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Wednesday, September 3, 2014
ARCHIVE / THE WALTZ AS TABOO
NAUGHTY, NAUGHTY—Guest Blog by NPR’s Anastacia
Tsioulcas--One, two, three, one, two, three, one, two, three: That's the rhythm
of a waltz. It's one of the world's most common dance forms. And you'd be
forgiven if this triple-time pattern conjures up mental images of ball gowns
and fancy-pants manners. But this quintessential high-society dance has some
surprisingly indecent roots.
will tell you that the waltz isn't just a dance. It caused a social revolution
when it first became popular in Vienna in the late 18th and early 19th
must understand that in those days, in the 19th century, it was one of the
first dances where dancers were allowed to come closer," Eduard Strauss
says. "Men could hold the lady and squeeze the lady, and bring her near
to, well, where the man wants the lady to be, and it was just very
should know about the power of the waltz — he is the chairman of the Vienna
Institute for Strauss Research. You could even say that the waltz is his family
you know that there are several Strausses," Strauss explains. "In my
family we have Johann Strauss the father. And he had three sons: Johann II, the
very famous Johann Strauss — the 'Blue Danube,' Die Fledermaus and all this.
The second son was Josef, and the third son was Eduard, so three brothers. And
the third son, Eduard, is my great-grandfather." Eduard Strauss composed
swept Vienna in the early 19th century, this long-quick-quick rhythm seized the
imagination of musicians and dancers around the world. Tchaikovsky loved it in
Russia. It even made its way to the New World, to places like Louisiana and
across Latin America.
start listening for the waltz rhythm, you start to hear it absolutely
everywhere. And the waltz is still very much a part of our pop consciousness.
song "If I Knew" was used as a waltz in the recent semifinals of the
wildly popular show Dancing with the Stars. I caught one of the show's judges,
choreographer and dancer Bruno Tonioli, on the phone from Los Angeles. And he
says it's no surprise why this form has had such staying power.
sweeps you away," Tonioli says. "It's a wonderful, wonderful dance.
To require that control that gives you that incredible weightless, gliding
quality, the rise and fall sway — it demands incredible control. When you look
at it, it seems easy, but it's very deceptive. It demands the most, the highest
level of technical control, because making something look easy is so
says the waltz's insistent pattern, the one of the one-two-three, still
presents a challenge. You don't want to thud down on that downbeat.
can never make it look heavy," he says. "It's like a breath. You
know, when you breathe? You have to use the breath of the music, never go down
on the music. What makes it that magical — you know that moment of stillness at
the end of the bar, when you almost feel like you're getting to the last beat
and you hold it for a second, or a millisecond, before you take the next beat?
That's what makes it so magical, you see, and that is what is very, very
difficult to produce."
incredible example of that suspension, and anticipation, near the beginning of
one of the most popular arias in opera, Verdi's "La donna è mobile,"
of whether a waltz was written 150 years ago or just last year, Strauss says
there's one thing we have to remember: "Nowadays, one tends to forget that
this music basically was written to be danced to — dance music."
So the next
time you hear that long-quick-quick, get out there and kick up your heels.