Lady Jillian Spagthorpe's

Practical Guide

to Victorian Couple Dancing
(Please do try this at home!)

Part 1: The Waltz Footwork
The waltz as we dance it does not have choreographed steps, and it's best not to concern yourself with where your feet are going, i.e. 'you move yours forward, I move mine back', etc. as this is likely to make you confused and self-conscious. The steps will come naturally if you have the position correct and follow this single rule: it is vital that you take a step, and shift your weight, at each and every beat of the music. Those of you who are mathematically inclined will realise that this means you will start each beat of three on the alternate foot: left-right-left, rightleft-right, left-right-left etc. It is exactly like walking to the beat of the music.

Position
Leader and follower stand facing and parallel--ensure that at all times the couple forms a U rather than a V. The leader's right hand should be spread wide and be placed between the follower's shoulder blades. (Yes I know in the movies the leader holds the follower around the waist. I suggest you do the following experiment: leader, rest your arm around the follower's waist, then ask him/her to lean back and pull away CAREFULLY--you will find yourselves very unstable. Then do the same with the leader's hand as I have directed--you will discover that your dyad is stable.) Keep the right arm rigid, using it to monitor and alter the distance between the partners. As a rule this should be as far as comfortably possible (you are aware that the exact distance was a contentious issue in the 19th century), shortening it in order to avoid obstacles and to prepare for turns. The leader's left and follower's right hands will be joined. Please ensure that you are not using this as a pivot point, a support or a balance, and that you are not holding onto each other for dear life. You should be able to waltz perfectly well without holding these hands (and it in fact looks rather elegant waltzing with the leader's left hand behind his/her back and the follower's right hand trailing behind). Victorians found palm to palm contact too suggestive, so I recommend two holds. For the first, the leader holds his/her hand palm down and the follower gracefully rests his/her hand atop, possibly holding on with the thumb underneath the leader's fingers. For the second, the leader holds his/her hand out thumb upwards, fingers in a sort of pinched 'C' and follower rests the ends of his/her fingers around the ends of the leader's fingers. The leader can gently pinch the follower's fingers with his/her thumb. The follower's left arm and hand can gracefully rest on the leader's shoulder, or trail behind, or hold a fan, or if the follower is wearing Edwardian costume she may be holding her train. Some followers use this arm to apply pressure to the leader's upper body in (sometimes necessary) attempts to 'back lead', but this is not recommended.

Page 1 of 4

It's fun! Having said that. This is actually an essential part of the mechanics of the dance--leaning back allows the leader to establish the support connection and gives the couple the momentum for turning. I will acknowledge that it can be difficult particularly for novice dancers to lead someone who is substantially taller or heavier than they are. and serves as 'traffic cop' to determine where to move to next.Assigned roles Unlike in country dances. the leader and follower have very different roles to play in the mechanics of the dance. following and gender You have no doubt noticed that I have endeavoured to avoid using gendered pronouns to describe the partners in the dance. The experiences are entirely different. and some women in particular like to dance on their toes. Movement Some Viennese waltzers like to make big swooping movements on the first beat. You may want to adopt your own flourishes or idiosyncracies later. and exercise as much economy of movement as possible. The leader controls the distance between the partners with his/her supporting arm. but please do this consciously rather than learning bad habits initially. for example. The leader also directs the pace and direction of the dance. 4. others conceive it as the leader leading the follower around him/herself. and relaxing allows the leader to direct the couple's movements gracefully without resistance. but there is nothing like relaxing into the arms of an excellent dancer and letting him or her do all the work. Page 2 of 4 . 3. and the follower automatically steps back--some people conceive of the turning movement as each partner taking a turn walking around the other. endeavour to keep yourself erect and level. and state that there is nothing wrong with sticking to one role--I only suggest that there is no external requirement for doing so. The leader steps forward on the left foot. but there is no real reason why this should be so and I strongly encourage you to become proficient in both roles. 2. Doing both allows you to teach either role. A brief excursus on leading. The role of the follower is to lean back and relax. You'll find yourself doing this naturally if you've adopted the correct position and footwork. Please do neither. turning the couple clockwise. as I am usually a better dancer than my partner. spotting gaps between dancers and endeavouring to keep the couple from colliding with another couple or an obstruction. A good leader can do all this effortlessly while making small talk to his/her partner and looking into his/her eyes. I myself. Doing both gives you an idea what your partner requires and how to make things easier for him/her. It is of course typical for men to lead and women to follow. for four reasons: 1. generally prefer to lead. Whatever works is fine.

and don't dance between them and the edge of the dance floor so as to permit them to leave the dance safely if they choose to. stopping. Followers. it is almost inevitably the case that taking smaller steps will solve the problem. to perform these dances when wearing shoes or boots with thick soles. so take steps as small as practicably possible. those not travelling in any particular direction. If you feel awkward. It's embarrassing enough as it is to have an accident. or asking if the couple need assistance. Dance floor etiquette It is rude to dance only with your escort. treads. i. Page 3 of 4 . This is not a race. Note that as with the waltz each set of beats starts on the alternate foot: left-right-left(hesitation). Give the couple a wide berth. If this happens to someone else please allow his/her partner to deal with it without gawking. Please dance each dance with a different partner.e. although as the polka is often faster and more energetic it may be necessary to provide balance with the leader's left/follower's right hands (I have never seen a couple polka without this connection. preferably with someone you do not know. it is likely that the follower is not leaning back enough.Troubleshooting If you find yourself out of balance. be worthy of your followers' trust. as people sometimes do in the waltz). your steps should never be outside the width of your shoulders. don't be afraid your leaders will drop you. It is not unheard of for dancers to trip over their feet or clothing. or feel as if you're moving too slowly for the music. left-right-left-(hesitation) etc. it doesn't need to be made any more embarrassing by others drawing attention to it. can dance in the middle. if not impossible. Many people find it easier to do these dances in such clothing. In order to make the waltz movement dynamic the follower's body must be pressing with substantial force against the leader's hand. It is extremely difficult. If you intend to dance in a corset and/or long skirt please wear these to your dance practices. stumble and sometimes fall. or heels higher than about an inch. Leaders. and your movements are uncontrolled. they will be sure to ask. Those who wish to practice or do figures. with the exception that as the polka is in quadruple rather than triple time there is a hesitation/slight hop on the fourth beat. and no one will count how many laps around the dance floor you've done. faster dancers on the outside and slower dancers on the inside. The polka step is essentially the same as that for the waltz. Dancers should circle the ballroom conterclockwise. In the rare event that someone does need assistance from others. Even soldiers wore dance pumps or special soft dance boots with their dress uniforms when on the ballroom floor. Part 2: The Polka The position for the polka is the same as that for the waltz. right-left-right-(hesitation).

fifth and sixth beats of the waltz are standard waltz step. It is usually done in conjunction with the basic or other waltz steps. Note that this kick is not a la Bruce Lee--it should be with a delicate pointed foot. In contrast to my earlier instructions. Part 4: The Galop This is a variant of the polka step. lean back slightly on the other feet for the second beat. it is acceptable for the leader's left and follower's right hands to be gripped tightly together and to form a 'battering ram' pointing in the direction the couple will travel. In waltz position. although travelling in the same direction. looking over their shoulders and pulling the 'battering ram' in somewhat. They touch their toes to the ground on the second. and do the same set of movements in another direction. but please be careful. The couple turn their heads in that direction and set the heels of the appropriate feet (leader's left and follower's right) in front of them on the first beat. It is not a particularly attractive step for people wearing trousers or leggings. as it tends to be tiring and would be difficult to sustain for the length of a dance. For the next set of six. They then reverse. partners lean forward slightly onto leader's left/follower's right feet for the first beat of the waltz. repeat the first three movements with the opposite feet. It is not advised for people wearing bustles or miniskirts. depending upon the company in which you find yourselves. and just high enough to set a hoop skirt swinging (certainly not high enough to interfere with other dancers). and kick out slightly with the leader's left/follower's right feet on the third beat. It is considered bad form to charge directly toward another couple. Page 4 of 4 .Part 3: The Mazurka The mazurka is an elegant and graceful slow waltz step. Fourth. and to yell 'charge' or 'talley-ho' etc. By all means have fun. For the next four beats they slide across the floor in four movements. but causes hoop skirts to swing like a bell with a lovely effect. then heels and toes again on the third and fourth. it is not necessarily considered bad form to pretend to. it is not typically done on its own but can be done between polka steps at certain points in the music.

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