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Hesitation Canter Waltz

by Sandi & Dan Finch


Waltz is one of the first rhythms a dancer learns. If it weren’t learned early, it might be considered exotic like tango, and one might decide it is not worth the effort. After all, it has unusual timing—the only popular rhythm danced in 3/4 timing—and it has that unrelenting rise and fall necessary to keep it slow and in time with the music.

It wasn’t always that way. As waltz evolved from various folk dances in Europe in the 1800s, the music was very fast—like today’s Viennese waltz. Many attempts were made to make it more danceable by slowing down the steps, if not the music. In the United States, as the 1900s dawned, at least three forms of waltz were being danced: The “hesitation” waltz called for only one step on each measure of that fast music; the “canter” waltz called for two steps in each measure; and the “Boston” waltz, which simply slowed down the music and danced one step on each beat—the familiar 1-2-3 we have today. The original European waltz became today’s Viennese waltz, retaining the faster tempo.

One early 1900s variation combined the hesitation and the canter waltzes, dancing three beats of music like the Hesitation Waltz and the next three beats like the Canter Waltz. You know a hesitation—step and hold. You know a canter—step draw close. That’s exactly what the combined rhythm does. The vaudeville team of Vernon and Irene Castle popularized this “new” waltz in 1913. It faded from the dance floors some time after that, but in the last few years, it has become the newest rhythm in round dancing.

How Does It Work
It goes like this: Step on counts 1, 4 and 6 in six beats of music. Standard three-step figures can be done in this way by taking step 1 over three beats of music (1-2-3), then step 2 over two beats of music (4-5) and step 3 on the last beat (6). Count it as 1- - 4 - 6. Yes, it sounds complicated. Forget the detail and say SS&. This is not technically correct musically but it works in most cases to simplify the count.

For example: Maneuver is done in six beats by stepping on counts 1 (forward for Man), 4 (forward turning right face) and 6 (close). Almost any figure can be adapted to work in this rhythm. The foot placement of figures and all the partner positions—closed, semi-closed, open and shadow—that you know in round dancing apply. Feeling how it works with the music will come naturally with a little practice.

Why Should We?
This rhythm gives us a way to dance to some very nice music in 6/8 timing, much of which we think of only as listening music. Viennese waltz is beautiful, historic and romantic, but also taxing to maintain for an entire two-minute dance. With the Hesitation Canter Waltz (HCW), you can dance to that music in a more controlled, slower pace.

There is more to like about it. The technique is less rigid than slow waltz. The rise and fall is less pronounced. It’s more fun, some say, because it encourages a natural sway that gets you into the music.

The Roundalab (RAL) Manual of Standards has not yet recognized the rhythm but defines “hesitation” as “temporarily suspending progression with weight retained on one foot for more than one count.” “Canter” is a waltz figure defined in the manual. A dozen dances have been written in HCW, in phases IV through VI. Two advanced examples are Mark & Pam Prow’s You’re My World (sung by Helen Reddy), and Curt & Tammy Worlock's Cinderella (sung by Stephen Curtis Chapman).

Consider this combination: 2 left turns (1- - 4 - 6; 1- - 4 - 6; ) Hover telemark (1- - 4 - 6; ) Open natural (1- - 4 - 6; ) Outside spin & pivot to Rudolph ronde & slip (1- - 4 - 6; 1- - 4 - 6; ). Can’t get any simpler than that.

You do have to deal with syncopations, like turn left and right chasse. Try 1– 3 4 - 6. That would be like two canters in a row.

Yes, I know all those numbers get ridiculous. Trust me, you won’t be counting. You know the figures, feel your way through this one.


From a club newsletter, April 2016, and reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, September 2017.


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If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.



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Past DRDC Educational Articles archived here.

Aditional articles and dance helps by
Sandi & Dan Finch
Richard Lamberty
Gert-Jan & Susie Rotscheid (see Notebook)



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