The Basics of a Waltz

Ballroom Dancing 101

Formal couple dancing on cruise ship
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The romantic Waltz is one of the most popular ballroom dances of all time. Considered by some as the "mother of present day dances" and the "backbone dance" of the ballroom dancing arena, the Waltz is the basis for many dances. A truly romantic dance, the Waltz is comprised of soft, round, flowing movements.

Waltz Characteristics

The Waltz is a smooth dance that travels around the line of dance. Characterized by its "rise and fall" action, the Waltz includes a step, slide, and step in 3/4 time. Dancers should move their shoulders smoothly, parallel with the floor instead of up and down, and they must strive to lengthen each step. On the first beat of the music, a step is taken forward on the heel, then onto the ball of the foot with a gradual rise to the toes, continuing on to the second and third beats of the music. At the end of the third beat, the heel is lowered to the floor to the starting position.


Many references to a sliding or gliding dance style date back to the 16th century in Europe. The Waltz has continued to develop throughout the 20th century. The Waltz was born as an Austro-German folk dance known as the Landler, which was characterized by the rotating movements of partners dancing together. Some trace its roots to Bavaria, the Viennese suburbs, and the Austrian alpine regions. By the early 1600s, the dance has morphed into a Hapsburg court dance. Later the music of Johann Strauss helped to popularize the Waltz. There were different types of Waltz through the years; now in modern ballroom dance, the quicker version is referred to as the Vienesse Waltz while slower versions are simply known of the Waltz.

Waltz Action

Unique to the Waltz is the techniques of "rise and fall" and "body sway." Rise and fall refer to the elevating and lowering that a dancer feels as he or she moves onto the toes, then relaxes through the knee and ankle, ending on a flat foot. This stylish action gives couples an up-and-down appearance as they glide effortlessly around the floor. Body sway gives couples a pendulum-like look, swinging and swaying their upper bodies in the direction they are moving. These actions should be smooth and confident, making the Waltz a simple, yet elegant and beautiful, dance.

Waltz Distinctive Steps

The basic movement of the Waltz is a three-step sequence consisting of a step forward or backward, a step to the side, and a step closing the feet together. The timing of the steps is known as "Quick, Quick, Quick" or "1,2,3." The following steps are distinctive to the Waltz:

  • Hover Corte
  • Whisk
  • Natural Spin Turn
  • Hover Telemark
  • Open Telemark Group
  • Hairpin
  • Oversway
  • Swing

Waltz Rhythm and Music

Waltz music is written in 3/4 time, counted as "1,2,3 - 1,2,3." The first beat of each measure is accented, corresponding to the extended, highly-stretched step that is taken on the first count, followed by two short steps. With its distinctive rhythm pattern, the Waltz is easy to recognize and simple to learn.