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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle
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AS to the origin of the Waltz there are varied opinions. Professor Desrat claims that it came from Russia; another writer states that it is derived from an old dance, the Allemande. Notwithstanding this controversy, it has been proven beyond a doubt that the Waltz in its first form came from Italy to Provence, and thence to the Court of Valois, under the name of “La Volta.” Henry the Third and Marguerite of Valois were both fervent devotees of this dance, which they called, “ Valse à trois temps.” Other dances overshadowed and crowded it out later on, and little was heard of it until, in its present form, it was brought from Germany to Paris in 1795. Castil-Blaze, an accepted authority, called it “that imp from France brought up in Germany.” The first German Waltz tune was the well-known “Ach du lieber Augustin,” and dates as far back as 1770.

It immediately became a favorite with the pleasure-loving Parisians, and when the Austrian Embassy in Paris introduced its famous “ déjeuner dansant” in the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Waltz was the prime favorite at these gatherings. Its reception by the English public was less cordial when the French dancing-master Cellarius introduced the Waltz into London society in 1812. Caricatures appeared in the papers picturing the sentiments of the ultra-purist section of the community, who had persuaded themselves that the introduction of the Waltz into England was a conclusive step on the national Downward Path. There is still in existence a letter from a shocked parent, who hurried his daughter away from a ball-room where he saw his precious offspring held by a young man in a position that he could not describe better than the “very reverse of back to back.”

This first real round dance did not become popular until the Russian Emperor Alexander, with Countess Lieven as partner, had danced it in 1813 at Almachs, then the meeting-place of the fashionable world of London.

For a long time, however, the Waltz was a perpetual thorn in the side of the anemic moralist, and even as late as 1870 a pamphlet by John Haven Dexter was issued against it, in which he objected to the lawless arm of the sterner sex encircling the graceful form of a young and beautiful female.


At the present day a new form of the dance has crowded out the old-fashioned Waltz. It is the Hesitation Waltz. Before I go any further I want to admit being no great authority on this dance; I only try to explain the way it is done by the best dancers. Every one seems to do it differently, and I know at least four persons, whose word I would swear by, who assure me that they are the originators of the Hesitation. In fact, my wife and I seem to be the only dancers who have not had a hand (or a foot) in this sometimes beautiful and much-abused dance.

The dancers assume the ordinary plain Waltz position. Then the man steps back with the right foot, taking two steps on two counts, alternating the right and left foot; then he moves forward two steps—right foot, left foot—again allowing each step to fill in one count of the music. Thus, to be very explicit, four counts have been occupied, but the steps should not be directly forward and backward, leaving you in the same position; you should turn and travel just a little. For the next two counts the gentleman allows his weight to rest on his left foot. This creates the sense of hesitation in the dance which has given it its name.

The lady starts forward—left, right, and back left, right—finally holding her weight on the right foot through the fifth and sixth counts. Then she goes back on her left foot for the next part of the step—left, right, and then forward, left, right—finally holding her weight as before on the two last counts. I might add here that a great many people start with the hesitating steps and finish with the Waltz. That is a matter of preference.

This measure could be continued indefinitely. By counting 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and holding or hesitating the 5, 6, you can't very well go wrong; and you are doing the Hesitation Waltz.

Of course, were this all, it would be a very tiresome dance. So you vary it slightly by doing either two or three' ordinary Waltz measures—or some of the figures I am about to explain or some of your own. After you have a rough idea of this first step, I advise you to cease counting and try to do the hesitation when the music seems to “ask it”—if you know what I mean. Nearly every good Waltz has certain strains which, if you have a good ear for music, you will not fail to recognize as calling for some sort of hesitation or pause.

In my opinion it is much better to hesitate when the music hesitates, and, when it does not, simply do the ordinary Waltz movement or steps to that tempo. Avoid always the terrible schedule which obliges you to waltz, hesitate, waltz, hesitate, etc., no matter what tune is being played or who is in your way. That kind of dancing belongs to the people who count to themselves, looking up at the ceiling, 1, 2, 3—1, 2, 3—1, 2, 3.


There is very little to explain in this; in fact, the title itself is the explanation, but don't pass it by as being too easy to receive any consideration. True, it is simply walking to Waltz time; but it is very difficult to do this and have it look like anything. It is something like standing still on the stage; that takes a good actor, and walking to Waltz time takes a good dancer. In these modern dances the plain walk is the best step to begin with, and it is always very useful while you are “thinking of a good one.” In dancing the lady may go a few steps back while the gentleman takes the corresponding number of steps forward, or the gentleman may turn and walk in the same direction as the lady. This walking was done years ago in the comic opera “The Merry Widow,” and was considered very pretty. Then, I think, the gentlemen walked, not opposite, but at the side of the lady, and she went backward while he went forward.

If you wish to dip a trifle in this walk it will look quite well if done rhythmically and with the correct poise of the body.


This Step is used in many ways. We will begin by showing the simplest form of it. The man, who should be going forward, turns the lady so that she will be facing the same direction as himself. They dance the regular Hesitation step forward, starting with the outside foot—that is, the man with his left and the lady with her right. To vary this they do the Hesitation step and swing the inside foot forward, touching toes in front with the foot slightly raised. Then dance another Hesitation step, this time swinging the foot backward.


The dancers do the Hesitation step in the regular position. They start the figure, the lady crossing her left foot in back of her right, thus making her dance the Waltz part of the Hesitation backward, while the man dances forward. After completing one Hesitation step in this position, the lady crosses the left in front of the right, pivoting on the right, making her dance the Waltz part of the Hesitation forward. The man does the opposite. He dances one Hesitation step forward, then crosses the right foot in back of the left, pivoting on the left, making him dance the Waltz step backward. The man keeps at the right side of the lady throughout the whole step.


The man, who should be going forward, turns the lady so that she will be facing in the same direction as himself. They do one Hesitation step forward, finishing with the weight on the outside foot—that is, the man on his left and the lady on her right. Without loosening the hold any more than necessary, they both turn, making a revolution toward the inside. After that the arms, which hitherto have been extended straight in front of them, are at the back, and they look over their elbows. Then they walk one step, the man with his right and the lady with her left, and continue the Waltz step with the inside foot. After finishing the Waltz step they turn as before, only this time the movement is toward the outside, and again with only an almost imperceptible loosening of the hold. This brings you to the first position of the step, which you may continue any number of times.


We now come to the dernier cri in Waltz steps, the Lame Duck, and I find this a lot of fun to do. The dance, in spite of its unpoetic name, can be made to look very graceful.

In doing the Lame Duck the gentleman, as usual, starts forward on his left foot and does a half-sliding dip and half limp for two counts; then the right foot comes to his relief for just one count, and in this way he, as it were, shuffles forward, the right knee straightening more or less and the left knee remaining bent. The lady's part is naturally just the opposite. She starts back on her right foot for two counts, and then on her left foot for one count. You can keep the step up indefinitely, rounding corners and the like.

As this is very tiring on one leg, the step can be changed by having the gentleman hold his weight on the left foot for three counts, making a pivot movement or not, as he wishes, and continuing backward, making two counts on the right and one on the left. This has the effect of changing the weight of the body to the other foot and causing the gentleman to do the lady's step and the lady the gentleman's. I feel sure it is unnecessary to explain the lady's part of all this. She naturally is at all times opposite her partner and does the corresponding step to his.

We see this dance done every day at Castle House, and nearly fifty per cent of the dancers do it out of time to the music. I often wonder why they choose the Waltz. If you are not going to take any notice of the music, why have music at all? Some one reciting would be much cheaper and less noisy.

It is absolutely wrong to dance this way; you may dance strictly against time or strictly on time, but to dance regardless of music when the music is being played is criminal.

One last word about the Lame Duck. If you do it smoothly it is pleasing to the onlookers and to yourself; if you exaggerate it you lose all the Duck and it is simply Lame.

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Modern Dancing by Vernon and Irene Castle

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