Oh no, not a waltz! Let's sit this one out: I've got the wrong number of legs for it. I can't waltz — or I don't want to waltz; it makes the backs of my legs ache.
I'll grant you that some Folk dances in waltz time aren't much good; I don't think ladies chains and right & left throughs work all that well, and “Streets of Laredo” is possibly the worst dance I've ever done — even Pat Shaw had his failures. But there are some beautiful dances in waltz time, and I've become much more keen on waltz dances once I discovered I could waltz after all! The other aspect of course is a free waltz — no caller, just you and your partner. If you go to a contra dance or an English (Playford-style) dance in the States they always finish with a waltz; at some places the dancers demand a waltz at the end of the first half too, and they're all out there doing it and loving it. They'd be appalled at the idea of finishing with a polka the way we often do in England!
When people say “I can't waltz”, they're probably thinking back to their ballroom dancing days. But a ballroom waltz is quite a different animal from a country dance waltz. For one thing, it's a lot slower. For another, you spend almost the whole time in ballroom position. But the crucial difference is that a ballroom waltz is made up of three steps. The man steps forward, putting his right leg between his partner's legs, then he takes his left leg forward and to the side, then he closes right to left. In the next bar he steps backward on his left, and it's the lady's turn to step forward on the right.
The folk waltz is quite different; it's sometimes described as a “one-step waltz”. You still do three steps: right, left, right — but the second and third are pretty much on the spot; the first step is where you do most of the travelling. It really isn't forward-side-together; it's step-two-three, step-two-three. If you concentrate on the first step and let the other two just happen, you'll find the whole thing much easier. Turn your shoulders and your feet will follow — it sounds silly, but it's absolutely true.
But make sure you actually do all three steps, even if 2 and 3 are just a transfer of weight. I've seen people (men actually) who instead of 1-2-3, 1-2-3 do right-left-pause, right-left-pause — that's not a waltz, it's a limp. And other men who are obviously thinking: “I hate waltz dances — I hate everything about them — I will not walk in time with the music — I'll pretend it's a reel instead.”
I go down onto a flat foot for beat 1, and up on the toes for beats 2 and 3, but I don't know whether a real expert would agree with that or would be on the toes the whole time.
A lot of waltz dances, such as Nan's Waltz and Waltz Country Dance, have various figures and then finish with waltzing round the other couple. This is where the men really panic, because they're supposed to be dancing with someone. So here are four bits of advice, chaps:
For waltzing round, practice setting on the spot. Now rotate as you do it. Now with a partner.
Some waltz dances which I particularly like are:
|The Bonny Cuckoo||Gail Ticknor||Gail's Maggots|
|Margaret's Waltz||Pat Shaw||Pat Shaw Collection|
|Waterfall Waltz||Pat Shaw||Pat Shaw Collection|
|Miss de Jersey's Memorial||Pat Shaw||Pat Shaw Collection|
|Turn of the Tide||Ron Coxall||Roles|
|When Laura Smiles||Orly Krasner||ED&S|
|An Enchanted Place||Antony Heywood||Dutch Crossing|
Gene Murrow points out that the travelling waltz needs to go at a slower tempo than the ballroom position free waltz, and bands in both England and America play too fast, causing people to take little mincing steps or give up altogether. The correct tempo makes dances like “Margaret's Waltz” work (ladies chain and all), and has a lot to do with dancers' enjoyment of a waltz country dance.
John and Ann have kindly allowed me to publish their notes here. I've modified them and changed bits I didn't understand, so you can blame me too! They explain the basic waltz step and then move on to the clever stuff, so if there's a waltz at the end of the evening you and your partner can impress the crowd! If you want to book them to run a waltz class, their contact information is at the end. One particularly impressive move is the Pivot, in which you do six full steps, turning on each. Get in really close, warn your partner that you're going to do it — then get up on your toes and go for it. It's something you cannot be tentative about — you've got to do it with confidence. You should turn round completely twice in the six steps, and be ready to set off in the direction you were going. Or you'll both be lying on the floor!
I should mention that Paul and Victoria Bestock strongly disagree with the bit about the woman's arm position. They feel that the woman will be dragging the man down, and he will not enjoy waltzing with her. They recommend the woman to put her left arm under and in contact with his right arm, matching the curve, and placing her hand behind his back, on his shoulder blade. This allows both partners to give weight, support and balance each other, and it makes turning much easier and more equal.
1 (first foot), 2, 3; 2 (second foot), 2, 3.
Open position is with Man's arm round Woman's waist, Woman's hand on Man's nearer shoulder — you must open out like a book or a hinge. The lead comes from the Man's right arm.
Man signals the opening out just before beginning the second step, and must drop his right arm and “turn” the Woman with the palm of his hand, to guide her into the open position. The strong hinge connection made by Man's right arm and Woman's left arm is very important here, and is still maintained after the opening out.
Cape position is with both dancers facing the same way, Man on the left, right hand joined to right and left hand joined to left — like a matador with a cape. The man's left hand is behind the lady's back. Also known as “Butterfly hold” and “Gay Gordons hold”.
This one is easier than it looks, and should leave people saying: “Wow! How did they do that?”
When you are both on your second foot (inside foot for both) the Man steps across in front of the Woman, gently “forcing” her to turn with him, until they have turned 360°, but Woman is on the Man's left. It takes two steps to complete that turn, then the Man can waltz in place, guide the Woman across in front of him, to his right side. Man should keep his hands directly over Woman's shoulders during the turn, so that the steps, and therefore the turn, will be small or tight.
The windows step can begin on either right or left foot, and it's easiest to begin from Cape position. It's difficult to describe the arm movements. The windows step begins with a turn to the outside, Woman turning away from partner. It's about 1½ turns around for the Woman, while the Man dances in place. Partners do not “change” hands, they remain right-to-right, and left-to-left, but handhold must be loose in order for Woman to be able to turn freely. Keep both hands high. In the “right” window, the window is opened at the end of the two turns by bringing the joined left hands down to rest on the adjacent right arms, which compose the window sill. You can get back to Cape position by turning in the opposite direction; when you reach Cape position the Woman can continue to turn towards the left, again about 1½ times, to make a window on the left. The joined right hands are brought to rest on the left arms, which make the window-sill.
Reverse position is where the dancers are facing in opposite directions: Right Reverse position means they are right shoulder to right.
You travel in a saw-tooth pattern, at about a 45° angle in line of dance. It's important to keep moving in line of dance.
The emphasis is on stepping into partner's place, and turning further in the same amount of time. We like to pivot at the end of an 8-count phrase, ideally doing 2 pivot steps on counts 7 & 8. The lead is a shift in weight or a “tightening” of the connection between you and your partner, because this turn requires more support. Coming out of the pivot, do a slight pause before the first beat of measure One (hang there) to tell partner you're not going to pivot again — she can feel it.
When turning counter-clockwise, you, must be confident of your ability to step forward between partner's feet. It's tighter than in the clockwise turn because you are not stepping around on the first, or lead foot, but rather, back for Man and forward for Woman.
This is best when done at the end of a phrase of turning steps, on measures 7 and 8. This is a solo outside turn for the woman, mainly done on measure 8. On beat Three of measure 7, Man begins to lead Woman to outside turn by disengaging his left hand from her right, and by movement of the palm of his right hand, to indicate an outside turn. The Woman thus actually begins the turn on her first, or right foot, at the end of beat Three. On beat One of 8, the Woman continues the turn, taking care to make it tight and small — which is helped by raising her left arm and keeping it close to her body. Meanwhile, the Man dances forward to “catch” the Woman at the end of the turn, on beat Three of 8, in such a way as to continue turning on Measure 1 of the next phrase.
John Wells and Ann Fallon
11 Tucker Street
If you want to learn more, there are many resources on the web. Richard Powers gives a demonstration of cross-step waltz at http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/cross-step_waltz.htm