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Transitioning to Intermediate Waltz

by Mark & Pam Prow



Waltz is probably the oldest of the ballroom rhythms, dating back to the 16th century in Europe. Out of all the smooth ballroom rhythms, waltz is unique, having multiples of 3 beats per measure, compared to most other rhythms that are danced with 2 or 4 beats per measure. In round dancing, waltz is by far the most popular rhythm. At a typical festival, there are usually more waltz routines on the program than any other rhythm.

 In ballroom and social dancing, there are many forms of waltz. In round dancing, at least four forms of waltz have been used for choreography.

Waltz or Slow Waltz:              Danced at ~84-96 beats per minute. Music is 3/4 time.

Viennese Waltz:                      Danced at ~150-180 beats per minute. Music is 3/4 time.

Hesitation/Canter:                   Danced at ~180 beats per minute. Music is 6/8 or 12/8 time.

Argentine Tango/Vals:             Danced at ~180 beats per minute. Music is 6/8 or 12/8 time.

Transition from Beginner to Intermediate Waltz

Other than the many new figures that are in intermediate waltz, there are concepts that become more important as one progresses into intermediate and advanced dancing. We have divided these into two categories: Frame and Movement.

Dance Frame

Posture – Probably the most important part of the dance frame is posture. Each partner should dance with their bodies erect, standing tall with the ribcage lifted off the hips. The head should be upright, not tilted to the side. The neck should be straight. If one stands against a wall, the heels, shoulders, and head should all be touching the wall. The weight should be centered between the balls of the feet and the heels, but more toward the balls of the feet.

 Hold – The standard hold (closed position) in waltz has the couple offset to each other's right side. Lead hands are joined at the face level of the shorter partner with the upper arms sloping slightly down. The man's right hand is straight from the wrist with the fingers contacting the woman's back lightly around the shoulder blade. One important contact point is the man's wrist contacting underneath the woman's upper arm. The last point of contact in closed position is mid-body contact. This is the right part of each partner's body, starting at the upper thigh and continuing to the mid torso. This exact point of contact can vary based upon the height difference of the partners.


Rise and Fall – One of the main things that gives ballroom waltz its flowing characteristic is the rhythmic rise and fall of the couple during dancing. This is accomplished by one primary action: the bending and straightening of the knees. The action of lowering before a figure is one of the primary actions in leading for the man. In semi-closed position, lowering clears the man's right side for the woman to step forward without losing contact. Other techniques can enhance rise and fall, such as footwork, swing, and sway of the body.

 Passing of the Legs – As in other rhythms, the feet should pass under the hips when moving. This seems like an easy concept, but it takes practice. Especially on the second step of turning figures, it is easy to flair the leg out to the side instead of passing it under the body. This action can create imbalance in the partnership since the balance shifts away from the centerline of the partnership.

 Footwork – Generally the first forward step of a figure (count 1) will be done with a heel lead. Most of the time, the second step will be executed only on the ball of the moving foot without contact of the heel. The third step is usually also taken on the ball of the foot, then after weight transfer allowing the heel to contact as lowering starts for the next figure. When moving backward on count 1 (lowering), it is important that the toe is used. Especially for the woman, if the ball of the foot is placed backward with weight before the man takes weight, the chances of a foot collision increase.

 Diagonal Motion and Alignment – At the beginning level of waltz, we were taught four basic movement directions: Line of Dance, Reverse Line of Dance, Wall, and Center. Most figures in round dancing have been taken or adapted from ballroom figures. Many figures starting at the intermediate level are designed to be executed on the diagonal. If you imagine four points of a compass, N, S, E, W, the diagonals are NE, SE, SW, and NW.

 Timing – The basic movement in waltz uses three weight changes for each measure of music. Some figures, including picture figures and hesitation figures, involve one or two weight changes per measure. Syncopation in dancing can be viewed as a variation from the normal beat of a rhythm, usually adding steps or actions in between one or more of the beats.

 Contra Body Movement – One of the most difficult concepts to grasp in dancing waltz and other smooth rhythms is the concept of contra body movement. Many times in dancing waltz (and tango, quickstep, and foxtrot) we use contra body movement. Simply put, the motion of the body is moving at an angle to the facing direction. In round dancing we have four common dance positions that can utilize some sort of contra body movement: banjo, sidecar, semi-closed, and shadow.

 When moving in contra body the feet of each partner are generally moving along one line. If one took multiple steps in contra body, they would get the feeling of moving "forward and side" or "back and side," then crossing the other thigh as the leg moves forward or back.

 Generally when moving in contra body (except shadow position), the leg moving forward closest to the partner will have a crossed thigh as will the leg moving backward farthest from the partner.

 Some examples of contra body positions or movement include:

 In semi-closed when moving forward with the trailing foot or back with the lead foot.

A forward step in banjo with the right foot or back with the left foot.

The first and fourth step of Weave 6 from semi-closed.

Cross check in shadow position.


There are many new concepts, as well as new figures, to work on when learning intermediate waltz. These concepts are used throughout dancing, especially in the smooth rhythms, like foxtrot, quickstep, and tango. The amount of information may appear to be overwhelming. Try to focus on one concept at a time. For instance, work on frame while dancing more familiar routines. As one works to improve frame, movement, and figures, dancing will become easier and more enjoyable.

 Happy Dancing


From clinic notes prepared for the ICBDA Convention, July, 2014.


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