers are a good idea. The uplifting appearance of church interiors enhances the experience of attending church; the same is true of balls.
Sometimes show events are added to a ball. These include dancers, singers or musicians. Since the theme of the event is ballroom dancing, it seems especially appropriate to have a ballroom dancing show. If there is a dance school in the area that teaches competition ballroom dancing, they could provide a show. Perhaps in trade for free tickets to the ball they would have some of their students put on a show early in the ball. After the show, the students would participate in the social dancing at the ball. That way attendees would get to see more good dancing. An added benefit is that the ball will get more publicity at the dance school. This way more young people will learn about the ball. At balls without dinner, the show should be at the beginning of the ball, to induce people to show up on time; otherwise they will trickle in for the first two hours of the ball.
If you are contemplating starting a new ball in your area, but have modest means, live music might not be a necessity, or a fancy ballroom. A basketball gymnasium and some symphonic Viennese Waltz recordings could be a way to start. A disk jockey could be hired for the sound system, but you would have to provide the recorded music, and each selection would have to be tested for danceability ahead of time, unless it was recorded in strict tempo. If live music is provided, four musicians could suffice, perhaps with sound amplification. Expect very low attendance at first. It can take three to five years for attendance to build up to the maximum levels.
Do not assume that a nice ballroom is necessary for a ball. The ball hosted by the San Diego Youth Symphony Orchestra was temporarily forced out of their nice ballroom into a large gym with two full basketball courts side by side for a few balls in the early 1990's. I could not tell that there was any drop in attendance. The gym was nicely decorated with potted plants and white picket fencing marking of the area to be used for the dance floor. The ceiling of the gym was hideous, worse than most gyms, but no one seemed to care.
Another argument against expensive ballrooms is that these events ideally should not serve people with great wealth, but should serve people with good taste regardless of wealth.
Basketball courts are 50 by 84 feet (15.24 by 25.6 m.) for high school, and 50 by 94 feet (15.24 by 28.65 m.) for college. The area of a high school court is 4200 square feet (309.19 sq.m.). Here we follow the recommendations in Ernst Neufert's "Architect's Data", p.211. Allowing 12.9 square feet (1.2 sq.m.) per person for a seating arrangement with 10 people seated at each 61 inch (1.55 m) diameter circular table, and a conservative 15 square feet (1.39 sq.m.) of dance floor per person, 150 people could be accommodated. (It is interesting to contrast this with the much smaller number of participants if two amateur basketball teams rent the gym for a friendly game; Viennese waltz is cheaper than basketball.) If seating were in another room, the whole gym could be used for dance floor. Even in this case, folding chairs against the wall of the ballroom would be convenient, and not significantly reduce the dancefloor.
For large crowds seating in the ballroom may not be possible. There is an advantage to an arrangement with most of the seating not in the ballroom. Traffic between the ballroom and seating room facilitates mixing, as does standing room only in the ballroom. Of course, limited seating should be provided in the ballroom for spectators too old or disabled to dance. One of the most heartwarming and welcome sights I have seen at a ball is people in wheelchairs as spectators.
If live music is not available, recorded music could suffice if well done. For very large rooms, such as a two court gym, large heavy non-portable loudspeakers of the type used behind the screen in a motion picture theater would be ideal. Be sure to get THX approved theater speakers to be sure of getting adequate quality. These speakers typically have a box containing two 15 inch woofers and a very large horn on top of the box. Even home type speakers would suffice for a start. The theater speakers have a very full, hearty sound in a large room; some home speakers sound thin and weak even at loud levels when played at one end of a large room. Small speakers distributed at many places throughout a ballroom can sound quite adequate, but this is likely to be possible only in a permanent installation. The theater speakers should be spaced about 25 feet (7.62 m.) apart and situated in a corner of the gym. This is because their angle of coverage is 90 degrees, and because this will get them as far as possible from the nearest dancers. Suitable music recordings are listed in the appendix on recorded music.
Before sound amplification the loudness of a string orchestra was adequate for dancing in large ballrooms. Music for dancing does not need to be loud, just clearly audible. Recorded sound probably sounds better when played slightly quieter that live sound. When playing recordings of smaller dance bands, the levels should be at least 10 dB lower or they will sound too loud. This is because the peak level and average level are usually similar for dance bands, whereas the peak is much greater than the average for symphonic music.
You may have to phone or email to have the announcement sent to you, or you may be able to print the announcement from the ball's web page. The announcement is usually accompanied by a ticket order form, which you mail in with a check. Sometimes you only email a reservation, and pay at the door, and sometimes no reservations are needed, you just pay at the door.
Tickets can be sold in advance and mailed to you, or sold at the door. Sometimes tickets are not sent in advance, instead your name is checked off a list at the door to see that you have paid. This cumbersome procedure is avoided entirely by a scheme whereby your name is printed on adhesive mailing lables that are then put on folded cards spread out alphabetically on a table at the entrance. Your card will have your name, table number, and choice of food printed on it. You place it beyond your plate at your table, and thus have a designated seat.
Be sure to put any announcements, tickets and travel directions in your suitcase early on. It is most unfortunate to travel a great distance and discover that you have left them at home.
back to top
Too much dance floor friction leads to sore feet, sore muscles, extra effort required to dance, and, paradoxically, falls from feet catching on the floor. Too little dance floor friction means too much of one's concentration goes into not slipping so that one cannot enjoy the dancing. Dance floor friction is critical for dancing. The dance floor friction depends on the combination of shoe sole and floor, not just the floor alone. Many athletic competition dancers find the 33% static friction of a bare hardwood floor acceptable, though it is higher than necessary. Competition lasts for a few minutes of maximum effort with the largest possible steps. Social dancing consists of hours of dancing at a lower level of effort. Casual social dancers prefer less friction because less effort is required to dance. Friction that is not uniform accross the floor is not safe. But people have enormous ability to adjust to uniform friction. One feels quite safe dancing on a uniform static friction of 20%, but the dancing has to be so restrained, weak and timid to avoid unwanted foot slippage that it is not much fun to do. The relative size of the man and lady also influences the friction required. The average lady of ideal weight is 91% of the height, and 83% of the weight of the average man of ideal weight. Competition couples are usually pretty close to these male/female ratios. Social dancing couples are often very far from these ratios. The man creates the motion and takes the lady with him, so he needs more friction than the lady. When leading a lady who was 1.5 times my weight I experienced unwanted foot slippage on 30% static friction. When dancing with a lady of about 0.66 my weight, I experienced unwanted foot slippage at 25% static friction. I am an average sized man. With most women I probably prefer about 28% static friction for the kind of social dancing presented in this website. As general guidelines 34% should be considered too sticky and 27% too slick. Anything between these limits is a useable dance floor.
Two methods of friction measurement will be presented, the spring method and the slope method. The spring method works on both floors and samples, the slope method only works on samples. The spring method gives only static friction, the slope method gives both static and sliding friction. You should practice both methods on a freshly planed maple plank obtained from a hardwood dealer to gain confidence in your ability to make reliable measurements. The dealer will have a motor driven rotary planer, and can plane the plank before he lets you have it. A plank 30 in (76 cm) long is a convenient length to work with. Anyone can do it, special training is not required. Because both methods are awkward, practice is required.
The coefficient of dance floor friction is the ratio of the horizontal force to the vertical force when your foot slides on the floor. A tubular brass fish and game spring scale model IN-100M by the Chatillon division of Ametek, measures up to 100 lbs (45.3 kg. or 444.8 nt.) and is ideal for measuring the horizontal force of floor dance floor friction. http://www.chatillon.com/. It is stocked by scale dealers in large cities across the USA. The scale consists of two concentric brass tubes with their opposite ends connected internally by a coil spring. The outer tube has a handle on one end. The inner tube has a hook on the other end. A slider rides in a lengthwise slit in the outer tube and records the maximum reading of the scale. The vertical force will be measured by you getting on bathroom scales. To measure the horizontal force, get off the bathroom scales. Wear shoes with the same material for both soles and heels; this is usually soft grey or bluish grey chrome tanned split leather on ballroom dance shoes. Well worn shoes should be used, since new dance shoe soles are sticky. Three hours of dancing on a hardwood floor was enough for suede leather bought at a leather shop to stabilize to its "worn" state. Tie a rope to the spring scale. Stand on one foot, pull horizontally on the scale with the other end of the rope held by an accomplice wearing rubber soled shoes, or tied to a post. Stand with the heel raised slightly off the floor, as this will typically be the case when your foot slips while dancing. Gradually lean back at a steeper angle until your foot slips and you catch yourself with the other foot. This measurement is very difficult the first time you try it. It is easier on slicker floors. Make several measurements until you get practiced and steady, and the measurements are reasonably repeatable. Do not wiggle your foot: this might bias the result downward. Do not jerk on the scale: this would bias the result upward. Do not have the other end of the rope higher than the scale in your hand: this would bias the result downward. Do not have the other end of the rope lower than the scale in your hand: this would bias the result upward. Each measurement should be made on a different spot of floor; repeated rubbing of the same spot can momentarily reduce the dance floor friction of that spot on some floor finishes.
The coefficient of dance floor friction that starts your foot to sliding is called the coefficient of static friction. The coefficient that keeps your foot sliding at a steady rate is the coefficient of sliding friction. If they are not extremely different, when your foot starts to slide, you can keep it sliding slowly and steadily for two to four inches (5 to 10 cm). If the coefficient of sliding friction is much lower than the coefficient of static friction, when your foot starts to slide, it will quickly slip out from under you, and you will immediately have to catch yourself with your other foot. The measurement method presented here provides a number for static friction. Only a qualitative estimate is provided for sliding friction, based on whether you can do a controlled slide or not.
My own early expriments trying to measure friction with convenient small weights, scales, and patches of leather were a miserable failure. The results were much in error compared with the methods which depend on wearing the test shoe. At first I thought this might be because the pressure was unrealistically small. On second thought, it is more likely to be primarily because the leather was new. The condition of the leather is critical. The leather would have to be pulled off the bottom of a well worn dance shoe in order to be in the right condition. Recent experiments using such leather show promise, but I have not taken the time for extensive experimentation to validate the method.
If you want to measure the friction of a small sample of flooring, rather than an existing floor, the slope method may be more convenient.
No spring scale is necessary. This will be appropriate to test a small sample of hard surface flooring obtained from a building supply store, or to test a panel of a portable dance floor. Flooring material is likely to be too flexible, so a stiff board of wood should be placed under it so that it will not bend. Have one end of the board on the floor, the other elevated by a supporting block. I used a metal toolbox for a supporting block. If an irregular support like a chair is used instead of a rectangular block, a carpenter's square may be necessary to determine "x" accurately. The lower end of the sample should be against a wall, so that it will not slip. If the floor is covered with carpet, a horizontal board should be placed on the carpet to provide a more definite horizontal reference surface. Stand on the test sample with dance shoes. Stand on the toe of one foot with the other foot in the air behind you to catch yourself when the standing foot slips. Determine by experiment just where to put the supporting block so that you start to slide down the sample when you stand on it. Measure the height of the supporting block, "y". Measure the distance "x" along the floor from the supporting side of the block to the point on the floor where the other end of the supporting board rests on the floor. The vertical height divided by the horizontal distance is the coefficient of friction, and is also the trigonometric function known as the tangent of the angle by which the sample is raised off the floor. For bare planed maple hardwood this would be 0.33, or expressed as a percentage, 33%. This corresponds to an angle of elevation of 18.3 degrees, which is the angle shown in the figure. The static friction is given by the minimum slope where standing perfectly still is not possible without sliding, with your heel raised very slightly. The sliding friction is given by the minimum slope where perpetual sliding without wiggling the foot is possible if you wiggle your foot to start the sliding, and your heel is raised slightly. With a worn sole that had not been brushed recently, and had tiny shiny spots evenly distributed covering about 10% of the sole, possibly from powdered dance wax, I measured static friction of 0.297 against a bare planed maple plank. The plank had been run through a motor driven planer at the lumber yard when I bought it. It was dense hard maple. After brushing and vacuuming the sole, static friction was 0.332, and sliding friction was 0.261. After brushing a sole, wear the shoe, and rub and wiggle the foot on the sample for at least 20 seconds to rub down any fluff on the sole from brushing, or you will get a high reading. New suede leather had static friction of 0.435 against maple, 31% higher than the old well worn suede leather. Three hours of vigorous dancing on a hardwood floor seemed to stabilize new suede leather to its final state, eliminating the excess friction of new leather.
Since it is easier to measure static friction than sliding friction on existing floors, the only numbers that I can use to describe good floors are static friction numbers. However, I do not doubt that sliding friction is also important, but cannot give reliable guidance about it.
The frictional properties of suede leather that is only used on a clean dance floor are very stable and predictable. However suede leather can be very unpredictable under other circumstances. By mistake I wore suede leather soles on the dry but dirty sidewalks and streets of a major city for several hours of walking. The soles looked very dirty. I did not measure them, but did not notice any effect on a dance floor. Another time, I walked back and forth accross a wet parking lot in the rain, danced on lots of some kind of powder on a dance floor. A few days later when the the soles dried, they were very much slicker than before. Therefore, if comparing the friction of different samples of flooring it would be best to use the same soles at the same time.
Why are so many floors so much stickier than the 33% friction of a shiny bare maple hardwood dancefloor? I measured one sticky gym floor at 47% against well worn chrome tanned leather. The founding fathers of America wore shoes with leather soles and leather heels, and walked often and without fear on bare hardwood floors where they experienced a friction of 33%, or 0.33. One routinely sees supermarkets, hospitals and shopping malls with floor friction of 33% or less against leather. I have walked in supermarkets with floors that seemed too slick for good dancing, probably 25% or less. The primary places where sticky floors are found seem to be dance floors in country clubs and civic centers, and the floors in some basketball gyms. A former professional basketball player told me that the players do not like the sticky floors; they lead to injuries. The dance floors in commercial ballroom dance studios are usually about 31% with finished wood, 33% with unfinished wood. In many Texas honky-tonks they are often much slicker, 23% to 28% depending on how much powder has worn off the floor and what kind of powder was used. The sticky floors are found where the adversaries of dance have more influence than dance professionals, and where there is danger of a civilized dress-up dance being held. This suggests that this practice is instigated by the adversaries of dance for use by them in imposing their will on other people.
Shoe soles for dancing should have the right friction against the dance floor. Most street shoes have rubber soles. Most commercial dance shoes have chrome tanned leather soles. The few street shoes left with leather soles have vegetable tanned leather soles. Good dance floors have a finish chosen to give the proper dance floor friction against chrome tanned leather. If you do not want to wear commercial dance shoes, you can glue chrome tanned leather on the soles and heels of rubber soled shoes.
Brand new chrome tanned dance shoe soles are sticky. It takes about three hours of vigorous dancing on a hardwood floor for new soles to be broken to their final state. For removing wax buildup without fluffing up the leather I prefer a small fine steel wire brush with bristles 0.254mm in diameter and 7 mm long, with about 1 mm between bristles.
Dance shoe soles are chrome tanned split leather; leather street shoe soles are vegetable tanned grain leather. Vegetable tanned leather is dense, hard and stiff. It is mainly used for street shoe soles. Chrome tanned leather is light, soft and flexible. It is used for shoe uppers, gloves, handbags, jackets and upholstery. Most leather is chrome tanned. Since leather is too thick for most uses, it is split to make it thinner. The smooth outer layer is known as grain leather. The next layer beneath the outer layer is known as split leather. The split leather is not of much use and is actually discarded by some leather manufacturers. Dance shoe soles are chrome tanned split leather. On some hardwood floors there does not seem to be much difference between the dance floor friction of chrome tanned or vegetable tanned leather; on others vegetable tanned is noticeably slicker. On synthetic finishes there can be big differences in the dance floor friction of the two kinds of leather. On some finishes one will be slicker, on other finishes the other will be slicker.
Usually leather dealers will not sell a small piece of leather the right size for a pair of shoe soles. They sell pieces large enough for 20 pairs of shoe soles. The price is as much as a new pair of dance shoes. It is still a good deal, because your soles will wear out several times before the rest of the shoe, and it will save you money in the long run to buy a large piece of leather and replace your soles. When you buy the leather, you should buy the contact cement from the leather dealer to glue the leather on your shoes. The contact cement he sells is specially formulated for leather; ordinary contact cement does not work well on leather. The glue I use is Barge All Purpose Cement made by Quabaug Corp. I get the glue in a small can that has a brush inside the can attached to the lid of the can. Once the can has been opened and shut, the lid will be glued on the can. I use a pipe wrench to hold the can, and channel lock pliers to turn the lid to unscrew the glued on lid. If you get the glue in a tube, you will not need a wrench to re-open it, but you will not get the brush to spread the glue that comes attached inside the can lid.
Chrome tanned leather soles are available from some ballroom dance shoe suppliers. Some of these are good, but at least one store sold leather soles that were treated so glue would not stick and were bait and switch devices to convince you to give up and buy the commercial dance shoes. It is more reliable to get a large sheet of leather from a leather shop.
Different kinds of leather are available in a leather store. You should be able to identify them, because the salesman on duty may not know the difference. If the leather is hard and stiff, it is not chrome tanned leather, it is vegetable tanned leather. Vegetable tanned leather has to be nailed on, or sewn on, it is too stiff to be reliably glued on as a shoe sole. If the leather is soft, flexible, smooth on one side, and suede finish on the other, it is chrome tanned grain leather. Chrome tanned grain leather soles will last longer than chrome tanned split leather soles. If you are going to use chrome tanned grain leather, put the glue on the smooth side of the leather, and have the fuzzy suede side touch the floor. It should wear more evenly this way than it would if you put the smooth side on the floor. If the leather is soft, flexible and suede finish on both sides, it is chrome tanned split leather, also called suede leather, the kind usually used for dance shoes. Chrome tanned suede leather is usually dyed some color; this does not matter, the surface dye will wear off with dancing. Where the color does matter is in the cutting; light colored leather makes the black marks of a felt tip marker pen easier to see than dark colored leather. You should get light colored leather so it will be easier to trace the pattern you wish to cut. If the leather is smooth on one side, and has the texture of fabric on the other side, it is probably artificial leather of the type used for upholstery. You do not want artificial leather.
Gluing chrome tanned leather on shoes must be done outdoors because the fumes of the glue are dangerous to breathe. In fact the glue specially formulated for leather probably should not be stored in the home, as it is more toxic than ordinary contact cement. Store it in your garage, if you have one. The sole must be clean for the glue to stick reliably. In most cases, wiping the sole with a rag soaked in the thinner sold to thin the glue will clean it well enough. If not, use 100 grit sandpaper. Trace the shoe sole on paper, cut the paper, then trace the paper on the chrome tanned leather. Trace separate pieces for the sole and the heel. Cut the paper about 1/8 inch (0.32 cm) within the old shoe sole all the way around. This is because you cannot line up the sole perfectly with the shoe when you glue it on, and any sole that extends beyond the shoe will catch on something and pull the sole loose. Use a felt tip marker to trace the paper model of the shoe sole and heel on the chrome tanned leather. Mark "L" and "R" on the bottom side of respective soles and heels. Put down aluminum foil for a work surface, to make it easy to clean up the glue you will spill. Both the existing shoe sole and the new chrome tanned leather sole must be coated with glue. Some small glue cans have a brush for spreading the glue attached to the lid. If not, have disposable plastic sandwich bags on your hands to use when spreading the glue. Make sure every part of the surface is wet with glue. Spread the glue evenly, trying to avoid lumps of glue as much as possible. Let both surfaces dry until the glue is no longer completely wet, but still sticky. Typically about 10 minutes. If the glue is too wet, the curved surfaces will separate before the glue dries. If the glue is too dry, the bond will not be strong enough. When the glue is ready, hold the ends of the sole with your two hands, gently stretching it straight, carefully align the leather with the shoe and press it on. Press every part hard to make sure there are no air pockets. A good way to press hard is to pound the sole all over with a hammer.
Cutting chrome tanned leather with ordinary household scissors is possible, but difficult. If you will be doing a lot of them, as for a club or a class, heavy duty scissors of the type sold in leather shops are much easier to use. I bought model G-8U eight inch knife edge utility shears, www.gingher.com. These scissors are much more dangerous than household scissors and should be stored out of reach of children.
Some molded rubber shoe soles have a figure 8 pattern that all bears weight. These are difficult to trace. Press a sheet of paper against the sole, creasing the paper around the edge of the sole. Then with light at the right angle to see the crease, mark the crease with a pen.
If chrome tanned leather soles glued on street shoes wear out and get a hole in them, use vice-grip pliers to remove the old soles, and glue new soles on. Remove only soles that you have applied; do not remove the original factory sole. If a sole comes loose at a small region at the edge of the sole, instant glue will make a satisfactory repair. Instant glue is too expensive to use to glue the whole sole on.
If you are going to keep glue for a long time to resole your shoes from time to time, you should get a can of thinner with the glue. Glue in a can tends dry a bit and get thick and stringy and needs thinner added. The glue as supplied seems to have less thinner in it than required for maximum strength. This is actually a good thing. It has the disadvantage that the sole may come loose some place around the edge and need to be re-glued, but it will be easy to peel off the sole when it is worn and needs replaced. When I added too much thinner to old glue, it became too strong. Later, when the sole had a hole worn in it, I tried to peel the sole off. The glue was so strong that chunks of the soft urethane factory rubber sole came off with the leather. The leather tore in places, and I had to use a motor driven rotary steel brush to remove all the pieces of leather.
It is not unusual to find a dance floor that requires a shoe sole slicker or stickier than leather. Soles that are either part Teflon and part leather, or part rubber and part leather, can satisfy this requirement.
Teflon soles can be obtained at the bowling supplies counter at bowling alleys. True-Slide modified Teflon patches work for the very stickiest floors, such as unwaxed asphalt tile. They are made by Master Industries, Irvine CA, www.masterindustries.com . The Teflon patches are not large enough to completely cover the sole. They are large enough for the Teflon to dominate the frictional properties of the sole. The Teflon is specially treated on one side so adhesive will adhere to it. The combination of Teflon and chrome tanned leather is ideal for some sticky floors. Even on a floor where this sole is ideal, it may feel too slick when you first change into the slick soles, because you have to get used to the sudden change in slickness. You may have to dance on it a while to adjust your expectations before you determine whether it is satisfactory.
To see how a partial Teflon sole is made click here.
There is no pattern in the leather; the pattern in the figure is just to distinguish the leather from the Teflon or the rubber arch of the shoe. The Teflon strip on the heel is optional on men's shoes, and probably not a good idea on women's shoes because the heel is so small. Trace the right shoe on a piece of paper. Draw a patch centered on the tracing of the sole. This patch will cover the center 30% to 40% of the width of the shoe sole, leaving an equal border on each side, and a similar border toward the toe of the shoe. I use Teflon 37% of the width of the leather sole. The most accurate way is to measure the width of the sole tracing at several places, and mark the center portion at each place. Cut out the patch from the sheet of paper. Label the paper patch "R" for right. Trace the paper patch on the leather sole of the right shoe using a felt tip marker. Turn the paper patch over, label the other side of the patch "L" for left, and trace it on the left shoe. Trace the different sides of the paper patch on two pieces of Teflon. Label the Teflon patches "R" for right and "L" for left. Cut out the two pieces of Teflon and glue them in the outlines you have traced on the shoe leather of each shoe. This technique works because of the flexibility of the shoe sole; it probably would not work on the heel because the heel is not flexible. Since the heel is not flexible, a bar of slick material is placed across the forward part of the heel.
Similarly, if rubber soles are too sticky and leather too slick for your floor, a thin leather patch on rubber soles should help. Since this patch should be thin, suede leather is more appropriate than chrome tanned grain leather, which is usually thicker. The general rule is that the slickest part of the combination sole should be the center part; that way if your foot slips it will roll to the outer sticky part. Polyurethane rubber, also called simply urethane rubber, is not as sticky as Neoprene or natural rubber, and is a better choice for combination leather/rubber shoe soles. Rubber shoe soles are quite variable; one can expect very different results with different soles. I think that most rubber soled shoes sold today are urethane rubber. Even though a 37% patch of leather leaves more rubber than leather exposed, the friction will probably be closer to leather than to rubber. Apparently the foot concentrates the pressure at the center.
Measurements of these combination soles made with the heel raised and the front of the foot flat do not accurately indicate the impression of friction that one feels when dancing. This is because one is most concerned about having adequate friction when changing direction. When changing direction one tends to roll the foot to one side. Even if the foot is flat the weight will not be concentrated on the center of the sole.
For commercial dance shoes, see the section on dance shoes in Appendix D.
The quality of dance floors is primarily a function of their frictional properties. Good dancers never like any kind of powder or flakes on the floor in a vain attempt to achieve good frictional properties. Similarly, mop-on finishes that do not solidify and stick to the floor should never be used. There are owners of honky-tonks who point out that their clientele are not wealthy enough to buy commercial dance shoes, and dance in rubber soled shoes, requiring powder on the floor. A lady bought five dollar black canvas loafers with rubber soles and had chrome tanned leather glued on the bottom. Adequate dance shoes do not have to be expensive. The owner should have a sign on the wall recommending leather soles and listing shoe repair shops willing to glue chrome tanned (suede) leather on the soles and heels of rubber soled shoes.
The frictional properties of a dance floor are determined by the surface finish of the floor. You should measure the friction of a finish to see if it is right. Floor surface finishes can be broken down into three categories: bare unfinished wood, finishes for wood floors, finishes for vinyl tile floors, and finishes for concrete floors. A final important category of floor is portable dance floors.
Since manufacturers cannot be relied upon to keep the friction of a particular product constant, I wish the chemical engineering department of some university could be talked in to devising two finishes, one for wood and one for tile, that had the ideal dance floor friction. If these formulations were public, then any manufacturer could be asked to make them. And no manufacturer could change them and still claim to be making the genuine article.
BARE UNFINISHED WOOD. Only hardwoods that can wear to a smooth and shiny finish have acceptable dance floor friction. Maple is probably the best that is used commonly in North America. Oak is almost as good. However, not all samples of the same kind of hardwood are of equivalent quality. Some woods are rough and grainy no matter how much wear they receive; these will never have acceptable dance floor friction. When new hardwood is freshly planed smooth, it looks the natural color of the wood and is slick. When bare hardwood is exposed outdoors for a long time to rain and sun it could be expected to turn grey in color, and to loose its slickness. Similarly, if bare hardwood is kept indoors, but wet mopped regularly, it could be expected to loose its slickness. If the wood is kept dry and never wet mopped, it could be expected to retain its freshly planed slickness much longer. Possibly moisture from the air would eventually attack the surface of the wood and reduce the slickness, I do not know. However, I do know that oil has traditionally been used to preserve hardwood, so presumably it prevents attack from moisture in the air. Linseed oil or tung oil have been used for centuries, but modern oil formulations are more popular now. Most people who use hardwood are more concerned with preserving the beauty of the wood than preserving the frictional properties so important for a dance floor. If repeated use of an oil left a residue of gum or tar on the wood, the friction might increase, which would be unacceptable. I do not know if this might be a problem with any of the avialable oils. A floor that I was told was more than sixty years old still had low friction. The dust mop that it was cleaned with was sprayed with oil, so it was lightly re-oiled on a regular basis.
The advantage of bare unfinished wood floors is that they can have acceptable dance floor friction without a finish. The disadvantage of wood floors is that they are vulnerable to damage. They must be kept dry. They should be swept and dry mopped. An ignorant member of the staff may wet mop them. Water can permanently increase the friction of the surface of hardwood. The janitor's closet should have a sign on the wall warning against this. A vandal may flood them with water overnight. Oil soap can be used to clean wood floors without the damage that wet mopping would cause. Oil soap causes the dance floor friction of the wood floor to raise to an unacceptable 37% against chrome tanned leather, and it takes about a month for the wood to dry sufficiently for the dance floor friction to get back to normal.
Advice on new wood floors. Simple parallel lengthwise tongue and groove plank floors are reliable, long lasting and satisfactory. Any difference in frictional properties along the planks and accross the planks is not large enough to be important if the wood is bare, and is completely non-existent if it has a finish on it. Thin parquet floors are notoriously unreliable and never seem to last long. If you insist on something fancier than parallel planks, a herringbone arrangement of planks seems to be satisfactory.
FINISHES FOR WOOD FLOORS. These can be urethane, epoxy, latex, wax, varnish, or lacquer. If you are not sure of the frictional properties of a finish, you should test it on a small hardwood plank with the slope test described above before applying it to a whole floor.
If hardwood is not of high quality or has deteriorated, it will not be slick enough without a finish, in which case the slickness will be determined by the finish and not the wood. Pure carnauba wax is too slick to dance on with leather soled shoes but carnauba based paste waxes can be formulated to have the ideal slickness, and will last up to a year on a dance floor before re-waxing is necessary. Carnauba based paste waxes can have a lot of solvent mixed with the wax, in which case they should dry 30 minutes after application before they are buffed smooth. With this kind of wax only one coat can be laid down, because a second coat would contain so much solvent that it would melt the first coat. If they have more wax and minimal solvent, they must be buffed smooth 5 minutes after application or they will have hardened too much to smooth out. The advantage of the low solvent formulation is that three or four coats can be laid on top of each other, without the new coat melting the coat underneath. Then re-waxing need not take place as often. They are spread over small areas and buffed before moving to the next patch. This has the disadvantage that two rotary power driven buffers might need to be rented, if you are not going to do the job by hand. The first machine might have a pad of 000 grade steel wool to apply the wax, the second an ordinary buffing pad to smooth the wax.
The typical friction of a commercial paste wax is 31% against well worn chrome tanned leather. A more ideal friction would be 28%. I have not tried to modify a commercial wax, but the following way might possibly work. I would use an electric hot plate to avoid open flame. I would use it outdoors to avoid inhaling fumes. I would use a double boiler, which is a large pot with water, and a smaller pot in the hot water which would contain the wax to be melted. I would put in commerical carnauba based paste wax, and add a block of pure carnauba. I would melt and stir. If the proportions were right, hopefully the right friction could be obtained. Preliminary experiments with tiny portions measured with an analytical balance would be needed to determine the best ratio of ingredients.
I once danced on a wood floor that had a paste wax slick enough for use with rubber soled shoes. It was too slick for leather soled shoes. I think it must have been wax intended for automobiles or for furniture, or perhaps it was shuffleboard paste wax, but I never found out what it was. It was a better solution than powder, more stable, uniform and predictable. But it would probably not be appropriate to use on a floor that was used for anything but dancing. If used on a dance floor a sign should be prominently displayed giving notice that it was intended for rubber soles, and was too slick for leather soles.
By far the most popular wood finishes are urethane. Urethane finishes are commonly used on gym floors and portable dance floors. But these are popular because they are durable, not because they have the proper slickness. Urethane finishes can be formulated to be sticky or slick. If you find a urethane finish that is perfect for dancing, please notify me. To complicate matters, urethane finishes are available in five different categories: 1. Water based, 2. Moisture cured, 3. Oil based, 4. Acid cured, and 5. Ultra violet light cured. Within each of the five categories urethanes can be made with a finish that is gloss, semi-gloss, or matte. I suspect matte shows wear less than gloss. Thus one manufacturer could make 15 different kinds of urethanes. There is no guarantee that the same one of the 15 kinds made by two different manufacturers will have the same dance floor friction.
I have found that most owners and managers of urethane coated floors do not know what kind of urethane is on the floor. The contractor does not want to volunteer this information; he wants the owner to depend on him for satisfaction, not do depend on the particular urethane. When I asked one owner what was on his floor he said "urethane". When I asked what kind he called the contractor and found out only the brand. When I pressed further he called again and found which of the five categories, but still not which of the three kinds of finish. The owner should be careful to note the make and model of urethane when it is applied. I know of a case where a satisfactory urethane floor was refinished with a new coat of urethane which was completely unsatisfactory. The owner was at a loss to know what urethane to ask for even if he could afford the expense of yet another refinishing. I have been told that some urethane finishes are too sticky when first applied, but settle to the proper slickness after a month or two. After several years, urethane finishes will start to decompose, and get sticky. Some urethanes start to decompose sooner than others.
Perhaps the most commonly installed floor in new dance studios is the DanceFlex floor, marketed by Dancevision in Las Vegas NV, sales at www.dancevision.com. It has a very good factory applied urethane finish that very gradually gets stickier over a period of many years, until it eventually gets too sticky.
Hard surface floor materials for do-it-yourself installation are available at building supply stores. Some of these have the right friction for dancing. I do not know how long they would retain the correct friction under constant use.
Many gym operators do not like street shoes used in their gym. Some worry about black heel marks on their floor. The commonly held belief that street shoes cannot be used on a gym floor is mistaken; the Cubberly Pavilion gym in Palo Alto CA has ballroom dancing every Friday and Saturday night, without undue wear on their floor. Their urethane was too sticky, however. All that is required is that a durable finish of the proper slickness be used. When ladies high heels wear down exposing the metal pin, they will dent any wooden floor regardless of the finish. These dents are about the size of the dents in a new golf ball. On an 18 year old dance school floor covered with wax and used seven days per week the dents were still not numerous enough to affect the floor's utility for dancing, and presumably not for basketball, either. This is especially interesting in contrast to the way some gyms covered with urethane are managed. Some gym managers sand the urethane finish off each year along with some of the wood under the finish, and refinish the floor. After a very few years the wood is so thin that it has to be replaced with new planking, which is terribly expensive and very wasteful.
If the urethane or epoxy finish of your wood floor is too sticky, one of the mop-on finishes for vinyl tile might work on top of the urethane to make a satisfactory finish. You should consult the manufacturers of the products about possible incompatibilities, and test a small patch before doing the whole floor.
FINISHES FOR VINYL TILE. If you visit public buildings in your area, hospitals, churches, businesses, etc., you can probably find a finish already on a floor in your area that is about right. Ask what it is, and use it. Shops that sell floor janitorial supplies and floor finishes could perhaps recommend places you could visit to see particular kinds of finishes on floors.
FINISHES FOR CONCRETE. I know nothing about these finishes, except that I have walked on some that seemed about right for dancing. I suspect they are some kind of epoxy.
PORTABLE DANCE FLOORS. Portable dance floors are available from several vendors: http://www.sicoinc.com, http://www.dance-2000.com, http://www.eventdeck.com, http://www.snaplock.com/dancefloors.html, and http://www.a2s.fr. I have danced on some that had acceptable dance floor friction, some that did not. A large portable dance floor is an enormous expense. Purchase one panel and test it before you commit to buying the whole floor. It may be necessary to find a mop-on acrylic or other finish or a paste wax to get the proper dance floor friction. Check with the manufacturers to see that any finish you want to try, and the solvent needed to remove it, is compatible with the finish already on the panel.
back to top
This appendix on debutante functions is based on experience at balls in Vienna, and an American ball that was purely a debutante ball.
Balls in Vienna open with an opening ceremony which includes show dances, which are usually, though not always, performed by debutante girls partnered with boys of similar age. The girls wear white ballgowns, each gown different from all the others. Each girl carries a flower bouquet in her right hand. Each boy is in black tie. The debutante show seems as much of a ceremony as a show. First, the young couples march in, and perhaps march around the room. This may be to regular march music or more commonly to the traditional Facher Polonaise, Opus 525 by Carl Michael Ziehrer. At this point the fancier balls may have a special performance by ballet dancers or other show dancers. Next, all debutante ceremonies will have an elaborately choreographed set dance for all the debutante couples. The set dance may be a modern fantasy on a Viennese waltz, a very old dance such as a minuet, or something arranged for any of various kinds of polka music. What most American dancers think of as a polka they would call a polka schnell. They distinguish this by rhythm and tempo from the polka Francaise, zepperlpolka, polka mazur, and perhaps some others that I do not know about. The polka mazur in particular would never be recognized as a polka by most Americans. I have never seen set dances done to the polka schnell, only to the others that I mentioned, but most commonly to the polka mazur. The set dances to polka music involve lady facing man, lady with her back to man, holding hands rocking together and apart, underarm turns, forward step onto a 180 degree toe pivot, bow and curtsey, toe tapping, head nodding, changing partners, girls in groups of four with right hands raised together going around in a circle, and other figures that I cannot describe that are presumably resurrected from old couple dances and set dances that are otherwise forgotten. One set dance involved the young men standing still, the young ladies in pairs side by side gliding around the floor with forward change steps to Viennese waltz music, weaving between the men. This had a surprising ethereal beauty. Every set dance I have seen was different from all the others, so perhaps uniqueness is a goal. After the set dance, the debutante show ends with each debutante couple doing a Viennese waltz. I do not know what interpretation they place on this, but to me it seems to represent the discipline and regimen of childhood by the march, the complexities of growing up and getting an education by the set dance, and the individual responsibility and marriage of adulthood by the waltz. Sometimes a waltz is done in formation, sometimes not. The event always seems to end with a waltz not in formation by the debutantes with the adult audience invited to join in. After this, few white dresses are seen at the ball. Many of the debutantes who stay for the rest of the ball change into colored dresses immediately after the debutante ceremony. There is no individual introduction of debutantes, and no father-daughter dance or other explicit participation by parents. There are enough balls, and enough debutantes at each ball, that it seems unlikely that any young people in Vienna are deprived of a chance to participate. The author wishes to thank Mary Seles for videos taken during her visit to Vienna, which were essential for writing this paragraph.
Contemporary American Debutante ball. I will not identify the city, but I suspect very similar events are hosted by ladies' clubs in most American cities over 150,000 in population. This event was not widely advertised, and most of the townsfolk have never heard of this event. About 400 were present, black tie, dinner. These events are somewhat similar in format to beauty contests. Each debutante, a high school student dressed in a white ballgown, was escorted onto the stage by a middle aged man, a friend of the family, not her father. The debutante temporarily separated from her escort to make a curtsey with a bow and arms outstretched to each side. The announcer read a capsule biography written by the debutante over the public address system. There was some variation, but most adhered to the following format. "Presenting Miss ...., the daughter of Mr. and Mrs .... . The most life changing event for her was when ... [when her daddy gave her a car, when she went to Europe, etc.]. Her heroes are her ...[parents, grandparents, English teacher, etc.]. Her personality is best represented by the color ... [red, hot pink, etc] because it represents [love, passion, excitement, etc.]. She plans to attend the university of .... . Her escort is Mr. .... ." She was then escorted off the front of the stage down a long ramp down to the dance floor in front of the stage, across the dance floor to the circular table where her parents and friends of the family were. This process took a little more than a minute for each of 30 debutantes. The 30 debutantes represented about 4% of the high school girls of similar age in the town. Then the fathers were asked to escort the debutantes all together onto the dance floor for a father-daughter waltz. They did the box figure, not the Viennese waltz figure, at about 30 bars per minute, while the piano played the Merry Widow, a Viennese waltz, at about 80 bars per minute, too fast for anyone to dance to even if they knew how. After this, a group of rock musicians played and sang for the whole audience to dance to pop and rock selections. There was only about 3 square feet (0.278 sq.m.) of sticky rubber portable dance floor per attendee, half the dance floor space required for a typical crowd this size to do Viennese waltz. As the crowd thinned out toward the end of the evening, the band played line dances for the debutantes to have a chance to dance without partners as a group, with about 20% as many high school boys among them.
back to top
Suppose we suddenly re-define "water" to be known as "wet water", and we re-define "oil" to be "water". If we did this, people in the future would be confused reading the literature of the past. Just such a thing happened in the case of the word "waltz", which was renamed "Viennese waltz", whereas the "Boston" eventually evolved into what competition dancers today know as the "waltz".
The earliest descriptions of the Boston can be found in the old books at http:// memory.loc.gov/ ammem/ dihtml/ dihome.html.
The Boston originated in America, but was also done in England. A description from London in 1910 is as follows [1, p.31-32] : There are different kinds of "Boston". There is the one that comes direct from America, which I will presently describe, and there is the "Parisian Boston," which is quite a different thing, consisting for the most part of running backwards and forwards in turning the shoulders. Then there is the popular conception of the "Boston," which seems to be that you can do whatever you please and call it the "Boston," on the assumption that others don't know anything more about the matter than you do yourself. Suppose, for instance, you are apt to get into a muddle with your steps, suppose you kick or crush your partner's toes. Should she inquire: "Whatever are you doing?" you simply say: "I'm doing the Boston." That ought to silence her. But suppose it does not, and she says: "Well, please don't do it again," you have only to go on until you once more come to grief. Then you can excuse yourself by explaining: "Oh, that was the 'Half-Time Slither,' the 'Running Waltz', or the 'Boston Skid.' " It will be readily seen that this kind of "Boston" is merely a euphemism for bad waltzing. [End of quote]
A more explicit description of the timing, at least as it evolved in England, is given in [2, p.21]: "The rhythm or relative time duration in the Boston was not dactylic (long, short, short) as in the Waltz [to see what he means click here] but all three steps were of equal time length and, moreover, occupied two bars of music. The six steps necessary for the full turn thus took four bars of music--twice the time required for the Rotary Waltz." The most common waltz music at this time was Viennese waltz music at 60 bars per minute. The Boston was danced to this music at half this speed, no easy feat. Thus, in two bars of music 123123 steps would be taken on 1x3x2x. Later, slow waltz music would be written for it at 30 bars per minute. Slow music in 3/4 time had been readily available for many decades in continental Europe to dance the polka mazur, not the slow waltz. From the available recordings, one would infer that the polka mazur was commonly played at 30-40 bars per minute, not only the 30 bars per minute of the slow waltz. The polka mazur was called the polka mazurka in the English speaking world. Since the polka mazur never caught on in the English speaking world, the music was not often played in England and America, and early slow waltzers had to make do with dancing to every other beat in fast waltz music.
It is perhaps significant that the Boston developed in countries where there was considerable opposition to balls in general and to the waltz in particular. Before 1900 a well known expression "banned in Boston" referred to the many things that had been banned in Boston. Perhaps the waltz was banned in Boston and the Boston dance invented as a different dance that could be done to waltz music.
The Boston was apparently sometimes referred to by the British as the slow waltz. Grove in 1895 [3, p.420] refers to American waltz variations such as the "Hop-waltz", "Slow-waltz" and the "Lurch".
I met a lady who moved from the Soviet Union to America in 1978. She said that the slow waltz was referred to where she came from as the "Boston waltz".
One can easily purchase 100 hours of recorded dance music from the 1800's with no repeated tunes. About a third of this music is called "waltz". It is Viennese waltz, not slow waltz, not redowa. People who claim popularity for the slow waltz or the redowa in the 1800's should point to a similar volume of music written for their chosen dance.
The final form of the slow waltz is sometimes referred to as the "diagonal waltz" [2, p.41]. This diagonal configuration made it easier and more graceful, but made it almost exclusively a competition dance, not a social dance.
1. Scott, Edward. The New Dancing As it Should Be. London, 1910.
2. Silvester, Victor. Modern Ballroom Dancing. London, 1992. The author was already dead when this edition came out. Material from his earlier book "The Art of the Ballroom", 1936, was added and is what is quoted here.
3. Grove, Lilly. Dancing. London 1895.
back to top
This appendix suggests CD's to get for practice dancing, and for recorded music to use at balls and at weekly social dances.
When using recorded music for a public function, it might be best to use your computer to make copies of the original CD's so there will be no risk of the originals being stolen. The copies will have to be played on a new CD player that is specially designed to play CD-R's; older players can only play just plain CD's. Many disk jockeys now do not bring CD's to a dance; they have all thier music on their laptop computer as MP3 files. The laptop computer sound output is plugged into the sound system for the room. There are special programs for your laptop which are designed for this purpose.
Sometimes original recordings are the wrong tempo. If the recording is purely instrumental, not vocal, it can be played slower or faster and still sound fine. With the Linux operating system, the command "sox infile.wav outfile.wav speed 0.857" will convert a waltz at 70 bars per minute to a waltz at 60 bars per minute. Similarly, slow recordings can be speeded up. Presumably there are similar programs for the Windows operating system.
Strict tempo ballroom dance music is best for learning and classroom use; it is also good for social dancing. Strict tempo means tempo that is legal to use in dance competions. Each dance has a tempo specified for competition. Such CD's can be obtained at http://bdsweb.ballroom.com/BDSMall.htm 408-879-0522 or http://www.danceplus.com 416-251-5998 or 888-844-4122. or http://www.dancevision.com 702-256-3830 or 800-851-2813 or at www.telemarkmusic.biz. I am partial to the Japanese recordings of ballroom dance music.
A good source of decades old recordings presented on CD with good sound quality is http://www.duttonvocalion.co.uk, notably Stanley Black's strict tempo tango performances. You will need to turn down the treble on these otherwise excellent tango performances. Most of the music at this source is NOT strict tempo.
The tango recordings most often used in movies since 1980 are on a CD called "the tango project". They are NOT strict tempo, but many are quite danceable.
A good source of symphonic Viennese waltz music is the annual Vienna Philharmonic new years concert recordings.
In addition to the above recordings, the Marco Polo label of the Naxos recording company has recorded the complete works of Johann Strauss, Jr. on 51 CD's. They have done the the same for the complete works of Josef Strauss, and have 26 CD's of his. They also have the "best of" the works of Waldteufel on 11 CD's, of Lumbye on 10 CD's and of Ziehrer on 4 CD's. Nearly all of the music on these CD's is ball music: viennese waltz, polka schnell, polka francaise, polka mazur, quadrille and march. Polka's schnell and francaise are 4/4 time music, polka mazur is 3/4 time, practically a slow waltz. The compositions of each composer are distributed randomly across each set of CD's, early and late compositions on each CD. Each CD has about an hour of music. The Naxos website is www.naxos.com. To download the catalog click on "search our catalog", scroll down to "download marco polo catalog now", then save it to disk if your software allows you to. This material is of more interest to Europeans than Americans. It is more likely to be available from a European dealer, such as www.gramola.at. The website is in German; do not worry, they speak good English. To call Gramola from America dial 011-43-1-505-3801. Their email is klassik at gramola.at. They wanted the order by email, but I would not include my credit card in the email, I gave it by phone to finalize the order. Do not send your credit card by ordinary email, it could be intercepted by a stranger, use phone if a secure web page is not available. I got 67 CD's at my home in the USA 19 days after I placed the order with Gramola in Aug 2004. Only 7 CD's that I wanted could not be supplied. Right after I placed the order, I got a call from my credit card company wanting to know if a charge for "household appliances" from Vienna was a valid charge. I said yes. That is apparently the category someone decided to put CD's in.
EMI CD, "Lehar Waltzes" conducted by Willi Boskovsky. This has Gold and Silver, Merry Widow, Where the Lark Sings, The Count of Luxembourg, and Eva, all good waltzes, as well as others. Where the Lark Sings, in particular, is a wonderful waltz that has been under represented in the USA in both balls and concerts. This recording of Where the Lark Sings in particular is a good example of how conductors should conduct gradual tempo changes to keep them danceable. The tempo varies between 50 and 68 bars per minute, but the whole waltz after the preamble can be danced without missing a beat. It is my favorite Viennese waltz recording to dance to, but it is only for advanced dancers.
Now, for a description of the works of these composers of Viennese Waltzes. The music of Johann Strauss Jr. tended to be descriptive of the atmosphere of a ball. Perhaps most of the music of the other composers fits this description too. The music of his brother Josef occasionally strayed into other subjects such as the pain of separation, transcendence, nature or cuteness. Waldteufel occasionally evoked other places or cultures. Lumbye more often than the others used light airy sparkling passages. Lehar strayed into romance and cuteness. Ziehrer sometimes sounds more earthy and proletarian than the others. Most of the music of these composers has been forgotten today, but those familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan operettas will several times recognize passages that were later incorporated into the operettas.
There are fine waltzes by composers not as well known for their waltzes: Josef Lanner's "Die Schonbrunner", Karl Komzak's "Badner Madln", Tchaikovsky's waltz from the "Sleeping Beauty", Ivanovici's "Danube Waves", Shostakovitch's waltz No. 2 from his jazz suite No. 2, etc.
It is interesting to consider that the dance music of the 1800's was the popular music of the day. The contrast with the punk rock, rap, hip hop and country-western music popular today is astonishing, and demands an explanation. The difference is so great that it seems impossible that they could both be products of western culture. I wonder if a shift in philosophical mindset could be the explanation. Similarly, the difference in artistic style of art, architecture and artifacts of ancient Greece, ancient Egypt, feudal Japan, and baroque Europe may have some deeper meaning.
For an example of modern music to contrast with the old, a country-western viennese waltz called "West Texas Waltz" can be found on track 7 of the CD "The Best of Joe Ely", on the MCA label, number 088 170 151-2.
For Viennese waltz practice, music is not necessary. The music has one bar per second, and three beats to the bar. Only the first beat of each bar is of interest to the dancer. A metronome ticking once per second is therefore adequate. I think a metronome is actually preferable for beginners, so they are not distracted by beats two and three. Lacking a metronome, make a recording of your hands clapping once a second while looking at your watch.
There are many recordings of popular music. Some are great recordings. Some have clearly audible rhythmic beat at a steady tempo, and are easy to dance to. The variety of tempos avoids the monotony of competition music. Some of the recordings available at the following sources may meet these criteria.
back to top
back to homepage