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The Viennese Waltz I

by Roy & Phyllis Stier
January, 1992

Some preliminaries should be discussed before describing the actual figures. The "fast waltz" was the original version of the three-quarter-time dance interpretation. Since turns are made with more rotary action, the amount of sway is reduced to almost zero, particularly in the Reverse Turn where a full 360 degrees plus is made. It is characteristic for the Natural Turn to be less than this, therefore, the foot positions more closely resemble the International waltz technique.

The Viennese waltz is typically a series of Reverse and Natural turns with a change step in between, more often than not a modification of the Forward Change or a fast Contra Check. Rise and fall are normally more shallow than in the more familiar International and American style. It is best described in the three steps as a downswing, a transition step, then the upswing.

The dance is characterized by a faster tempo than American waltz (50 to 60 MPM) with a definite accent on the first beat, as contrasted to the older interpretation which had an emphasis on each beat. Better dancers take a little time away from count 3 to get a skimming action not unlike the slow foxtrot. Viennese waltz has a certain lilt when danced correctly and has a movement on the floor that gives an elegant gliding effect without the accompanying body sway.

We will not attempt to describe the many variations that dancers use in the Viennese waltz but will handle those that are used in competition as well as a few others that are more or less standard in choreography. We will list below some terms that are connected with the dance, as you may run across them, together with their meaning for this rhythm.

Attitude = bent knees (nearly always in a backward mode)

Arabesque = straight leg (not stiff)

Develope = unfolding of the leg (a forward movement)

Hesitation = lifting and/or turning action on one foot usually associated with canter rhythm

Parallel = refers to the dance hold -- in skaters or varsouvianne position normally but any side-by-side configuration

Spiral = turn on one foot allowing the other to follow body lead

Corte = in Viennese, a lowering onto the supporting foot where the other is pointed to the side, usually with a little twist

REVERSE TURN: We will describe this as starting down LOD with the typical ballroom hold where the lady is slightly to the right of the man's center with a lift of her right side (well into the man's right arm). The man's first step is forward L as he starts a rotary action LF rather than a shaping action (H/T). Note: The LF turning movement is usually started from the previous figure. The first step is accompanied by a little lowering of the body (= the downswing from a previous up position). Ladies step backward on their R toe, then lower to the heel for nearly a flat foot as she also turns to the left. The only sway on this step is where the lady has a little from the waist up. Step 2 is to the side and slightly back on the man's R toe as he continues the rotary action with a wide step now backing between wall and DLW. Ladies step forward on their L toe with a little more rotary action than the man. For both, this requires a slight body rise to end ready for the upswing step. On 3, the man uses almost a pure rotary action as he continues to turn LF and allows the L to cross in front of the R to end facing a little beyond RLOD as he takes weight (T/H). Ladies close R to L using toe to heel with again a nearly flat foot remaining in CP where she loses her slight LF body sway.

To continue what is normally considered a six-step figure: On step 4 the man steps backward and slightly to the side on his R toe, then lowers to the heel now facing DRW with the toe turned inward. This step develops the usual downswing action with body rise at the end. Ladies step forward on the L going from heel to toe, very much like the man on step 1 except that they develop a slight right sway (from the waist). On 5 the man steps L to the side (T) as he continues his LF rotary action ending to face DLW with his L toe pointing to LOD. Ladies step sideward on their R toe to end facing DRC, again holding a little right sway from the waist. On step 6 the man closes R to L (flat foot at the end) as he now faces LOD while the lady goes from toe to heel as she allows the L to cross in front of R (no sway) to end in normal CP facing RLOD.

Note: The Reverse Turn is widely used in tango where it is called a "Viennese Turn." Timing in this tempo is QQ& for each segment of the turn. Footwork is basically the same as in the waltz but no wide side steps and there is no rise and fall, and obviously no sway by the lady.

NATURAL TURN: This does not differ much from the standard Natural Turn of International waltz. We will, therefore, describe only the differences as they exist. First, we would normally start facing LOD in CP and end facing DLC (this 1/8 more RF turn is made between steps 3 & 4). Footwork is only slightly different as the man goes to a flat foot on steps 4 and 6 while the lady does nearly so on her third (T/H).

The main difference is in the rise and fall where the Viennese Natural Turn follows the basic pattern of downswing, the transition with some body rise, then the upswing on steps 3 & 6. Since the side steps are taken a little wider than in International, the amount of sway is reduced in favor of more rotary and lilting action.

Next Time: Forward Change

This column comes from a series published in Cue Sheet Magazine between 1987 and 1992, and is reprinted with permission. The full series is collected in an 86-pg booklet, available for $30.00 plus postage. E-mail Fran Kropf at This article was published in the Dixie Round Dance Council (DRDC)  Newsletter, January 2014.


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