Learning the Viennese Waltz

The waltz tempo is in 3/4 time, generally a pronounced bass note to indicate the first beat, followed by two successive tones. For the musically challenged, picking up and maintaining the beat is very tough: initially work with VERY pronounced beats. Pieces often transition from one tempo to another; dancers must be listening to adjust their steps accordingly.

Normal American waltzes are danced at a tempo of roughly 120 to 140 bpm: Viennese are faster, at 180 to 216 bpm. You heard correctly, that techno from Rotterdam has nothing on Johann Strauss. At 180 bpm, thats one measure to the second, three steps per second, a comfortable dancing pace. Up to 200 bpm and I find myself quickly winded. As a beginner, start with a nice slow tempo as you work out the steps.

The Viennese Waltz step is composed of two sets of three steps in alternating succession. If we call the two sets SetA and SetB, while you are doing SetA, your partner will be doing SetB and vice-versa. For a beginner, the confusing part about Viennese Waltz is that its a spinning dance; that is, you and your partner rotate about one another in a clockwise fashion, while revolving counter-clockwise about the floor along the line of dance: this sounds scarier than it is.

The line of dance is simply the direction in which one dances -- where ever your pointed hands extend, that will be the direction in which your next steps lead. If your hands are pointing to somewhere other than where you wish to travel, you'll need to take smaller steps to reorient yourselves along the line of dance. For beginners, this reorientation is frequent and can resemble rush hour traffic. But as all couples travel in the same direction about the floor, collisions are minimal.

The Waltz begins in standard waltz position, with the gentleman's back to the center of the dance floor, left arm extended along the line of dance holding the lady's right. The gentleman's right hand gently yet firmly holding beneath the lady's shoulder blade and her left hand upon his shoulder. His left foot should be slightly between hers, both dancer's feet at just under shoulder width apart. Posture is important in waltz. Stand up straight with shoulders back and down. Keep a steady pressure on the leading arm -- not a push, but not spaghetti either. Its important to keep your torsos parallel as you turn.
SetA: Step 1 The gentleman leads by stepping out with his left foot and rotating to his right. The lady follows on her right foot, stepping just in front of its previous position and also turning towards the right.

Gentlemen please, take small steps! Step out NO FURTHER than the width of your partner's shoulders! The distance depends on the height and skill of your partner.

The gentleman steps out to his left and forwards. The lady steps forward between his feet, mostly pivoting in place.
Step 2 The gentleman's second step takes him a full 180 degrees about, now facing the center of the dance floor, his right foot coming up such that his toes are behind his left heel. The lady steps just in front of her right foot with her left, continuing her turn to the right. The gentleman turns clockwise and sweeps his right foot backwards in order to revolve around the lady. Gentlemen, rise on the ball of your right foot, lowering after the third step. Ladies, step onto the ball of your left foot likewise.
Step 3 The gentleman's third step simply rotates his left foot to bring it square, pointing into the center of the floor. Likewise the lady's right foot simply steps parallel to her left. Lower onto flat feet. Gentlemen, weight on the left foot. Ladies on the right.
Notice at this point that the dancers have changed position by 180 degrees, a one half turn, and the outstretched arms which once pointed along the line of dance now point in the opposite direction. It is very important to achieve a full half turn on each set of steps, otherwise the dancers hands will no longer point true. This navigation is the responsibility of the lead and best enacted with a steady pressure through the turn.
SetB: Step 4 Now the gentleman steps on his right foot, rotating to the right. The lady takes the longer step out and around on her left. The lady is now doing SetA, Step1 as described for the gentleman above. Ladies should take small steps as well.
Step 5 The gentleman continues on his left foot stepping a small semi-circle in front of his right, turning to the right. The lady's right foot sweeps back to her right while she turns to the right. Now as the lady is turning backwards, it is the gentleman's obligation to watch for obstructions along the line of dance and to steer accordingly. Your clasped hands should never be pointing towards a couple moving more slowly than yourselves or a collision looms. Remember to rise on the second step and lower on the third.
Step 6 Finally both dancers bring their feet to true, the gentleman's back to the center of the dance floor, the extended arms along the line of dance, ready to take a new turn. Lower again onto flat feet. Thats it!
"After several generations of dancing the prim, precise, and pure measures of the Minuet, when their prejudices and exaggerated sensibilities became higher piled on their hearts than their elaborate coiffures were piled on their heads -- suddently this madness figuratively knocked everything askew. No longer did ladies move at the safe and gracious distance of an arm's length, in courtly steps becoming to the sex. Some of them had become "hussies," nothing less, and dared appear at the finest balls closely embraced in some wild, young rascal's arms, whirling heedlessly through all that's traditional and fine in our lives. And it produced a moral reaction more violent than any dance revolution has ever shocked us with since."

'The Round Dance Book', Shaw 1948.