Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Waltzing into Battle

La Marche

A book I am revisting at present is Nick Foulkes' "Dancing into Battle", a social history of Waterloo, with insights into what the armies were doing when not actually firing at each other!  One of the little snippets it mentions is that the British Officers spent much of their time in Brussels learning  or brushing up on their dancing, especially the quadrille and the waltz.

As a writer of romance, dancing is a great way to get the hero and heroine together, and the waltz would seem to be a perfect dance - but the waltz these British officers were learning was certainly not the chest-to-chest twirling dance we have come to think of. I researched this for one of my Melinda Hammond books, Dance for a Diamond, and found it quite fascinating.

The origins of the waltz are obscure.  Some sources claim it comes from the Italian Dance the volta (which had been danced at the court of Queen Elizabeth) others from the German folk-dance the Landler.  It made its appearance at Almack’s in 1812 but was not universally accepted, and as late as 1816 the Times was protesting against the “voluptuous intertwining of the limbs.”  But it was nothing like the dance we know today. Just look at these drawings from the time. 

The early form of this dance began with a slow movement, “la Marche”, followed by the quicker “Sauteuse” and ending with the “Jetté”, an energetic third movement which included the twirling and pirouetting we associate with the waltz today. These drawings from the dance manual looks quite tame, but the caricaturists of the time put quite a different spin on it (excuse the pun) - take a look at the colour print at the end of this blog!


Attitudes were definitely changing, but until the early 1800s dancing for the English gentry and upper classes was restricted to the country dances and formal courtly processions, with no more than handholding between the sexes.  Think of the scandal then when the waltz hit town.  Suddenly the man and woman were embracing on the dance floor, spinning round the floor, their bodies actually touching.  Is it any wonder that society tried to keep such indecent behaviour out of the ballrooms?


Sarah Mallory / Melinda Hammond

Coming soon from Sarah Mallory - The Illegitimate Montague - one of theCastonbury Park Series


Christina Courtenay said...

Great post Sarah/Melinda!

Sarah Mallory said...

Thanks, Christina. Having tried the 18th c country dances (you were there!) I think the waltz must have been a revalation!

Fenella J Miller said...

Thanks, Sarah , always like to have my ideas confirmed. Love the sketches.

Sarah Mallory said...

Thanks Fenella. The difference between the demure dancers in the dance manual and the caricature is quite wonderful - a bit like the perceived difference between a tea-dance and a rave

Christina Courtenay said...

Yes, those country dances were so difficult! Too many steps to learn. Waltzing must have seemed like a doddle in comparison :)

personalised gifts said...

A very well written and thoughtful post, thanks to Sara Mallory. What I personally believe, dance is way of expressing love to the lover and waltz successfully added the last spice on it.

Sarah Mallory said...

We tend to think of the walz today as being rather a stiff, staid dance, but yes, I think at the beginning it certainly added spice to an evening!

Thank you for your coemments!