How to Dance the Waltz

by Kinley McFadden on December 6, 2009

Learning to waltz may sound intimidating at first, but don’t be frightened! You will be waltzing your way into the hearts of onlookers in no time with these simple steps.

As Paul Nettl wrote in The Birth of the Waltz, “The vigorous … dancer, following an instinctive knowledge of the weight of fall, utilizes his surplus energy to press all his strength into the proper beat of the measure, thus intensifying his personal enjoyment in dancing.”  Who couldn’t use a little more personal enjoyment in dancing?  So let’s start with the basics.

The Waltz is a sliding or gliding ballroom dance with 28-30 bars per minute and 3/4 timing. Depending on where you’re from and with whom you’re speaking, it may also be called the English Waltz or the Slow Waltz.  The Waltz is characterized by a rising and falling movement while the shoulders remain parallel to the floor.  The Waltz is danced in the closed position, (partners face one another with their bodies parallel), and the man usually leads.

The most common pattern for the Waltz is the Box Step, (called such because your feet will create a square or box as you dance). The Box Step involves two parts, each with three steps. A partial forward box is accomplished by a step forward, a step to the side, and then a step to bring your feet back together. A partial backward box consists of a step backward, a step to the side, and then a step to bring your feet back together. The person leading starts with the left foot and completes a partial forward box.  The person following starts with the right foot and completes a partial backward box.  The dancers then reverse parts, with the person leading completing a partial backward box and the person following completing a partial forward box.  All steps are done in a smooth, sliding manner, giving the Waltz it’s graceful form.

Basic Waltz Steps for Men

  • Left foot, step forward
  • Right foot, side step
  • Bring left foot over to meet the right foot

(thus completing a partial forward box)

  • Right foot, step backward
  • Left foot, side step
  • Bring right foot over to meet the left foot

(thus completing partial backward box)

Basic Waltz Steps for Women

  • Right foot, step backward
  • Left foot, side step
  • Bring right foot over to meet the left foot

(thus completing partial backward box)

  • Left foot, step forward
  • Right foot, side step
  • Bring left foot over to meet the right foot

(thus completing a partial forward box)

Once you’ve mastered the simple Box Step, you can throw some spice in your Waltz by rotating the box.  Generally this is done counter clockwise (to the left) and is called a “left box turn.”  With each partial box, turn a quarter to the left.  Once the dancers complete four partial boxes (or two full boxes), the dancers have completed the turn and will end at the place they started.

As with most things in life, practice and patience will only make you better.  So what are you waiting for?  Get dancing and you’ll be impressing your friends, family, and people you have yet to meet in no time!

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