This article discusses the origin and nature of the Viennese Waltz, and lists balls around the United States. There are appendices on options for learning to dance, how to do the Viennese Waltz, clothes, etiquette, what makes a good ball, recorded music and dance floor friction.
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, "waltz" came to mean the slow waltz, which evolved from the "Boston", and the fast waltz was renamed the Viennese Waltz. The Boston originated in the 1870's, but did not achieve any popularity until early in this century. Even though the name Viennese makes it sound foreign, Viennese Waltz was the most popular dance at balls in this country before 1910.
There were many more balls in this country 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...". Now few know how to dance, we have few balls, but we have much higher rates of divorce and illegitimacy.
This article is too long for most people to read on the computer screen. It prints out to less than 30 pages from my browser.
The Viennese Waltz
List of Viennese Waltz Balls
Appendix A: Learning The Viennese Waltz
Appendix B: How To Do The Viennese Waltz
Appendix C: Etiquette
Appendix D: Clothes
Appendix E: What Makes a Good Ball
Appendix F: Recorded Music
Appendix G: Floor Friction
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The Viennese Waltz dates from the 1700's. 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 balls in the first three months of each year, with up to 2000 people at each ball, in a city of only 1.5 million. Some are hosted by the city, others by occupations, churches, organizations etc. but are still open to the public. Their balls are nearly all black tie events with ladies dresses required to be at least ankle length. Ladies wear modern ballgowns, and only debutantes wear white ballgowns. Balls in America and Vienna start at 8 or 9 PM. American balls tend to end at midnight, but the ones in Vienna last until 5 AM, with 75% of the people staying that long. The food is available at a buffet that is open all night long. Many balls are only about 10% Viennese Waltz, but the classier balls are up to 50% Viennese Waltz, with the remainder various ballroom, latin and group dances. If the ball culture of Vienna is likened to a tree, the trunk that holds it up seems to be the Viennese Waltz. The ball season is in winter. Starting in November the ball calendar is listed at http://www.balina.at/Ballkale.html. However, this article is concerned with dancing in the United States.
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. 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 steps 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 his 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).
Following is a list of annual social dances, not competitions, that I have attended. The dates given are in the past. Call the numbers listed for future dates. 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.
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 make any money from it. The organization consists entirely of myself. The balls have kindly permitted me to list them in this web page. Any ball certainly has permission to give the web address of this article in their announcement or program.
You do not need to know how to dance to attend these events. Many of the attendees just sit, watching the dancing and listening to the music.
These balls all had at least 6.3 sq.ft. of floor space per attendee, which in most cases is adequate for dancing. I have attended other balls that do not have enough floor space for the dancing to be enjoyable. Much more floor space is needed per person in this country than in Europe, because we have so many beginning dancers that do not move around the line of dance.
The balls range in price from $10 to $300. Just as in real estate, this seems primarily determined by the location.
Seattle, WA: "Night in Vienna" Feb 21, 1998 6:30PM, Grand Ballroom, Sheraton Hotel, Bellevue Philharmonic Orchestra, 425-455-4171. Web page www.bellevuephilharmonic.org. Event started in 1975. Black tie. Formal dinner served at circular tables on three sides of the dance floor, with a 75 piece symphony orchestra on the fourth side. The dance floor was about 62 by 87 feet. 350 attended. There is a nice half time Viennese Waltz show by a competent dance team from a local international style dance studio. Ticket $150.00 per person. A singles table was provided. Mostly Viennese waltzes, with some polkas. There was 15.4 square feet of dance floor space per attendee.
Manhattan, NY: "Viennese Masked Ball", Jan 23 1999 at Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Philharmonic Orchestra of NJ, 908-226-7300. Web page www.ponj.org/viennese.htm , e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Event started in 1988, attendance 600, orchestra 50 professional musicians, full course dinner served at circular tables, floor 70 by 90 feet. Black tie, with white tie (tail suits) optional. About 10% wore white tie. Not many masks were worn. Different tables are priced differently, the least expensive being $300 per person. Singles tables are available. Attendees names were listed in the program. The orchestra plays mostly Viennese waltzes for about two hours, then a rock and roll band finished the evening. Dinner was served during the Viennese Waltz music, so you had your choice of dancing or eating. In spite of this obstacle, there were so many determined dancers that one was forced to thread one's way through the crowd with more change steps than rotations. This was in marked contrast to the much lower density on the floor with the same size crowd in attendance when I last attended three years earlier. Apparently there had been a very successful drive to get more people to take dance lessons. An unusual piece of music was played for waltzing: Rudolph Sieczynski's "Wien, du Stadt meiner Traume", Op. 1. This is a beautiful waltz to the same melody as the famous song by the same composer, "Wien, Wien nur du Allein". The ballroom has two balconies on three walls, and a stage for the orchestra recessed in the fourth wall. The oversized elevators, cloakroom, lobby and ballroom were designed with every consideration for balls and concerts. There was 10.5 square feet of dance floor space per attendee.
Milwaukee, WI: "A Night in Old Vienna", 6:45 to Midnight, Nov 2, 1996 at the Grand Milwaukee Hotel near the airport. 414-677-2381 or 414-347-1165. E-mail address email@example.com. Event started in 1986. Dress formal or period. Five course dinner of Austrian-Hungarian food served at circular tables and dance only $45 per person (price now $50). 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. Tables with informational handouts were in the lobby outside the ballroom, and nice pictures were posted on the lobby walls. The ballroom is decorated with Austrian provincial flags. Zither music is provided during the cocktail hour. Event started with a ballet dance performance. Dance music by the 42 piece Concord Chamber Orchestra. About 75% of the dances were Viennese Waltz, the rest polka. 380 attended, floor 30 by 80 feet. There was 6.3 square feet of dance floor space per attendee, which provided adequate space for dancing about 75% of the time.
Washington, D.C.: "Evening of Viennese Waltzing", Saturday Feb 15th 1997 in the Organization of American States Building, which is 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 90% were in black tie. Contact Mr. Robert A. Schadler 202-338-3185. Fantastic dessert buffet included in $125 ticket price, no dinner. Small but elegant ballroom colored white, with fluted columns supporting Roman arched ceiling, large candelabras on the circular tables. My estimate of dance floor 35 by 52 feet. About 250 attend. The New Vienna Ensemble of Washington provided the music, which was 80% Viennese Waltz, with the remainder polka and tango. The Viennese Waltz tempos were occasionally a bit slow. The lack of unusual costumes added to the air of gracious elegance by placing the emphasis on people, not costumes. This was perhaps because there was an 18th century costume ball the same night at Gadsby's Tavern Museum in Alexandria. At the Viennese Waltz there was 7.3 square feet of dance floor space per attendee, and plenty of room to dance.
San Diego, CA: Two different symphony orchestras rent the same hall for a total of three balls per year. The oldest event is "A Night in Vienna" January 30 31 1998, and again sometime in the summer. It is held at the Clubhouse in Balboa Park. Both Friday and Saturday 8-12PM. Music played by the 70 piece San Diego Youth Symphony Orchestra and they host the event. Their telephone number is 619-233-3232. Web page http://www.sdys.org. Event started in 1978. "Period and formal wear optional". People wear anything from sport coats to tail-coats and a few unusual costumes. In winter 200 attend Friday, 400 Saturday, summer attendance less. My recollection of floor about 43 by 95 feet. Seating at rectangular tables at each end of the room, orchestra against one long side of the room. Single ticket $25 one night or $40 for both nights. Hors d'oeuvres, no dinner, both singles and couples attend. Viennese Waltz alternates with polka all night long. With 400 people present, there is 10.2 sq.ft. of dance floor per person, and adequate room to dance.
The newer event is the "Viennese Ball", Friday, May 14, 1999. One night only, 8 PM to midnight at the Clubhouse in Balboa Park. A new 51 piece orchestra, the San Diego Young Artists Symphony Orchestra, hosts the event. Their telephone number is 619-445-5284. Event started in 1996. 200 attended this last event. Dress, food, floor and prices are the same as for the previously mentioned San Diego event. This event never seems to be in the same month from year to year, so it is best to call way in advance for information, if you are not on their mailing list.
Ft. Collins CO: "Wild Goose Masquerade Ball", 14 October 1995. They have a similar event, the "Asparagus Ball" in May. Both are held at the Lory Student Center ballroom on the university campus. Music by the "Mostly Strauss Orchestra". Event started in 1984. Box office 970-491-5402. For info call 303-777-1382 or 970-223-5275. Web page at http://www.fortnet.org/FoTD. About 50% Viennese waltzes, the rest mostly polka, a few tangos and one can can. My estimate of floor size 40 by 80 feet. Seating at rectangular tables. Elaborately choreographed opening march, and audience sings "Oh How Lovely is the Evening" to close the event. Price $20, hors d'oeuvres, no dinner, couples and lots of singles, with an unusually young crowd. Dress from sport-coats to tail-coats and many unusual costumes. The ball in May is strictly formal, no unusual costumes. About 190 attend. Tables with informational handouts were available in the lobby. There was 17.2 square feet of dance floor space per attendee. Even though this ball is on campus, it was never a student ball. Even though it is advertised on campus, the attendees are only about 20% students.
Las Vegas, NV: "Viennese Ball" 8PM Saturday Apr 10 1999. Charleston Heights Arts Center Ballroom, 702-229-6383. Web page http://www.ci.las-vegas.nv.us. This was the first year that the 50 piece San Diego Young Artists orchestra was brought in to play for this event. Event started in 1981. Mainly coat and tie, some formal wear. Attendance 304. My recollection of floor about 25 by 100 feet. Seating at rectangular tables. Ticket price $10. Cake, no dinner, both singles and couples attend. Viennese Waltz alternates with polka. There was 8.2 square feet of dance floor space per attendee. There was more than enough room to dance, because the crowd mostly watched and listened.
Sacramento, CA: "Emperor Ball", Saturday Oct 9 1999 at Timber Creek Ballroom, Del Webb's Sun City, in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento. Cocktails 6:30, Dinner 7:00, Dancing 8-11. $75 per person. 916-395-8791. Web page www.eaglem.com/vienna , e-mail Viennasac@juno.com. Black tie, white tie optional. A singles table was provided. Intermissions with dance show and singing. 14 piece orchestra, "Spirit of Strauss Waltz Ensemble". Two rows of circular tables on one side of the dance floor, the orchestra on the other. 110 people attended. Portable dance floor was 39 by 48 ft. With 17 square feet per person there was more than ample space for dancing. A novel innovation at this ball was that a video camera was set on a tripod beside the dance floor, and much of the dancing was videotaped. Copies of the tape were available to the attendees for $20, a very nice record of the event that can be shared with friends. The legalities of this need to be observed if other balls wish to follow suit. I do not know the legal fine points, but would assume notification and acceptance of both the participants and the musicians is required prior to any financial commitment to attend or perform.
San Francisco, CA: The "Autumn Waltz Ball" was presented by the Waltzing Society, Saturday Nov 6 1999 from 8:15PM-1AM at Green Room on the second floor of the War Memorial Veterans Building, San Francisco, CA. The number for information is 925-284-1003. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. It was white tie, black tie optional. Tickets $100 per person. Complementary valet parking was included, but early arrival was needed because the traffic was very often jammed in the streets around the area. 105 people attended. Event started in 1956. There was a singles table. A 24 piece orchestra played strict tempo renditions of Viennese Waltzes. A bold innovation at this ball was shorter dances. The Strauss waltzes typically last 10 to 12 minutes. The orchestra stopped abruptly halfway through a piece, then finished the last half for the next dance. People were startled, but no one complained. Everyone prefers more dances and shorter ones. The room was long, with a 28 ft. high ceiling and five chandeliers. Doors on one side of the room opened to a covered outdoor veranda overlooking the street below and the giant illuminated dome of the building across the street. Circular tables were on both sides of the room, a bar at one end and hors d'oeuvres tables at the other. The orchestra was between tables on one side of the room. The danceable area was 18 by 63 feet, and a bit narrower, perhaps 15 feet where the orchestra was beside the center of the floor. With 10 sq.ft. per person there should have been enough room for dancing, but there was not. Part of the problem is that this group has a higher percentage of dancers than most other balls have. Probably main problem was the narrow dance floor. Paragraph five in appendix E of this article has been added to explain this. An arrangement of the tables producing a more nearly square dance area may have been satisfactory.
The following two balls are primarily student balls, though the public is invited.
Austin, TX: "Great Waltz", Friday Oct. 29th 1999, 8-12 PM, ballroom in the Texas Union building on campus at the University of Texas. E-mail:email@example.com. Music provided by the 40 piece Austin Civic Orchestra. Event started in 1982. Dance floor 38 by 64 feet. Circular tables ringed the dance floor. About 210 people attended. With 11 square feet 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. Hors d'oeuvres in the lobby, no dinner. Advance ticket prices $15 for adults, $10 for students. The web announcement specified formal attire or costumes, but this was for the public. I only noticed two costumes. Word was spread among the students that students were not required to dress formally, though many of them did. The attendees were about two thirds students, one third adults. It was like two balls in one, with students sitting and dancing together, and adults sitting and dancing together. One of the reasons the students value this event is "because it's our only formal event of the year". The formally dressed adults help fill up the ballroom, subsidize the event, and make it seem more formal. I saw a male student in a dress shirt and tie, and a female student in a sleeveless full skirted knee length cotton print dress. I was very happy to see this, because it would be unfortunate for students to miss this event because they could not afford to dress formally.
Durham, NC: "Viennese Ball", Friday 5 Nov 1999. Sponsored by the Duke University Wind Symphony, 919-660-3306, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Ticket price $12 at the door, no advance ticket sales. Dress code "formal" which was mostly tux, but for some of the students included coat and tie. 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. Event started in 1974. A similar ball is held in the spring, but not in spring of 2000. The spring ball is held three times consecutively, then one spring is skipped. There was a dance lesson from 7-8 then the ball was from 8 to midnight. Such a short lesson could only cover the box step and the turning box, and did not get into the Viennese Waltz. Dance floor 56 by 77 feet. There was plenty of standing room behind wrought iron fretwork at the edge of the dance floor. At the back of the standing room were folding chairs against the wall, no tables. There were 426 attendees, but not all at once; people drifted in and out because there were other special events in town that night. There was 10 sq.ft. of floor space per ticket sold, and plenty of room to dance. The event was open to the public, but this year through oversight it was only advertised on campus. Only students attended except for a middle aged couple, a middle aged woman, and myself. The students seemed evenly divided between Duke University, and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There was a halftime show consisting of a choreographed dance routine to recorded music by a small group of students from the orchestra. Absolutely unprecedented to have musicians who can also dance! Music was provided by a 24 member waltz orchestra alternating with a 22 piece polka band. The polka band also played foxtrot and tango.
This appendix is a general discussion of the process of learning the Viennese Waltz; the next appendix gives detailed instructions.
The basic international steps are the most practical for social dancing both in this country and in Europe. The natural turn (Austrian Rechtswalzer), reverse turn (Austrian Linkswalzer) and change steps are all that you need to know. The so called American style Viennese Waltz includes the basic international steps but adds many extra steps 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 steps. Most of these extra steps appear to have been concocted by American dance teachers in this century 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 steps are used in Vienna is during the debutantes performance which opens each ball; they are never danced socially.
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 subside and 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. People of either sex 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 cassette player on the man's belt, an extra pair of headphones and a stereo "Y" adapter from Radio Shack, 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.
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 friction. See the appendix on floor friction for more information.
Instructional video tapes on international style Viennese Waltz are available from Dance Vision , http://www.dancevision.com and Butterfly Video, Antrim New Hampshire 1-800-433-2623. Dancevision sells several different tapes about how to do the international Viennese Waltz and Butterfly sells one. I have seen them all, and my favorite is Dancevision's new 1999 tape by Victor and Heather Veyrasset "International Style Beginning thru Advanced Viennese Waltz", number ISVV24. The Sinkinson tape is also noteworthy because it shows a tight reverse turn, and points out that step 5 should come down on the inside edge of the toe.
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 teaches Viennese Waltz. These lady students rock back on their heels and lean hard against the man's hold, expecting him to sling them around and drag them down the line of dance. This may be "ring around the rosie", but it is 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 many more hours of 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" says that even in the beginning people found the waltz difficult. They had no radio, TV or movies, and travel, books and newspapers were very much more expensive than today. Perhaps that is why they had the patience to learn it anyway. It sure beat throwing horseshoes or doing English country dancing.
When it finally got popular enough to spread beyond the German speaking world, ballet 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. 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.
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 ninth, current edition of this book is available for less than $40.00 from http://bdsweb.ballroom.com, or from http://www.prodance.com. Even though the 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 under the heading of "Popular Dances". 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" 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 last century 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."
The best of the methods eventually prevailed; the inferior methods should be forgotten. No one now teaches the game of golf using bent sticks and feather balls, but that is how the game started. The fine points of both golf and Viennese Waltz were learned by generations of trial and error; it would be foolish to ignore this accumulation of experience. The point of all this refinement in both golf and the Viennese Waltz is to make them more satisfying to the participants, not to spectators.
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.
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 that I know who weighs 90 pounds more than she should enjoys 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 friction against the floor. This is important; do not ignore it. See the appendix on floor friction for more information.
First, you must learn to take steps forward and backward like a dancer. When walking forward, either skim the moving foot across the floor or just barely pick it up; high stepping is not appropriate. The heel touches down first when walking forward. Walking backward is very different from the way most non-dancers naturally do it. Move the foot backward mainly by swinging the leg from the hip, not by bending the knee. When you plant the foot behind you, do not drop the heel immediately. Put the weight on the toe initially, and very slowly lower the heel as the moving foot skims the floor back toward the standing foot. The standing heel should not touch the floor until the moving foot is fully even along side of the standing foot.
Walking forward and backward in the prescribed manner will permit smooth motion of the body, which is essential in ballroom dancing.
You should learn to waltz individually before you attempt it together. The steps are the same for man and woman. There are six steps in a rotation. When the man does 1,2,3, the lady does 4,5,6, and when the man does 4,5,6, the lady does 1,2,3. Therefore the individual practice will be described the same for man and lady.
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 steps are used. To spin in one spot the fleckerls are used, and the contra check to switch direction of spin. Spinning is not used much today even in Vienna, but it is thought by some authorities to be the origin of the Viennese Waltz. The fleckerl is quite different from the spin used in swing dancing, or the spin used in American style Viennese Waltz.
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.
In the next paragraph we will prescribe step timing. First, we need to clarify the meaning of step timing in ballroom dancing. 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. Three things happen the instant a band member puts his foot down: 1. The foot touches the ground. 2. The foot stops translational motion. 3. The foot stops moving. Listing items 2 and 3 separately sounds silly until you realize that in ballroom dancing all three things can happen at different times. In ballroom dancing item 2 is the only one that counts for step timing. In steps one, three and six of the natural turn the foot should touch the floor before it stops translating. In step four the foot will start pivoting on the heel some time after the foot is put down. Some good dancers pivot on the toe immediately after the foot touches down in some of the steps in the fleckerl, but their foot is no longer translating across the floor. To reiterate, the action that should happen on the beat of the music is that your foot should stop translating, that is, moving forward, backward, or to the side.
NATURAL TURN. 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. 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. 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. When a horse trots, it takes steps at even intervals; when it gallops, the steps are not even. In this sense, the Viennese Waltz 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.
When you are practicing by yourself all six steps will almost fall on a straight line down the line of dance. When dancing with a partner this will no longer be true. You do not need to worry about the difference because it will happen naturally.
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 striking the floor first at a point straight down the line of dance. The heel should slide smoothly onto the floor, not strike the floor hard. When the right heel comes to rest on the floor 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. 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 drop to 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 rotation occurs between when the toe strikes 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. 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. 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.
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.
REVERSE TURN. 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 both partners cross their 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.
CHANGE STEPS. The change steps are used to shift between natural and reverse turns. They are almost as simple as taking two normal forward or backward 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 step, and the residual rotation will carry you to the proper alignment to start the opposite turn.
Change steps 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. This can present difficulties for the lady unless the man leads it correctly. The man should practice a string of change steps 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 from left to right and back repeatedly when doing a string of changes.
FLECKERL. 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 as the couple turns to the left about a spot on the floor. The left foot crosses in front of the right, the right steps to the side, the left crosses in front of the right, right to the side, left crosses behind the right, right to the side. The woman does 456123 when the man does 123456. 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.
PRACTICE. To learn these steps, first step through them individually slowly until the movement is automatic. 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 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. 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. Waltz music has three beats per second, three beats to the measure, also known as a bar, and 60 bars per minute. 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.
When you take larger steps your body will rise and fall more during the natural and reverse turns. This is unavoidable if your body is erect while you dance, as it should be. Do not force extra rise and fall over that which is natural and unavoidable. You should not attempt the exaggerated rise and fall found in the slow waltz. What you want is smooth, natural movement, with nothing exaggerated. There should be no tendency to hop. You should not be dancing stiff legged. When taking large steps, perhaps the only instants when the knee might be almost straight is just before the foot touches the ground when reaching out front on step one, or behind on step four.
Now that you can do the Viennese Waltz individually, it is time to learn to do it together with a partner. Before you attempt the Viennese Waltz with a partner, you must learn to walk with a partner.
Before learning to walk together, you must learn the ballroom hold. The man and lady should stand facing each other. People with stooped posture should make an extra effort to stand tall. 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 mostly on their toes when standing still even though their heels are on the floor. The dancers should not have their knees locked; they should be slightly relaxed. There should be about a four inch gap in a front to back direction between the toes of the man's shoes and the toes of the lady's shoes, and there will be some left to right offset.
There should be body contact between the couple, right front to right front. Since people are different sizes and shapes, this cannot be specified precisely, but usually somewhere between the top of the pelvis and the bottom of the rib cage. The hold is definitely not "cheek to cheek". At the waist each partner should find his partner's centerline about four inches to the right of his own. The amount of this left/right offset will have to be adjusted for each couple. Each partner should be looking over the partners left shoulder, and the lady's head should be turned slightly to the left. Each partner should find the other partner's nose at least four inches in front of his or her own, and at least 8 inches to the right. This wide frame at the top creates a noticeable flywheel effect which adds stability and control when maneuvering in the Viennese Waltz. Advanced dancers typically have more separation to the front and to the right between their noses than specified here.
The man's left hand should be about two feet to the left of his nose and forward a bit with his thumb wide apart from his fingers to provide a place for the lady's right hand to hold on to, and his fingers lightly around the lady's right hand. The lady's left hand should lightly grasp the man between the midpoint of his upper arm and his shoulder. Her hand will be on top of the man's 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 man's right elbow should be almost as high as his left elbow, which will be tiring and difficult for him in the beginning because his right wrist is lower than his right elbow.
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.
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 the Viennese Waltz 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.
I will call the hold described above the shoulder hold. For completeness it should be pointed out that there is an alternative hold to the shoulder 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 shoulder hold. At the dance school I attended in Vienna, the shoulder hold was taught. An old painting of an upper class ball shows the shoulder 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 shoulder 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.
When you can dance with ease individually to the music, it is time to try it 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 contact point between your bodies should move straight down the line of dance.
Use the proper dance position, except in the beginning do not quite have body contact. You will confuse each other less in the beginning without body contact. If you dance without contact stay within two inches of contact. As you get better you may want body contact to help coordinate your movements during maneuvering, or you may not; experts differ on this.
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 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.
If you always practice with small steps your knees will not be bent much. You should also practice as a couple lowering down with bent knees so you can stretch out and take 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 1,2,3 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 to turn into her on 1, and dance around her more than usual during 2 and 3, so as to gently guide her into the curve. During 4,5,6, he will try to almost dance in place, with very little motion down the line of dance, so she will further curve to the left. With practice you should be able to dance reverse turns to the music in a counter clockwise circle of 5 feet in diameter.
Arrange several chairs in a random pattern with about five feet 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 steps, 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.
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. For instance, I find myself planting a heel flat on the floor to use as a break to momentarily slow down rotation. If you dance with a partner who leans back with wide separation, you will also have to improvise footwork which will be different in some particulars from that given here.
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.
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.
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 shoulder level 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 fourth 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. You 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.
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 lady should politely say she prefers to finish the dance with the man she started with.
Since 1922, etiquette books in this country have permitted cutting in on the dance floor. This makes absolutely no sense, and I have not found it permitted in earlier etiquette books. The book,"Adversaries of Dance", by Ann Wagner, University of Illinois Press, 1997 makes no mention of the cutting in issue. If adversaries of dance did not cause 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.
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.
DRESS CODES. 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 above 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 country 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 19th century 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. 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 are not very appropriate for the Viennese Waltz, since they interfere with the close dance position. Presumably hoops were more popular for dress-up occasions other than Waltz balls. In any case, hoops were only popular a small fraction of the last century, so there are plenty of other styles to choose from. A dance teacher in Vienna told me that rather than hoops, the ladies in Vienna in the last century used to have a loop of string sewn in the hem of their skirt, and held this looped over their right hand. The dresses were off the floor in the front but they had trains in the back which drag behind when not held by the string loops. An old painting of a ball in Vienna shows the trains to be wedge inserts in the back of the skirt, squared off at the end. See it at http://www.austria.org.uk/waltz/vienna_waltz.html . It is the dress worn by the lady in the center foreground looking down at her dance card. (Note that the painting shows a military ball, so the men are in uniforms, not black tailsuits). The skirt needs to be full enough that when the train is held up to one side, the skirt is not pulled tight, restricting movement with a partner. 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.
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 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. 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. Some ladies use clear or translucent adhesive tape wrapped over the arch of their foot and under the arch of a strapless high heeled shoe to prevent the shoe from coming loose.
MENS FORMAL WEAR. For men, a black tuxedo is adequate for most balls, and required for some. It is simply a black wool suit with black satin lapels, preferably peaked, not notched, though both are acceptable. 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. Cummerbunds tend to not stay in their proper place when dancing, and are a nuisance to wear. The customary shirt with a tux has a normal collar, cuffs with links rather than buttons, and a pleated front. Because the pleated front is stiff, it may tend to blouse out in front. To prevent this a trouser tab on the shirt helps, and it helps if the shirt fits snug around the body. Have it 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. 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. Polyester-wool blend models can be had with all accessories for less than $300.00.
The few who want tail-suits should know that tails traditionally extend two inches below the break in the back of the knee. Servants traditionally wear tails two inches above the knee. Tails for competition dancers break with tradition and extend four inches below the knee. Tailcoats never button or even come together in the front. 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. The proper pants for a tail-suit are extremely high waisted. 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. Tailsuits are normally black wool, not mohair, in barathea weave. Herringbone weave is also acceptable.
The major producer of custom made competition tail-suits in this country is Onik in Los Angeles at 213-380-3272. Ron Gunn of England at 011-44-181-539-7075 makes competition tail-suits, and Dege Sons of England at 011-44-171-287-2941 makes social tail suits. Both make trips to this country at certain times of the year to fit customers. Expect to pay $1300 for a British custom tail suit, and a bit less for an American custom suit. If your build is exactly average, you may be able to use a ready made tailsuit, which costs less. Some ready made tailsuits are in bizarre modern styles; avoid these.
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. He wears a white shirt, with the shirt front, a waistcoat and bow tie all made of white cotton pique. Competition dancers replace the waistcoat with a white pique 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 removable plastic wing collar. The removable collar can be high enough to look appropriate with a tail suit; a normal cloth collar cannot. Studs and cuff links with mother of pearl facing are used.
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.
LADIES AND MENS SHOES. If you intend to use dance shoes, you do not want to walk outside with them; it will mess up the clean soles. Carry them 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 advertised in ballroom dance magazines, notably Dancing USA, 612-757-4414, and Amateur Dancers, 800-447-9047. Until recently few ballroom dance shoes were made in this country. A well known store that sells primarily imported shoes is at www.championdanceshoes.com . A store that sells primarily American ballroom dance shoes is at bdsweb.ballroom.com. German shoes can be ordered directly at www.danceshoes.com. Your European shoe size E is given in terms of your American size A by, for women: E = (A*1.3) + 29.7. For men: E = (A*1.3) + 31.05. Here "*" means multiply. British shoes can be ordered directly at www.supadance.com. Your British size B is given in terms of your American size A by, for women: B = A - 1.5. For men: B = A - 0.5. I have not tested these conversion formulas by buying shoes directly, so use at your own risk.
Some dance clubs may not have members affluent or dedicated enough to buy dance shoes. They can get by with their old worn out street shoes by gluing dance shoe soles on the bottom. See the appendix on floor friction for details.
When planning to put on a ball, or deciding whether to go an inconvenient distance to attend a ball, it is well to know certain factors necessary for a good ball.
DANCE FLOOR. 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 this country, 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.
How much is enough? This depends on what fraction of the crowd wants to dance, and what fraction wants to simply watch. A crowd primarily of retirees will mostly watch; a young crowd will mostly dance. Crowds at most of these balls are predominantly middle aged. Another factor influencing the behavior of the crowd is the seating arrangement. Most balls have tables around the edge of the dance floor where people can sit and watch when they are not dancing. At such a ball with a middle aged crowd and 6.3 square feet of dance floor per ticket sold pleasant movement around the floor was possible 75% of the time. Most balls that I have attended with more floor space per attendee were fine. A ball that I attended with 5.7 square feet per attendee was not much fun, with too much stopping and not enough dancing. A ball with 4.0 square feet 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 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 do not know this number. I know from one such ball that 13 square feet per person or 26 square feet per couple was not enough. I would need to videotape a just danceable crowd from above to learn the number required for an expert couple to thread their way through the crowd.
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 travelled 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 is the minimum width for validity of the above comments about floor space required per dancer.
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.
Too much dance floor friction leads to sore feet, sore muscles, and, paradoxically, falls from moving feet catching on the floor. Too little 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. Pivoting with full weight on the front of one foot should be easy and very comfortable. Sliding with full weight on the front of one foot should be impossible. The force of sliding friction should be in the range of 30% to 36% of the dancer's weight. There is not much that one can ascertain about floor friction over the telephone before buying tickets. The appendix on floor friction describes how the host can measure the friction of his floor, and correct it, if necessary.
It is essential that the dance floor have the same slickness everywhere. 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.
DANCE MUSIC. 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 recordings. Recordings made in countries where the population does not waltz, such as America, the British Commonwealth, or Portugal, are not a reliable guide. Recordings made in Vienna by Viennese conductors such as Willi Boskovsky are a better guide. Most European recordings of music purely for dancing use 60 bars per minute. American show dancers prefer 56 bars per minute, presumably because this permits young athletes to stretch out with impossibly huge steps.
The most comfortable music tempo for most people to dance Viennese Waltz is 60 bars a minute, which is the normal tempo. 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 for long periods below 56 bars per minute, or it gets uncomfortable. Strangely enough, dancers seem to be more sensitive to tempo than musicians are, so it will take special effort on the part of the conductor to stay within the range of 56 to 60 bars per minute. 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. If there are any pauses in the music, they should be held for a full bar or two bars; half bar or one and a half bar pauses sabotage the dancers.
Some conductors lack a metronome and do not know what 60 bars per minute sounds like. For them, a makeshift pendulum hanging from a music stand might help. Suspend a small object such as 3/8 in hex nut by a thread such that the center of mass is 9.77 inches (24.84 cm) below the point of suspension. 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. I count bars 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.
Arrangements of Viennese waltz sheet music can be obtained from Doblinger in Vienna.
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" or "Clementine" 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", 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. The other ballroom dances besides Viennese waltz are slow waltz and slow foxtrot, both at 30 bars per minute, tango at 33 bars per minute, medium foxtrot at 44-46 bars per minute, and quickstep at 50-52 bars per minute. The Latin dances popular enough for social dancing are rumba, cha cha and merengue. The most popular swing dances are east coast swing and west coast swing. If these other dances cannot be accommodated by the orchestra, a band or 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.
ENVIRONMENT. 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, 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.
Light levels should not be too dim. One should easily be able to see the expression in the eyes of one's dance partner. The most readily available light meter is a camera. Load a camera with ASA 400 film and adjust the lens aperture to 4.0. Point the camera at a vertical white sheet of paper close enough to fill the viewfinder. The light level in the ballroom should be bright enough that the camera indicates that it could take a good picture of the white sheet of paper at 1/15 second or faster.
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.
LOW COST BALLS. 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. I do not know of this being done, but it seems to me that a basketball gymnasium and some symphonic Viennese Waltz recordings could be a way to start. Expect very low attendance at first. It can take three to five years for attendance to build up to the maximum levels.
Basketball courts are 50 by 84 feet for high school, and 50 by 94 feet for college. The area of a high school court is 4200 square feet. Allowing 12 square feet per person for a seating arrangement with 10 people seated at each circular table, and a conservative 15 square feet of dance floor per person, 155 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.
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. Large heavy non-portable loudspeakers of the type used behind the screen in a motion picture theater would be ideal, such as the model 4675C sold by JBL Professional, http://www.jblpro.com. They cost about $5000 for a stereo pair. An ordinary $200, 100 watt per channel stereo receiver is adequate to power them to a louder level than you are likely to want. Do not use more power unless you buy special, expensive theater amplifiers with protection circuits built in, as this type of speaker is easily destroyed by too much power. A roll of ordinary 16 gauge power cord is all you need for speaker wire; a hundred feet of cord to each speaker is not too much. 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. Suitable music recordings are listed in the appendix on recorded music.
To determine suitable sound levels with recorded music, I used a Radio Shack sound level meter about 50 feet in front of a 70 piece orchestra at a ball. With the meter set to C weighting or flat response, the highest peak readings on the slow response setting were 89 dBa; with the fast response setting 94 dBa. Similar levels at a similar distance in front of loudspeakers would be more than loud enough to make symphonic recordings sound right. Recorded sound probably sounds better when played slightly quieter that live sound. When playing recordings of smaller dance bands, the levels should be significantly lower or they will sound too loud.
This appendix suggests CD's to get for practice dancing, and for recorded music to use at balls.
For 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.
A good CD recorded for practicing the Viennese Waltz is CONdisc 101030, "Wiener Waltzer/Viennese Waltzes" by Mirko Krebs and his orchestra. The music has an exactly even beat, unlike the symphonic Viennese waltzes that would be used for a ball. It is available at http://bdsweb.ballroom.com or http://www.danceplus.com .
Here is a list of my favorite symphonic Viennese waltz recordings suitable for a ball using recorded music. Not all of these recordings have the correct tempo for dancing, but many do.
London 443 473-2 "Strauss Waltzes" by Willi Boskovsky. This is a two CD set of Strauss Waltzes, for a total of 17 waltzes.
EMI CDC 7 47020 2, "Lehar Waltzes" 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 this country in both balls and concerts. This CD is not generally available in this country, but can be obtained from England at HMV, Oxford St. London, telephone 011-44-207-629-1240 or 011-44-171-631-3423, or at their website http://www.hmv.co.uk .
Sony SK 46 694 "1994 New Year's Concert" by Lorin Maazel. This adds one waltz to the collection, Lanner's Die Schonbrunner.
Phillips 420 815-2 "Favourite Waltzes" by Franz Bauer-Theussl. This adds Waldteufel's Skaters, Ivanovici's Danube Waves and Rosas' Uber den Wellen to the collection.
These CD's could be ordered from your local store, or from Tower Records at www.towerrecords.com.
Strict tempo recordings are much easier for beginners to dance to than some symphonic recordings. If strict tempo recordings are wanted for a ball, the Max Greger series from 1988 to 1996 has good Strauss waltz recordings that are shorter than the symphonic recordings. This shortness has the advantage of permitting more dances per evening. Unfortunately, there is only one Viennese waltz per CD and the CD's cost about $30 each. They are available at the two specialty outlets that have the practice CD.
Finally, recommendations for ballroom, latin and swing music. The two specialty outlets mentioned for the Viennese Waltz practice CD also have lots of ballroom, latin and swing music. My favorite sets for ballroom and latin are the sets of CD's by the New Downbeats, King and Columbia. Columbia has a mellow grocery store music sound, not exciting, but never tiring. If you want the music in the background, so as to not to intrude on conversation, Columbia would be best. New Downbeats and King have a brass swing band sound, more exciting but also more tiring. I think Columbia is best for rumba, waltz and tango, the others are best for cha cha, jive, and quickstep. They are equally good for foxtrot. New Downbeats and Columbia use reverb, King does not. None of these three is useful for Viennese Waltz. I am not knowledgeable enough in swing music, particularly west coast swing, to make recommendations but these outlets could advise you.
Too much friction leads to sore feet, sore muscles, and, paradoxically, falls from feet catching on the floor. Too little friction means too much of one's concentration goes into not slipping so that one cannot enjoy the dancing. Pivoting with full weight on the front of one foot should feel almost frictionless. Sliding with full weight on one foot should be impossible. What is the right slickness of floor, and how would you know if you had it? The friction depends on the combination of shoe sole and floor wax, not just the floor wax alone.
FRICTION MEASUREMENT. The coefficient of friction is the ratio of the horizontal force to the vertical force when your foot slides on the floor. In a pinch I suppose a bathroom scale alone could provide adequate measurements of both the vertical and horizontal forces, but I have not tried it. To measure horizontal force with a bathroom scale, you would have to re-zero the scale just for the horizontal measurment. A tubular brass spring scale model IN-100-MRP by the Chatillon division of Ametek, 718-847-5000 in Kew Gardens, NY, measures up to 100 lbs and is ideal for measuring the horizontal force of floor friction. See it at http://www.chatillon.com/products/force/spgdyna.html. The vertical force will be measured by you getting on 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. Stand on one foot, pull horizontally on a rope tied to the scale in a tug of war with two accomplices, or tied to a post. Gradually lean back at a steeper angle until your foot slips and you catch yourself with the other foot. On a good dance floor, the reading indicated by the red slider on the scale should be between 30 and 36 percent of your weight if you pulled slow and steady with no jerking. The middle of this range is best. Make several measurements until you get practiced and steady, and the measurements are reasonably repeatable. Each measurement should be made on a different spot of floor; repeated rubbing of the same spot can momentarily reduce the friction of that spot on some floor finishes.
The coefficient of 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 about the same, when your foot starts to slide, you can keep it sliding slowly and steadily for two to four inches. 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. For a dance floor to be acceptable, the two coefficients should be about the same. It should be possible to slowly slide your foot at a steady rate. 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.
SHOE SOLES. Based on perceptions, but not careful measurements, I believe that the primary advantage of chrome tanned cowhide soles over vegetable tanned cowhide soles is that the chrome tanned soles have sliding friction more nearly the same as static friction. 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 upholstry. 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 rough inner layer is known as split leather. Dance shoes use chrome tanned split leather. Chrome tanned leather is usually treated with any of several different fillers to affect its flexibity and other properties, which also incidentally affect its frictional properties. I do not yet know how the best dance shoe leather is treated. On bare hardwood well worn leather of both chrome tanned and vegitable tanned soles are similar in friction. On other finishes there can be big differences in the friction of the two kinds of leather. On some finishes one will be slicker, on other finishes the other will be slicker.
The only floor you have available for practice dancing may have far from ideal friction against chrome tanned leather. If you cannot change the floor wax, then change the type of shoe soles until you get as close as you can to the proper friction. Brand new dance shoes are sticky. I do not know how long it takes to break in a new pair of shoes, but 30 hours of dancing is probably enough. New shoes should never be used to test the suitability of a floor for dancing. Fortunately, the right friction is not so critical for absolute beginners. By the time they have learned their steps, their new shoes will be broken in enough to have nearly the right friction. When dance shoe soles are new, they are rough, soft and dull, and look like suede. After they are used a while, they become hard, slick and shiny. A coarse, stiff wire brush could presumably fluff up the leather and make a used sole stickier like a new one. I would be afraid that this would wear out the leather prematurely. For removing wax buildup without fluffing up the leather I prefer a small fine steel wire brush like is sold at auto parts stores for cleaning engine parts.
From the slickest to the least slick, soles that I have used are Teflon, Dexter soles, cowhide, and rubber. When I will be dancing on a new floor, I wear dress shoes with Neoprene rubber soles, and carry two pairs of shoes in my shoe bag, one with chrome tanned split cowhide soles, and one with Dexter soles. This assortment of rubber, cowhide and Dexter soles will work for almost any floor. Teflon and Dexter soles can be obtained at the bowling supplies counter at bowling alleys. True-Slide modified Teflon patches work for the very stickiest floors. They are made by Master Industries, Irvine CA. Dexter soles are supplied by Dexter Shoe Co., Dexter ME with Velcro on one side for their bowling shoes with interchangeable soles. Their sole that I refer to here as the Dexter sole is the one they call "longest slide". I have not attempted to use interchangeable soles on my dance shoes. I used a pair of pliers to remove the Velcro, and glued the Dexter sole on an old pair of street shoes. Chrome tanned cowhide soles can be obtained from suppliers of ballroom dance shoes. Their natural color is a bluish grey, but they are often dyed black or tan. However, the replacement soles sold separately are sometimes stickier than the soles on new dance shoes. A dance club might be better off buying chrome tanned split leather directly from a leather supplier.
Men's dress shoes can easily be found with rubber soles. There are several kinds of rubber; I have only tried Neoprene. Ladies who want rubber soles on real dance shoes will have to buy sheet rubber to glue on. The soles can be glued on old worn out dress shoes or even tennis shoes for practice in a gym. Sandpaper an old shoe until it is very clean before gluing a new sole on it, or the glue will not stick. True-Slide soles come packaged with special glue. For the others, the best glue I have found is Barge brand contact cement sold by Quabaug Corporation, North Brookfield, MA. It is probably available at your local hardware store or shoe repair shop. If you do not want to glue soles on yourself, your local shoe repair shop will do it for you.
DANCE FLOORS. A good portable dance floor that I have danced on was made by Sico, http://www.sicoinc.com/vm/pdf.html. It is good with worn chrome tanned cowhide soles.
If you have influence over what kind of floor finish will be used in a ballroom, the following information on floor finishes will be of interest.
The best dance floor I have danced on was maple hardwood with no wax or varnish. It had oil sealer applied only once when it was installed, and eight years later was still a good dance floor, with a shiny appearance. Such a floor can only be dust mopped, not wet mopped. The friction of well worn leather against well worn hardwood is ideal for the Viennese Waltz; if it were not for this lucky accident the dance might never have been invented in the first place.
Floor wax for dancing should not come off the floor and stick to the shoe soles. When this happens the dancer develops an insecure feeling, and no longer trusts the floor enough for really energetic dancing. The waxes listed below do not have this problem.
The best durable paste wax I have danced on is Trewax brand clear paste wax for wood floors made in City of Commerce, California, http://www.trewax.com. It is primarily a blend of carnauba wax and montan wax, and will last about a year in a dance school before rewaxing is necessary. It is not useable on asphalt tile.
If the floor is too sticky as is, do not be tempted to sprinkle any kind of powder or flakes to make it more slippery. The resultant friction is too uneven and unpredictable for use with the Viennese waltz, and will render the floor unusable. The management might let you apply a mop-on finish just for your event. A good mop-on latex polymer finish is called "Centrifugal Force", made by Sanitek Products, Los Angeles, 818-242-5155. It will not stick to wax or oil, but probably will to most other finishes. A more readily available mop on finish is Mop & Glo, available at most grocery stores. It has a good friction for dancing, but I have not seen it used on a public dance floor, and do not know its wear properties. Both of these products are water based and therefore should not be used on wood unless it is already protected with a waterproof sealer or varnish.
The best gym floor finish that I have measured is Trophy Gym Finish No. 278 made by Hillyard, http://www.hillyard.com/WF.HTM. It is very tough and durable. I saw it in a senior center where it had been walked and danced on with street shoes seven days a week for two years. It still looked new and the friction was useable for dancing, though was perhaps a bit slicker than ideal. It had Hillyard Trophy Epoxy Seal 348 under it, and was polished regularly with National Sanitary's Pathfinder polishing fluid.
Many gym operators do not like street shoes used in their gym. Some worry about black heel marks on their floor. Some gym finishes are soft, and grit embeds in the finish. 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 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 are managed. Some gyms sand the 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.
No survey of floor finishes has been conducted. The ones mentioned here are merely good ones I have stumbled across. There are no doubt many other good ones, as well as many that are no good at all for dancing.