Good Girls Don’t Waltz

I’m in Nashville this week, Music City USA (although Austin, TX may also put in a claim for that title), and where there’s music, there’s bound to be dancing.

I don’t expect to see any foxtrot or waltzes here, which like Nashville’s original speakeasies, belong to another era. For me, witnessing a waltz has always felt like a step back in time. What can be more refined and more romantic?

Drawing of couples waltzing.
Illustration of the nine waltz positions. Correct Method of German and French Waltzing (1816).

But it wasn’t always that way. Waltzing, when it first inveigled its way into British ballrooms by way of Austria during the Regency era, was met with shock and outrage. Matrons disapproved of it, the patronesses of Almack’s banned it, and no less a libertine than Lord Byron derided it.

What was so bad about the waltz?

First, unlike other popular of the dances of the period, couples danced with each other rather than as a group.

Secondly, the waltz involved the man touching the lady. For an extended period of time. In public. Scandal! In his poem satirizing the waltz, Byron wrote, “Waltz – waltz alone – both arms and legs demands, Liberal of feet and lavish of hands; Hands which may freely range in public sight.”

Attitudes gradually relaxed, and even the formidable clique of Almack’s patronesses began to permit waltzing, under certain conditions, by 1815. But the dance itself would continue to be considered “riotous and indecent” in certain circles for another decade.

If the waltz created such a stir, I cannot imagine what the response would be to what happens in today’s clubs!

Sources:
Mass Historia – “The Shocking Waltz”
Jane Austen Centre – “The History of the Waltz”
Wikipedia – Waltz

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