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TWO-STEP WALTZ

by Harold & Meredith Sears

The two-step waltz is an old style of waltz that is not done much anymore, so this is something of a historical digression. On the other hand, you might just like to try this slightly different rhythm (freestyle ballroom; there are no round dances like this).

A "two-step waltz." It almost seems an oxymoron, a contradiction of terms. "Two-step" is a dance style that features a step, a close, and then a second step (hence the name "two-step). It can be a little confusing, because the "close" seems to be a step, too, but it doesn't go anywhere. A "close" means to bring that foot right next to the one currently holding your weight and then changing weight to the new foot. For instance, if you are in normal dance position, waltz position, or closed position (all the same thing), the man would step forward with his left, close onto his right, and then forward onto his left again; all this in one measure of music. In the next measure, he would step right, close left, step right. In closed position, the woman is facing him, so she is dancing back, close, back. If you are unclear about what closed position should look like, go to the page on dance positions, and look at the description and diagram.

Now, the timing of the steps: You can use the two-step to dance to waltz music (three beats per measure) or to almost any other country, popular, or dance music (four beats per measure). If you haven't thought about measures and beats of music, you can listen to some clips on the timing page of this manual. Listen to the waltz music clip (3 beats per measure), the fox trot (4), or try The Homecoming (4). It's hard to pick up the rhythm in such a short clip, but waltz has a strong downbeat on beat 1: 1, 2, 3; 1, 2, 3. The others are 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4. So, if you have waltz music, you dance all your steps evenly and regularly, with no pauses: fwd, close, fwd; fwd, close, fwd; and so on. If they're playing a pop song, dance fwd, close, fwd, hold; fwd, close, fwd, hold; and so on. Notice that in dance notation shorthand, a comma separates two beats, a dash represents a beat of music on which you do not take a step, and a semi-colon marks the end of a measure.

Now, don't let that pause make your dancing jerky. Simply use the pause to slow down the third step and the movement into the first step of the next measure. Your bodies should progress smoothly down the floor: not fwd, close, fwd, stop; Instead: fwd with a quick step, close with a quick step, and then fwd slowly and gracefully. In waltz, dance quick, quick, quick; quick, quick, quick; and with country or pop music, dance quick, quick, slow; quick, quick, slow;

For more about Two-Step, as we dance it in Round Dancing, see:

Now, back to the old-timey, two-step waltz (and the historical digression I promised). The first waltz in Western society was the Viennese Waltz of nineteenth century Europe. Before this time, society was dancing such slow, stately, and courtly dances as the Minuet, the Allemande, the Contredance.

These social dances of the French court were characterized by a refined and stylized elegance, polite distance between the dancers, and reserved and precise movements. You can hardly imagine a more diametrically opposite style of dance than those first wildly popular Viennese Waltzes. The Strauss family wrote music like The Blue Danube and Tales from the Vienna Woods. Franz Lehar's Merry Widow was another wonderful Viennese Waltz, and high society was initially scandalized. Outraged! The dancers held each other close (in closed or waltz position, of course). Their arms were around each other. Their bodies were in close contact. In this embrace, couples turned around and around, whirling in rapid gyrations, to the point of dizzy collapse. Shocking!

Well, society quickly got over their feelings of outrage, and the Viennese Waltz became widely popular, but it was still extremely vigorous and tiring. The two-step waltz developed at the end of the nineteenth century, as a reaction against the frantic whirling of the Viennese Waltz, and it is a waltz that does not turn but calmly progresses around the ballroom. In closed position, the man faces line of dance, the woman faces him, and both step side, close, side, on a diagonal to the man's left. Then turn your bodies 1/4 left face and step with the right foot (woman's left) side, close, side diagonally out toward the wall. Keep repeating this pattern, and you trace a soft or stretched out zigzag around the floor, zigging in and zagging out, in, and then out. Dance diagonal center and then diagonal wall (more on steps and directions in the glossary).

Now, let me admit that I am not trying to sell the two-step waltz. It's historically interesting, but long ago it was replaced by the modern waltz, which is danced at about half the tempo of the Viennese Waltz. In essence, we have solved the problem of "waltz exhaustion" by cutting the speed in half, rather than by changing the basic step pattern.

In the "real" waltz, instead of fwd, close, fwd; we dance fwd, fwd, close; It doesn't seem like such a big change or difference, but the overall effect is wonderfully different. Where the two-step waltz is a smooth, level dance, the modern waltz has graceful, undulating rise and fall in body position. You soar upward and glide back down. Instead of a train purposefully progressing down the track, you glide like a bird on wing, up toward the heavens and then easily back to earth; or like ocean waves. I'm trying for the right metaphor here. It's certainly not a rising up and then crashing onto the beach. We're out from shore and the swells gently rise and fall.

Well, never mind the literary allusions. Here is how the modern waltz works. We still have three steps per measure. Take your first step as a forward step (back for the woman), and rise to the balls of your feet. Take the second forward in this "up" position, still on the balls, heels off the floor. Then the third step is a closing step. Bring that free foot up to the supporting foot, transfer weight to that foot, lower to your heels, and even soften your knees (bend them a little). Now you are "down."

As the next measure starts, the man begins to step forward again, but his knee precedes his foot by a little. Your knees are soft. You are "down." Step forward on the first beat, stepping heel first, then rolling to the ball, and gradually rise to the ball of that foot. You are slowly rising at the end of beat one. Forward on beat two. Stay up on the balls of your feet. Close on three and lower back down again. Your "fwd, fwd, close;" becomes "rise, up, lower." You see the gentle rise and fall as you dance around the hall?

It is specifically the closing step at the end of the measure that allows you to collect yourselves and lower at the end of the measure. The next measure begins with a strong downbeat, and that is the time to launch forward and rise again to a height. In a two-step waltz, you can't match the rise and fall to the measures. In two-step, the closing step is in the middle of the measure, when you should be up. So the two-step waltz ends up level or flat. The country two-step (4-beat) is a flat dance, too.

Now, if you do decide to use the modern waltz and concede the two-step waltz to history, a long list of figures have been worked out for you to add variety to your dancing. What I have been describing is simply the Forward Waltz. You can waltz the whole night away with only that figure, if you like, just as you can two-step waltz left, and then right, then left, and right, on, and on, and on.

But Round Dancing is all about variety, so my natural tendency is to try and sell that. For more, see:

And at your next wedding, instead of repeating the same measure or two over and over, try this: Do a Forward Waltz beginning with his left foot and her right; and another one; (each semicolon marks the end of one measure) Now, do a Box;; (a Box takes two measures) Dip back; Forward Waltz starting with the right foot (woman left); Progressive Box;; Finally do a Left Turning Box;;;;

If you can learn a sequence like that, you will astound them all.


My reference for the two-step waltz is The Round Dance Book by Lloyd Shaw, if you want to read more about it: chapter 4.



If you would like to read other articles on dance position, technique, styling, and specific dance rhythms, you may visit the article TOC.

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Page last revised 12/22/09