History of Ballroom dance part 2 Victorian Era

History of Ballroom dance part 2 Victorian Era

History of ballroom dance 2 Regency to Victorian Era (2)

Lecture on the history of ballroom dance Regency to Victorian Era.

For the day of dance, I was asked to do a lecture on the history of ballroom dance. This is the second section with notes on the third section at the bottom. Time only allowed me to get to the end of the Victorian era. The history of ballroom dance as we know it today took off in the Victorian era.

The ballroom holds

Dickens victorian dancers

The ballroom hold was the most controversial change to dance in the Victorian era. Dancing previously entailed holding hands. The new hold allowed gentlemen to get close enough to have a conversation without the chaperone hearing. Dance school owner Wilson writes about the proper ballroom hold in 1816. Wilson describes placing the gentlemen right hand on the ladies left shoulder blade and supporting her space so she can move more easily. It is very similar to a beginning students ballroom hold.

Wicked Waltz



The wicked Landler (link) Waltz paved the way for all partnership dances in the Victorian era. Country dances, Quadrilles, Cotillions, and set dances slowly drift into the background by the end of the Victorian era. Dancers engage in a close embrace as they spin around the ballroom with all the popular variations of the Viennese Waltz. The most popular variations were the French Waltz (link) danced high on the toes in demi point, and the German variation with danced low on flatter feet.


Victorian Ballroom Dancers

The Germans were having a grand time with partnership dance. With the ladies clasped in their arms they would take a wild Galop around the ballroom. This new dance was the Galopade (link). It was introduced from Hungry to France by the by the Duchesse de Berry. This 8-count skip about the ballroom was the predecessor to a dance that became popular later, the Polka.

Blessed by Queen Victoria

queen victoria at the great dickens faie

Every dance has its day. For the Waltz, it was the crowning of Queen Victoria. Her love for the Viennese Waltz made it the crowning dance of the Victorian era (link). Great composers like Lanner and Strauss produce a plethora of popular Viennese Waltzes.

Polka rivals Waltz

Oktoberfest polka dance

What could possibly rival the popularity of the Waltz? Polka (link)! In the countryside of Bohemia by the Czech Republic the Polka emerges as a serious contender for the Waltz. The polka was a three-step version of the galop utilizing the rotations of the Waltz.

Boston leads ballroom trends

steampunk soiree Waltz

America was not a passive participant in the development of ballroom dance. The Boston dance school was instrumental in the development of Viennese Waltz as we know it today. In Boston, MA 1834 dancing Master Lorenzo Papatino did a demonstration of the “new” Waltz (link) with feet closing in our box step of today. As a result, many variations of this Waltz were dubbed the Boston, including a hesitation step.

Portland dance

spanish waltz begin side by side

This was not the only dance to be named after an American city. in 1849 there is a new dance called the Portland, developed in Portland Maine. it’s a happy version of a four count Gallop with face to face and back to back variations.

Reverse Scandal

To turn or not to turn, that is the question. Europeans and Americans did not agree on which way to turn the Waltz. One of the problems with the European Waltz was that it only turned to the right causing dancers to become lightheaded. This is also the reason the line of dance, or direction of travel is counterclockwise around the ballroom. Americans were practical and added a reverse or left turn to the Waltz to unwind in the mind. Many a scathing article was written about turning to the left in Waltz.

Articles on reverse Waltz

“Reversing in the Waltz…is not ‘good form.’ Why it should not be can only be accounted for by the fact that English men and women (whom candor compels me to say, after many years of observation, are the worst dancers in the world) ‘can’t’ reverse themselves, and therefor in the spirit of ‘sour grapes’ excuse the awkwardness by stigmatizing what they only wish they could do as ‘bad form.’” By an American resident in the Untied Kingdom (New York, 1888), 160-61. from the ballroom to hell

London’s opinion on reverse Waltz

“Legitimate dancing in America is good. I will not go so far as to say that the American’s Waltz better than we for when the English do Waltz well, they Waltz as well as any people in the world: but Americans are as a rule very good Waltzers, and make a great feature of reversing.” Edward Scott, Dancing and Dancers (London 1888) 87-88. from the ballroom to hell.

Two stepping in time with a Victorian two step

Sugar plum and Prince dance victorian two step

Not everyone is fond of hopping around the dance floor. Gliding around the ballroom with a smooth pattern was the passion. In 1847 Henri Cellarius writes in his book “La Danse des Salons” about the use of the term “deux temps” (two tempos) stating that the dance would be better accepted if it were called “deux pas” (two step). This smooth polka without a hop later became the Victorian Two Step (link) danced to the popular John Phillip Souza marches from 1890.

Zenith of ballroom in 1850

Ballroom dance hit its zenith in 1850. This was the height of the industrial revolution. Many amazing things were happening in Europe. The glass palace was built to house the world’s fair, full of new inventions. With it came another new Waltz, the Varsovienne out of France (link). In 1856 Charles Durang publishes “The Fashionable Dancer’s Casket” describing the Tango, as a South American dance composed in two-fourth time.  Arranged for the ballroom by M. Markowski.” (p. 151) (library of congress)

Ban that Habanera beat


Composers were creating new works. One pivotal work was the opera Carmen by Bizet. In this work the Habanera was introduced. The words were considered scandalous, so the habanera beat was banned. That did not keep the habanera down. It went on to be the underlying beat for Bolero’s and Tango’s in years to come.

Tango tea’s takes over

Ursula and Hook Valentino Tango


In the late Victorian era parlor games become more popular than grand balls, and intimate tea dances rise in popularity. Quadrilles (link) are felt to be too old fashioned, Spanish Waltzes (link) are tolerated occasionally, and Cotillions were passé. By 1890 tango starts to take over the ballroom. The Apache street gang is terrorizing bourgeoisie in France. They descend to dance halls like the moulin rouge to demonstrate their victories with the violent dances, the apache tango (link). By 1900 it takes off at the popular dance of a new age with Tango teas at every hotel.

Timeline History of Ballroom dance part 2 Victorian Era

  • 1820- Gallopade, (link) is a lively country dance from Hungry, introduced to Parisian society by the Duchesse de Berry who is responsible for it becoming popular in Vienna, Berlin and London. It remained popular for 20 years.

Victorian Dances: 1830-1901 AD

  • 1830-the Viennese Waltz was composed by Austrians Lanner and Strauss. (link)
    The slow and sedate moves of the Waltz gained an alternative with wild and frenetic whirling couples careening around the dance floor at almost dangerous speeds. Viennese Waltz became a popular stand-in for the Waltz, especially among young dancers who wanted to show off their athletic skills.
  • 1830-The Polka (link) began in the countryside of Bohemia. 1840 the polka emerged as a serious rival to the Waltz, and remained popular through the 1890’s
  • 1849 – the Portland (link) -fancy a mix of polka and the Gallop took the American east coast by storm.
  • 1847 Victorian Two Step. (link) Like a polka or a Waltz danced smoothly without a hop. Henri Cellarius writes in his book “La Danse des Salons” about the use of the term “deux temps” stating that the dance would be better accepted if it were called “deux pas” (two step) as the term better described the step of the dance (he also suggested that the trois temps would be better called the “trois pas” – “three step”). After his use of the term, many other authors used the term “two step”.  By 1890 it took off with John Phillip Souza Marches.
  • 1850’s, the ballroom had reached its zenith– the crystal palace is created.
  • 1853- Varsovienne (link) is the popular Viennese Waltz
  • 1856  The tango (link) was noted as a fashionable ballroom dance by M. Markowski of Paris, as described in 1856 by Charles Durang of Philadelphia 1870 –
  • The Boston (link) A more sedate form of the fast Viennese Waltz, danced at a leisurely 90 beats per minute, evolves in America.
  • 1870Tango is influenced by the Cuban Habanera beat.1875– Tango takes off. Georges Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen made the Habanera popular. Habanera is the popular name for “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” (“Love is a rebellious bird”), and it’s beat structure influenced the Argentine Tango as well as the Cuban Danzon, Bolero and Rumba.
  • 1900– Apache Tango. (link)  Paris was swarming with street gangs, and they called themselves the Apache. They were so proud of themselves that they re-enacted their fights it in a form of dance in underworld cabarets. Their dance became known as the “dance of the underworld” and gave birth to the Apache Tango.



Holly Collins

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