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Hesitation Canter Waltz

by John & Karen Herr

Historical Background

The Waltz is the undisputed “Queen of the Ballroom” and is the dance most people think of by name first when they think of “Ballroom Dancing.” Waltz originated in Bavarian Europe in a form closest to what we now call Viennese Waltz. The modern Slow Waltz was developed in the United States. Various permutations on the waltz were developed in the United States including:

a) Hesitation Waltz (where one step was taken per measure),

b) Canter Waltz (with two steps per measure), and

c) Boston Waltz (one step per beat, at a much slower tempo).

The “Boston” was characterized by long flowing steps, and the use of the closed dance position which eventually became the Slow Waltz that it is today. The Slow Waltz was then re-exported to Europe where it was a huge hit, especially in Britain.

Hobble SkirtIn the USA, a derivation called Glide Waltz was very popular in about the 1870’s, until the advent of the Hesitation Waltz and ragtime music. The Hesitation Waltz gets its name from the pause or hesitation in the music. The Hobble Skirt was the dress of choice for the ladies to dance the “Hesitation” in the early 1900’s (see photo). In the TV show “The Adams Family”, Morticia wears what is called a “Black Gothic Hobble” dress.

The ways of performing the “Hesitation” are many and varied, and no single way can be said to be more orthodox or correct than any other. Its popularity soared in the 1910s, and by 1913 was one of the main dances done by the exhibition dance teams of the time.

Note: Hesitation was not limited to Waltzes. It was, at one time, also used in Hesitation Tango, and other rhythms.


Hesitation Canter Waltz is a combination of the Hesitation Waltz and the Canter Waltz. The Hesitation uses one step per measure. The Canter uses two steps per measure.

In Hesitation, the dancer steps on beat #1. In Canter, the dancer steps on beats #1 and #3. When combining the two, completing 6 beats, and putting the Hesitation before the Canter, we would be stepping on beats #1, #4, and #6. (If we were to dance with a Canter followed by a Hesitation, then we would be stepping on beats, #1, #3, and #4.)

We can now apply this pattern to our commonly known figures like Maneuver, or 2 Left Turns, etc. For example: Maneuver would take 6 beats, stepping on #1, #4, and #6. And similarly, 2 Left Turns would take 12 beats using the same pattern, and so on.

The speed of most of our Waltzes (Boston) is about 30 MPMs (measures per minute). The speed of most Hesitation/Canter/Hesitation-Canter is about 60 MPMs. Therefore, performing 2 Left Turns in Hesitation/Canter (4 measures @ 60 MPMs), or performing 2 Left Turns in Boston (2 measures @ 30 MPMs), the results are that we are moving across the floor at about the same speed, but with differences.

Two main differences of Hesitation Canter over Boston:

a) We can now dance to the 6/8 timing of musical pieces, and

b) The 1-4-6 pattern encourages sway naturally in many of the figures.

A related rhythm is Viennese Waltz (which is also about 60 MPMs). When you listen to Hesitation Canter vs. Viennese, look for the dreamier sounding music — perfect for Hesitation Canter. The Viennese music makes you feel like stepping to all three beats in each measure.

This is a new rhythm for Round Dancing. Many people, at first, are not impressed, until they actually try it. Then they fall in love with it. We hope that you enjoy it as much as we do.

Tips for Teachers

1) Teaching the rhythm using the pattern of 1-4-6 makes learning it VERY difficult. We recommend that you avoid that. One idea is to begin your teach with a Slo-Qk-Qk approach. Although this is not accurate, it is close enough to get them into the rhythm. Of course the Slow is the first 3 beats, and the Quicks pretty much end up close to beats 4 and 6. At some point, teach them that the accurate execution of the rhythm is to step on the 1-4-6 beats, and let them make the adjustment, as they are able.

2) Cueing and Cue Sheets: The full 6 beats is written in the Cue Sheet as a single measure (one semi-colon). For example:

Canter 2x; 6 beats

Sway Left/Right; 6 beats

2 Left Turns;; 12 beats

Left Turning Box;;;; 24 beats

So, you can see that it is very similar to writing a regular [Boston] Waltz. In both, we cue Canter 2x for 6 beats of music, etc.

3) When we teach this rhythm, we start off with “Canter Twice”. Next, we teach “Sway Left and Right”. Then we combine them as: Canter 2x; Sway L/R; Canter 2x; Sway L/R; . We finish this with:

Canter L-Hesitate; (this is similar to a ‘Side Two Step Left’)

Canter R-Hesitate;

Canter-Hesitate 2x;;

Then we move on to dancing our normal waltz figures like:

Twirl Vin 3; Pkup; 2 Left Turns;; Canter 2x; Sway L/R;

Twirl Vin 3; Maneuver; 2 Right Turns;; Canter 2x; Sway L/R; etc.

4) Give them lots of practice with these simple figures before tackling any Hesitation-Canter dance.

Good Luck and

Happy Canter-Hesitationing.

From ROUNDALAB Journal, Fall 2010. Reprinted in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC) Newsletter, May 2012. Visit John & Karen at Dancing Penguins.


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