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Paper 13

The Regency Waltz

Contributed by Paul Cooper, Research Editor

The Waltz was a (literally) revolutionary dance that entered the British Assembly Halls from Europe during the greater Regency era. In this paper we'll consider the history of the dance in England, the controversy that surrounded it, and how it was danced.

The Early Waltz, 1790-1809

Figure 1. Four New Schleifers or Waltzers for 1792, by James Platts.


The word waltz first entered the English language from around the start of the 1780s; but it took until c.1790 for early waltz music to start appearing in the annual country dance collections published by London's music vendors. Some of these early examples include The Walty in Longman & Broderip's Twenty-Four Country Dances for the Year 1790, Mr. King's Waltz in Fentum's Eight Cotillions, Six Country Dances and a favorite new Minuet for the Year 1791, and The Garman Spaw Waltz in William Campbell's c.1792 Seventh Collection of the newest & most Favorite Country Dances and Cotillions. In these initial examples the word waltz refers to the music, usually in a 3/8 triple-time time-signature; but the associated dancing figures were those of any other English Country Dance. The Waltz hadn't introduce the concept of dancing to a three beat rhythm of course (many earlier 3/8 time signature country dancing tunes exist), but these were amongst the first to be explicitly named Waltzes, at least in Britain.

Note: earlier references to waltzing are likely to emerge. For example, Thomas Skillern's 1787 Caledonian Medley Dance included a tune he named The Walse. It's in 2/4 measure, so not a triple-time waltz in the normal sense, but it hints that the term was starting to become known in the 1780s. The first reference I know of in English can be found in the 1779 translation of one of Goethe's novels.

The first English publications consisting entirely of Waltzes were probably those of James Platts. Platts was a musician, composer, and also a publisher. He issued his first known collection in 1791 (The World, 26th January 1791), and followed it up with several similar works throughout the 1790s. He was the first to register Waltzes for copyright purposes at Stationers' Hall. Platts' second collection were published in 1792 (see Figure 1), he explicitly referred to them as Schleifers, an alternative term for the German Ländler, one of the European predecessors of the Waltz dance. Platts' waltzes were ordinary Country Dances in 3/8 Waltz time, examples include The Prince's Waltz (1791) and Die Lustbarkeit (1792).

Other early references associate the Waltz with performance dancing on stage. In 1797 The Duke of Wirtemberg's Waltz was listed amongst a collection of Piano Forte music used at the King's Theatre Opera House (True Briton, 30th May 1797), and James Harvey D'Egville (or perhaps a younger relative) danced Waltzes at the Theatre Royal in 1800 (The Observer, 27th April 1800). A dancing master from Liverpool called Joseph Robinson advertised in 1800 that he had returned from the city of Bath where he had learnt the newest and most elegant dances, including the German Waltz (Gore's Liverpool General Advertiser, 30th January 1800).

At some point during the 1790s the couple-Waltz emerged as a dance form in Britain. An early description can be found in The Morning Post for 8th April 1801 (see Figure 2), it reports:

A new dance has been introduced in the fashionable circles, under the title of the 'Polish Waltz'. It is something in the 'attitudinary style' of Lady HAMILTON, but trenches a little too much upon the confines of decorum. The 'morality' of the dance, however, depends upon the leader of the band, who varies his time, 'ad libitum', animating the performers, eight in number, when they become languid by a grave step, and 'moderating' their motions by a slow measure when they become too 'lively'.
This early description associates the dance with Poland, though I don't consider that to be significant. Several characteristics of this specific Waltz are clear:
  • It involves changes of tempo (or speed), faster then slower, under the direction of the band leader.
  • It involves a specific number of dancers, presumably waltzing as couples in the same direction and into each others places (perhaps as in Figure 3).
The association with Lady Hamilton is (perhaps) apt. Lady Emma Hamilton was known for her risque attitudes, and was at the centre of a public scandal having given birth to Lord Nelson's daughter (despite being married to Sir William Hamilton). It's curious that this early reference should mention the word morality, the morality of the dance would continue to be called into question over the next couple of decades. A more subtle example of this disapproving attitude can be found in the Hampshire Chronicle for 12th May 1800; it reported that Two lovers of Harbourg, while dancing the Waltz on the night of the 16th of April, were killed by lightning, perhaps implying divine intervention! In a similar vein an article in The Sporting Magazine for April 1800 reported: Among the dances in our fashionable routes, the German Waltze has become so general, as to render the ladies' garters an object of consideration in regard to elegance and variety.

Figure 2. The Morning Post, 8th April 1801.
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
Couple dances were not unknown in Britain at the turn of the 19th century. The courtly Minuet dance (known for it's graceful movements) had long been a favourite of the aristrocracy, but attempts had also been made to introduce the more intimate Allemande couple-dance to London in the late 1760s. Some descriptions of the Allemande dance are decidely waltz-esque, especially that found in Giovanni Gallini's 1762 A Treatise on the Art of Dancing. He described the German Allemande in which the men and women form a ring. Each man holding his partner round the waist, makes her whirl round with almost inconceivable rapidity: they dance in a grand circle, seeming to pursue one another: in the course of which they execute several leaps, and some particularly pleasing steps, when they turn, but so very difficult as to appear such even to professed dancers themselves. We've discussed the Allemande further in another Paper, it seems never to have been popular in Britain, but may perhaps have eased the arrival of the Waltz.

An 1806 description of the Waltz appears in Busby's A Complete Dictionary of Music, it's defined as: A tune to a simple dance so called, and which was originally used in Swabia. It is written in 3/8, and should be performed in a moderate time, or at the quickest in allegretto. The Waltz, though of late introduction in England, has long been a favourite species of movement in Germany, and is frequently introduced in the overtures, concertos, and sonatas, of that country.

The Country Dance publisher William Campbell produced his 22nd collection c.1807; it includes a deceptively important dance called The Russian Ambassador's Waltz (With the original German Figure). His publication offers the first clear evidence I know of for Waltz like figures being introduced into a Country Dance. Campbell's original figure includes the instruction: The 1st Gent Set to the 2d Lady, & both go quite Round with his Right hand Round the Lady's Waist; & the Lady's Left hand Round the Gent's Waist at the Same time; the Gent takes the Lady with his Left hand by her Right hand. The fact that he describes the figure is noteworthy, it suggests that his customers would not already know it; the Waltz was already a favourite dance amongst the courts of Europe, the association of this new figure with The Russian Ambassador is perhaps also of significance, an idea we'll return to. Campbell has also provided the first clear description of a waltz hold (or attitude); many more would subsequently emerge, but Campbell has described an early favourite (see also figure 6).

The first society ball I know of that featured a waltz dance was hosted by the Marchioness of Abercorn in 1801 (The Morning Post, 25th May 1801). It was opened with the German waltz and was attended by much of the Nobility, and Royalty. Other such Balls are mentioned in the press over the following two decades. Dancing Masters began to advertise their services for teaching the Waltz during the 1800s; Mr M'Korkell offered his services from 1804 (Northampton Mercury, 17th November 1804), and Mr Second from 1807 (Morning Post, 9th April 1807). Mr Second is particularly interesting as he was also teaching the Quadrille from that early date, way ahead of most of his contemporaries in London. Other references to the Waltz appear in English sources throughout this period.

One early supporter of the Waltz may have been Lady Mary Bentinck. The Morning Post for the 25th March 1801 reported that she gave a ball on Thursday evening, at Portland House, to a select circle of friends, for the purpose of introducing a new and beautiful dance. The Monthly Magazine for July 1801 included a musical review of A Waltz, composed and dedicated to Lady Mary Bentinck, by Maria Hester Park, it goes on to add: This is an ingenious little publication. The waltz is introduced by a movement of much taste and expression, and possesses in itself some well-conceived passages, at once calculated to display the science of the composer and the skill of the performer. It's unclear whether this early Waltz publication was used for Waltz dancing, but it's tempting to speculate. Park's Waltz remains available through the British Library, it consists of an Introduction in 3/4 time (an 8 bar strain and a 10 bar strain), followed by the main Waltz in 3/8 time (nine 8 bar strains, and one 11 bar strain). This Waltz tune, and others like it, could have been used for early Waltz dancing by Bentinck and her friends; it's quite different to the Country Dancing Waltz tunes found in the various annual collections.

Figure 3. Specimens of Waltzing, 1817.

© Trustees of the British Museum

Controversies, 1810-1812

As the Waltz increased in popularity, it also increased in controversy. This was true in Germany, and it remained true in England. The German author Goethe mentioned the Waltz in his 1774 Sorrows of Young Werther; the character vows that a maiden whom I loved, or for whom I felt the slightest attachment, never, never should waltz with any one else but with me. This vow is recalled in an English description of the Waltz from 1810 recorded in the Royal Cornwall Gazette (17th November 1810). The ball in question was lavish, with feasting, floor chalking, and a distinguished attendance; it took place at Saltram House near Plymouth. The waltzing was described as follows:

To see so many lovely and elegant young women moving with grace and activity, their charming faces light up with pleasure, and their eyes sparkling at the admiration they excited, was, to an old fellow like me, a sight truly delightful, though I could not help agreeing with Werter, who said, his wife should never dance a waltz. The partners of those lovely creatures, said I, mentally, must be very happy; for though dignity and good-breeding preserved the most perfect delicacy in each, yet I still agreed with Werter, that my wife, if ever I have one, shall never dance a waltz, though it was charming to see the angels fly down the room as if they had already wings.

An extended debate took place within the columns of the Morning Post newspaper in 1811 regarding the Waltz. A particularly helpful letter to the editor was printed on the 5th August (see Figure 4), it aimed to demystify the Waltz. In so doing, it provides the most detailed description of the Waltz I know of in English, prior to the publications of Thomas Wilson. It was signed No Puritan, and records:

The whole of the party that is to dance the Waltz stand round in a circle, smaller or greater, as the company may happen to be, each couple (Gentleman and Lady, his partner) face each other; he passes his arms along hers, and holds her by the elbows; she does the same to him; and when the dance begins, he dances round with her, turning towards the left, and taking up the ground of the next couple on the left, and so the whole circle continues to move at the same time. At first the music plays very slow, but the time increases until the whole is in very rapid motion; and when they continue for some time at this, the music begins to slow again, and increases as before. If there be room enough, the Gentleman holds his partner by the tips of the fingers. Certainly the dance now in question is danced in a far different way among the inferior orders of society, as they hold each other tight by the middle, and thus in each others embrace go round like whirligigs. But this is no argument to condemn a dance, which I think is decent, harmless, and elegant. The only objection I could ever see in the Waltz was, that the dancers were liable to get exceedingly dizzy, by repeated turning; but the dance is by no means indecent, as danced by the better sort of people, and it has the most brilliant effect.
Several aspects of this Waltz are notable:
Figure 4. The Morning Post, 5th August 1811
Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
  • Any number of couples may dance.
  • Partners should embrace by the finger-tips, or by the elbows.
  • Embracing by the waist is a less genteel (but evidently common) Waltz hold.
  • The music changes speed throughout the dance, faster and slower.
  • There is a risk of dizziness.

No Puritan's letter appeared in the middle of an extended debate spanning many issues of the newspaper. It solicited an immediate reply on the 7th August 1811 from a moralist who signed themselves John Bull. This riposte ends: I am inclined to prefer a more sober dance for my own family, satisfied, on reflection, that no considerate father, mother, husband, or brother, can approve of this familiar clasping German Waltz, and that it can only find advocates among volatile young men who like to twist, twirl and spin the girls about, and turn them into whirligigs.

Perhaps the crux of the problem was that the Waltz was an overly sensual dance that made the dancers giddy and disorientated, it also encouraged (or at least tolerated) uninterrupted eye contact. Such behaviour might have been dangerous in the sexually charged environment of the marriage-mart Assembly Halls.

Another anti-waltzist calling themselves A Friend to the Public Morals writing in the Morning Post on the 27th July 1811 warned the Waltz dance is objectionable on account of its peculiar and distinctive character; it is susceptible of degrees of personal familiarity which render it liable to gross abuse. Those who have travelled know that on the Continent it is frequently exhibited in this state of abuse; and though, in this country, it may not yet be carried to such an excess of impropriety, there is no saying how far the imagination may go when our females shall have exchanged their blushing diffidence for that degree of ease.... The moralist's essay is rather long, and attracted a counter argument from A Friend to True, and an Enemy to Affected, Morals on the 1st August 1811; this reply focussed on the ethnic and nationalistic slurs the previous moralist had made against the German people, and took the debate away from the dance itself. A further moralist replied under the name A Staunch Anti-Waltzite on the 9th August, the reply included the observation that even a Spaniard friend of his who enjoyed the lascivious motions of the Fandango felt the Waltz was a bit too much. This in turn had a reply from A Staunch Waltzite on the 15th of August. A further reply appeared on the 16th August, claiming to represent the female perspective of Jane Lively, it pointed out some hypocrisy in the previous letters.

A poem ascribed (with some uncertainty) to the Irish playwright Sheridan was also repeated in numerous publications in 1811 and 1812:

How arts improve in this degenerate age!
Peers mount the Box, and Horses tread the Stage;
While Waltzing Females, with unblushing face,
Disdain to dance - but in a man's embrace;
How arts improve when modesty is dead,
And taste and Sense are, like our Bullion, fled!
Figure 5. Inconvenient Partners in Waltzing, 1819. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

The poem repeats the anti-waltz message that seems to have dominated public opinion at this time. The Waltz remained a topic of controversy however; for example, several newspapers in 1812 reported on a duel fought over the Waltz. The Edinburgh Advertiser for the 28th July 1812 records: Monday morning a duel took place between General THORNTON and Mr T. HOOK. After exchanging one shot each, the affair was amicably settled. It originated in a silly dispute on the subject of the dance called the 'Waltz', the General having praised it in higher terms, and the Author having bitterly reprobated it as leading to the most licentious consequences. A subsequent report in The Caledonian Mercury, 13th August 1812, added some further demystifying details.

Lord Byron wrote his infamous anti-Waltz poem Waltz, An Apostrophic Hymn in 1812, it was published anonymously and advertised for sale in The Morning Post newspaper on the 26th February 1813. Byron had his own motivations for publishing of course, but his authority being added to the anti-waltz movement was considered to be significant.

The author of the 1811 etiquette guide The Mirror of the Graces considered the Waltz to be unsuitable for unmarried ladies: There is something in the close approximation of persons, in the attitudes, and in the motion, which ill agrees with the delicacy of woman, should she be placed in such a situation with any other man than the most intimate connection she can have in life.

But despite the anti-waltzing lobby, the aristocracy continued to Waltz. The Countess of Shaftesbury held a Ball in 1810 attended by 320 fashionables at which a Waltz Medley was danced (Morning Post, 19th May 1810). A report in the Morning Post for the 28th June 1811 described the Duchess of Devonshire's Ball, attended by 200 fashionable couples in Picadilly; the dancing began with a German Waltz. Lady Caroline Barham's Ball in 1812 (Morning Post, 22nd June 1812) had 400 fashionables in attendance, and another Waltz Medley was danced. A grand Quadrille Waltz Ball was held at the Argyll Rooms in 1811 (Morning Post, 13th June 1811) with an overflowing attendance of fashionables. An epic defense of the Waltz in the form of a Heroic Ode was even published in 1811. Many similar examples could be added.

Acceptance, 1813-1819

Figure 6. Waltzing, 1815.

© Trustees of the British Museum

The diarist Thomas Raikes recorded in 1835 that No event ever produced so great a sensation in English society as the introduction of the German waltz in 1813. He also wrote of whirling a chair round the room, to learn the step and measure of the German waltz. The elite of society danced the Waltz, regardless of the moralists. Reports of Balls that featured the Waltz continued to appear in the Press, and the adverts of dance masters continued to promote the sociably acceptable variants of the waltz. The debate did continue however. A letter in The Morning Chronicle for the 11th January 1814 reads:

Sir, Some lines appeared in your paper a few days ago upon the subject of Waltzing, with the initials of 'Sir H. E.' affixed to them. They certainly contained heavy charges of impropriety against those Ladies who practise that dance - such as in the following lines:-

What! the girl of my heart by another embrac'd?
What! the balm of her lips shall another man taste?
What! touch'd in the twirl by another man's knee?
What! panting recline on another than me?

After having allowed your paper to be the channel of such serious imputations, you cannot in candour refuse admission to the following Justificatory Address to the author of them:-

Shall another man touch! by another embrac'd!
Shall another man taste her lip's dew!!!
Why, it's only another that can be so grac'd;
For d--n it, she'd never let you.

Sir H.E. thinks each waltzing Miss
From every partner takes a kiss;
Then O! how natural the whim
That makes them loathe to dance with him.

The words of Sir H.E. (probably Sir George Dallas) were subsequently used to accompany the anti-waltz image in Figure 6. The reply in the Chronicle hints at a subtle shift in social mores, the Waltz was growing in acceptance. An 1819 novel called The Hermit in London offered some sensible advice to a young lady keen to waltz: when you waltz, extend your arms, and keep your partner literally at arm's length: look occasionally at your feet, and smile around you; but never allow his eye to meet yours, nor give him one undivided smile upon any account whatever. That advice is from a fictional mother to a fictional daughter, it's interesting that the advice is to dance with decorum rather than to abstain.

Figure 7. Waltzing at Almacks, c.1817.

© Trustees of the British Museum

The major turning point for the Waltz came in June of the year 1814 with the visit to London of the allied sovereigns. Peace had been declared in Europe, Napoleon had been banished to Elba never to be heard from again (or so they thought), and the monarchs were to meet at Vienna to carve Europe up between them. But before the Conference of Vienna they took a grand tour around Europe, including a state visit to London. The dignatories included the Tsar of Russia, the King of Prussia, the Chancellor of Austria, and their respective entourages. State Balls were held almost every night, and the Waltzing was widely reported upon in the descriptions of those Balls. For example, a Ball at Burlington House was described in Bell's Weekly Messenger for 26th June 1814: The Emperor Alexander waltzed with at least ten young ladies, selecting his partners for their shape and beauty, regardless of their rank or distinction. The company began to dance at half past twelve o'clock, led off with waltzes by the Emperor and the beautiful Countess of Jersey. The young Prussian Princes were likewise amongst the first who danced. There were waltzing parties at the upper end of the ball-room, and country-dances below.. English references to the Waltz tended to be more neutral in tone following this state visit (with a few important exceptions that we'll come to); the Waltz was often referred to as a Russian dance in such later references. As an example, consider an advertisement published in the Liverpool Mercury (23rd October 1814) for a dancing master named Mr Yates, it began: As the present style of Dancing is different to what it was since the Emperor of Russia has made Waltzes and Waltz Country Dances so general by his Dancing them while he was in London, Mr Yates has had many applications to teach them;. The public opinion was shifting.

The most elite of Regency London's fashionable dancing venues was Almack's Assembly Rooms. It's unclear exactly when Waltzes were first introduced at Almacks, but they were danced there from at least the year 1815 (Morning Post, 6th May 1815), perhaps following the Tsar's visit. The image in Figure 7 is believed to show Lord Kirkcudbright waltzing with Lady Jersey at Almack's in 1817, this is the same Lady Jersey who opened the Ball at Burlington House in 1814 by Waltzing with the Tsar. If the image is to be taken literally, it shows that Almacks' fashionable dancers were waltzing with a more permissive arm-around-the-waist embrace than referenced in the earlier publications. The inroduction of waltzing at Almacks was of social significance; the anonymous author of an 1860s retrospective Recollections of Almacks described the introduction of the waltz:

Modestly, at first, did young men and maidens, who had scarcely so much as shaken hands, come into contact tender enough for affianced lovers. Deeply did virtuous matrons blush whilst worthy fathers looked in from the card-room with horror on their roseate faces; but being assured that all was right, and my Lady Sophy Lindamell had waltzed away, first of all with Captain Cutbush, went back again with an air of resignation to their long whist. It is very long since matrons have ceased to blush when they see their young daughters carried off in the whirl of some human teetotum. They blush only, and with resentment too, when their blooming daughters are suffered to sit still.

The waltz, fixed by fate, as it would seem to be, has had its variations. When first introduced, it was à trois temps, danced with a slow, sinking step; the left hand of the lady was rested on the upper part of her partner's right arm; it is now placed on his shoulder. The other two hands, conjoined, were held out and aloft, looking like a handle, and the further extended the better; they are now lowered, and the step is à deux temps - rapid as human will can make it.
Thomas Raikes in his diary also mentioned the introduction of Waltzing at Almack's: What scenes have we witnessed in those days at Almacks', &c.! What fear and trembling in the debutantes at the commencement of a waltz, what giddiness and confusion at the end!.

The 1815 novel Rhoda (advertised in The Gloucester Journal, 16th October 1815) by Frances Jacson featured an eponymous character who struggled with the morality of the Waltz before eventually succumbing to temptation: 'I should like to waltz of all things,' said Rhoda; 'but I certainly will not, if you disapprove it.'. The heroine is repeatedly warned of the dangers of the Waltz, and her beau swears he'd never marry a lady who waltzes. It's interesting that the Waltz would feature so heavily in a novel of 1815 - the same year that Jane Austen published Emma. Austen's characters don't explicitly dance the waltz, though a waltz tune does get referenced in Emma.

A poetic description of the Waltz was published in The Star, 5th July 1816 (see Figure 8). The Star in turn associates it with the Argyll Rooms on the 28th June 1816, perhaps describing a raucous Waltz party that was actually held there. It reads:

Figure 8. Waltzing at the Argyll Rooms, The Star, 5th July 1816. (Courtesy of NewspaperArchive.com )
Get all the Ladies that you can,
And let each Lady have a man;
Let them, in a circle plac'd
Take their partners round the waist;
Then by slow degrees advance,
Till the walk becomes a dance;
Then the twirling, face to face,
Without variety of grace,
Round and round, and never stopping,
Now and then a little hopping;
When you're wrong, to make things worse,
If one couple, so perverse,
Should in the figure, be perplex'd.
Let them be knock'd down by the next.
"Quicker now," the ladies cry;
They rise, they twirl, they swing, they fly,
Puffing, blowing, jostling, squeezing,
Very odd, but very pleasing
Till ev'ry Lady plainly shews,
(Whatever else she may disclose),
Reserve is not among her faults:
Reader, this it is to waltz!
This describes a (perhaps) less socially acceptable form of waltzing. The characteristics include:
  • As many couples as wish begin by walking around the room.
  • Partners are held around the waist (see Figure 7).
  • As the music gets faster, the couples begin twirling.
  • Disorientation is to be expected.
  • Couples might need to cease dancing.

The poem was published at around the same time that The Times newspaper (16th July 1816) published a strong anti-waltzing statement after the Waltz was danced at Court: So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the evil example of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion (I read a reprint of this statement from The Gloucester Journal, 29th July 1816). The trigger for this furore was a ball held at Carlton House on Friday 12th July, the Morning Chronicle reported (15th July 1816) dancing commenced at a quarter before twelve in waltzing and cotillions, in which none of the Royal family joined.. Members of the Royal family had been recorded as Waltzing on previous occasions, so The Times seem to have been a little untimely in their stance; for example, the Prince was reported to have danced a Waltz at Brighton Pavilion in 1805 (Belfast Commercial Chronicle, 4th December, 1805).

Figure 9. La Walse, Étrennes à Terpsichore, Marque, 1821.
Courtesy of Biblioteca Nacional de España.

Opinions regarding the Waltz can (perhaps) be seen between the different social stratas of London society. The dancing master Thomas Wilson wrote about this in the preface to his 1816 The Correct Method of Waltzing. He began by admitting that most English dancers till lately preferred the English Country Dance to the Waltz, then added:

Yet Waltzing, since its origin, has ever been a particularly favorite amusement in the higher circles of fashion; and from the recent influx of foreigners into this country, and the visits of the English to the continent, where Waltzing, as well as every other species of Dancing, are much more indulged in than in this country, it has now become much more fashionable with us.
He ascribed the anti-waltz sentiment to prejudice, but wrote that its favoritism has considerably increased with its practice. He concluded that Waltzing, notwithstanding all the opposition its more extensive practice has had to encounter, is now generally considered so chaste, in comparison with Country Dancing, Cotillions, or any other species of Dancing, that ... Waltzing is more frequently substituted for Country Dancing, than the latter is for the former.

A further class difference can be seen in an anecdote published in The Ton (advertised in The Morning Post, 17th December 1818). It reports: A certain lady at the east-end of the town, who must need ape the belles of the West, in having her daughter taught the harp, and to dance quadrilles and waltzes, asked a gentleman, who had been walking out with her daughter, where he had left her: the gentleman replied, "in the arms of her dancing-master." This struck the mother so forcibly, that she discontinued the lessons of waltzing..

A Ball at the Royal Pavilion in Brighton in 1817 also featured a Waltz (Morning Chronicle, 20th January 1817). It was hosted in honour of Duke Nicholas of Russia, the report includes an interesting detail:

His Imperial Highness, as adopted in Russia, preceded the waltz with a Polonaise march and step, in which the dancers move round the space allotted for the exercise in graceful motion, ere the more intricate varieties of the waltz are pursued.
Marching or Promenading around the room prior to a waltz was normal, but on this occasion a specifically Russian style of marching was introduced.

An interesting annecode from 1822 is preserved in The London Magazine. It recorded an elegant little ball on board a ship. The Master of Ceremonies, Colonel St. Etienne, wished to begin the ball with a waltz; He then requested Mr. L.'s permission to ask Mrs. L. to commence the ball, by walking a waltz with him, which being granted much more readily than I had imagined, the Colonel proceeded to avail himself of it, and in an instant appeared upon the floor with Mrs. L. who, however, had demured to a waltz, but consented, as we were informed, to a minuet. On this occasion the fashionable waltz was replaced with the elegance of the old court minuet, but with the appropriate rules of etiquette being attended to, and husbandly permission being requested and granted.

Figure 10 Waltzing, 1825. Courtesy of The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University.

An 1822 poem in The New Monthly Magazine described a Waltz danced at a private gathering:

First, Richard and I, like a proper taught pair,
Whirl'd round in quick time, clearing sofa and chair:
One hand firmly grappled his shoulder, the other
Hung gracefully down, far apart from my brother
My eyes loved the ground, that I might not be giddy:
How like a Mercandotti spun elegant Liddy!
Thus, thrice round the ball-room without pause or flurry,
I shew'd how we managed those matters in Surrey.

The advice for avoiding giddiness is of particular interest.

Society was changing, and had changed. So much so that in 1819 the Cheltenham Chronicle published a reminder that the old Country Dances shouldn't be forgotten amidst the fervour of Waltzing and Quadrilling:

Sir, I am sure you will not refuse to give a place in your paper to the humble demonstrance and petition of an ill-treated family, of genuine British origin: and in this seat of Mirth, Harmony, and Good-humour, where the natives of the principal portion of the king's domains, live together like members of one family; I hope your readers will view with pity and compassion the case of three injured sisters: and that the 'formal Quadrille' and 'immodest Waltz', shall no longer be suffered to drive from their recollection their old favourites, THE IRISH, SCOTCH and ENGLISH COUNTRY DANCES.

Waltzing with the Dancing Masters

So far we've been able to discuss the Waltz with almost no reference to the publications of the dancing masters. At this point I have to admit to a slightly heretical opinion... I don't think most dancers 200 years ago much cared for the tuition and finesse of dancing masters! The Waltz, as with all social dances, is primarily danced for enjoyment, and so long as dancers have an ear for the music and some degree of timing, precise stepping isn't particularly important. However, if you wanted to pay for tuition, there was no shortage of masters prepared to accept your money.

The primary publication that documents the Waltzes of the Regency era is the 1816 The Correct Method of Waltzing by Thomas Wilson. Wilson also published an 1817 work called Le Moulinet, the Allemande and the Waltz Quadrilles, I'm unaware of any surviving copies of the second work. Wilson was influential in popularising the Waltz, La Belle Assemblée in 1817 wrote We may almost venture to affirm that no one has brought the Waltz to such perfection in this country as Mr. Wilson (an opinion that Wilson himself probably shared).

Wilson defined two categories of Waltz, those of the French and those of the Germans. He subdivided the French style into Slow, Sauteuse and Jette. The precise steps to each variant were defined, and examples of suitable music were provided together with illustrations to help describe the figures (see Figure 13). Wilson explained that the different types of French Waltz would be combined together into a medley, and used at different points in the dance depending on the speed of the music. This matches the earlier descriptions of the Waltz that we've seen; it also matched Skillern & Challoner's c.1815 #22 of A Favorite Collection of Popular Country Dances, a collection of 6 waltzes which were arranged so as to be played in immediate succession and to form one continued WALTZ. Waltz medleys were popular. Wilson's terminology wasn't universally used however; for example a Mr Howard continued to teach 3-8 Waltzing and 6-8 Waltzing in Cumbria in 1821 (Cumberland Pacquet, and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser, 27th August 1821).

Figure 11. Waltzing! or a peep into the Royal Brothel, 1816

© Trustees of the British Museum

As an aside, I have a theory that the Sauteuse waltz step may be related to the Irish Shauntreuse. I have no evidence on which to base this theory, other than that the music for both dances tends to be in 6/8 time, and they have similar sounding names. It's probably nonsense...

Less controversially, the Sauteuse Allemande dance had been taught in Britain in 1770 by M. Gherardi, it may have been a direct predecessor to the Sauteuse Waltz.

Wilson promoted many different waltzing embraces, the elbow and finger-tip holds weren't the only elegant options (see Figure 13, Figure 2, Figure 9, Figure 10 & Figure 12). He suggested that waltzing partners should be selected for their similarity in height, and emphasised the need for balance and mutual support; waltzers should not pull their partners round the room. He explained that waltzing couples should advance into the position of the couple in front of them, rather than dance independently. He acknowledged that the Waltz could be abused through indecent levity, but when performed correctly it's of a totally different tendency to that which has been lately most erroneously impressed on the mind of society in general.

Wilson was also responsible for publishing collections of Waltz Country Dances from 1815. Most of the Country Dance collections he collaborated with from that date include examples; they were similar to regular Country Dances in waltz time, but with the added interest of Waltz based turns. Instructions such as Pousette a-la-Waltz were featured. He also promoted other hybrid dances such as the Waltz Minuet and Waltz Cotillion. Examples of Wilson's Waltz Country Dances include The Equestrian (1818) and Twoli (1818); a further example can be found in Major's 1820 The King of Hearts Waltz. Wilson claimed to have personally invented this hybrid dance form; and that he intended to publish a book on the subject (sadly I'm unaware of any surviving copies); he included a footnote within later editions of his A Companion to the Ball Room attached to a dance called L'Augustin Waltz in which he wrote:

N.B. To render this species of Music more useful to the dancer & more general in its application than waltzes now published are, the Author has set to them a few figures entirely adapted to that new & elegant system of dancing called Country dance Waltzing, or Waltz Country Dancing.

The new species of Waltzing so denominated is entirely of the Authors invention, & being of a more recent date than that given in his last Treatise on German & French Waltzing is of course wholly different from it --- this note therefore is requisite to prevent those who are unacquainted with the various kinds of waltzing from supposing that work to be deficient on this account. --- A Treatise on this new department of waltzing is now preparing for the Press & in the mean time any instruction on this head may be acquired by applying at the authors residence.
Wilson's claim to have invented the Waltz Country Dance is not without controversy; the imperial Russian state visit in 1814 was also reported to have introduced this hybrid convention to London (e.g. Liverpool Mercury, 23rd October 1814), so Wilson may have adapted the Russian style of Waltzing.

Wilson was also known for choreographing waltz medleys for display or stage purposes. He arranged a Valentine Waltz in which the several letters forming the word 'Valentine' will be successively displayed by the group of Ladies performing it (The Morning Post, 10th February 1816). Wilson described this Waltz in poetry (The Morning Post, 13th February 1836):

Twelve pretty young Ladies the dance will perform,
At the end of each strain they a letter will form;
And make nine in succession, and these so combine,
To make, when united, the word Valentine.
He elsewhere described a perhaps similar form of display waltzing as The English Waltz, something he'd arranged for 48 dancers (The Address, 1821) and considered to be a new dance form of his own invention.

Other dancing masters were also active in teaching and experimenting with the Waltz. Edward Payne published a collection of Waltzes c.1816 that were probably the first Waltz Quadrilles in England; he also pioneered the Spanish Country Dances that were influenced by the Waltz from around 1816. He taught at least three variants of the waltz in early 1816: Mr. Payne has the honour to inform the Nobility, Gentry &c, that he continues to teach the Russian, German, French, and the most fashionable style of Waltzing, with ease, elegance, and expedition (Morning Post, 27th March 1816). G.M.S. Chivers included information on Waltzes in his publications from 1818, Figure 12 shows the 16 Divisions of Waltzing that he considered to be most fashionable c.1822.

One important further source is the Lowes' Ball-Conductor & Assembly Guide, the first two editions of which were published in Glasgow in 1822; the later third edition described eight waltz holds. The Lowes were a family of dancing masters with academies across Scotland; I've quoted from the 1831 third edition. They offer the following waltz embraces:

Figure 12. G.M.S. Chivers' 16 Divisions of Waltzing, c.1822.


  • The Half Support The Gentleman puts his right hand round the Lady's waist, and holds her right hand with his left, whilst she rests her left hand upon his shoulder.
  • The Mutual Support Each person puts the right hand round the other's waist, whilst they allow their left hands to hang down; rest them on each other's shoulders, or place them behind their backs.
  • The Entire Support The Gentleman places both his hands upon the Lady's sides, whilst she rests her hands upon his shoulders.
  • The Little Window The right hands are joined and held up, whilst the left hands are placed on each other's sides. In performing this figure, the hands are frequently changed.
  • The Great Window The right hands are joined and raised high, whilst the left hands are placed upon each other's elbows.
  • The Repose The Lady rests both hands on the Gentleman's right shoulder, whilst he supports her by placing his hands upon her sides.
  • The Coronation The Lady puts both her hands together, and the Gentleman supports them with his right hand above her head, placing his left hand upon her side.
  • The Imprisonment The Gentleman holds the Lady's left hand with his right; she then holds up her right hand, and turns fully round towards him; and when his right arm is round her waist, he takes her right hand with her left, and proceeds round the room with an allemand step.
Some similarity in these entwined embraces may be detected with the earlier Allemande dance, examples of which can be seen in the 1770 Almanach dansant, ou positions et attitudes de l'allemande, avec un discours préliminaire sur l'origine et l'utilité de la danse. The Lowes add: It has been of late fashionable to dance waltzes so fast, that only the first and second of the foregoing figures can be used; but when the waltz is performed slowly, as it ought to be, the whole may be used, and many more. They went on to mention three waltz steps, though the reference to the Gallopade dates these descriptions to c.1830:
  • The Sauteuse or Jumping Waltz, is performed by making a jetté or spring from one foot to the other every time the step is performed.
  • The Gallopade Waltz is performed with the chassé trois, instead of the step and demi pirouette.
  • The Hopser Waltz is performed by a jetté and hop each time.

Several other publications discussed the various Waltz steps at this date, the most prominent being Wilson's The Correct Method of Waltzing. Edward Payne also documented the Waltz and Promenade steps in his 1818 Instructions for Spanish Dancing. His descriptions aren't readily available elsewhere, so I've quoted them here:

Promenade StepWaltz Step
This step commences from the 1st or 3rd pos. with the *left foot before, you make a step forward with the left foot into the 4th pos. then bring the right up to the left, into the 1st pos. afterwards with the knees perfectly straight, rise on your toes and quickly let both heels fall to the floor, repeat the same with the right foot, then again with the left, and as often as the figure of the dance may require.

This step occupies One bar in 3/4 time, suppose the bar to contain three crotchets, the step forward answers to the first note, bringing the foot up behind to the second, and the rise and fall answers to the third crotchet, in 2/4 or 6/8 time, the step is performed in the same manner, the alteration that occurs must be regulated by the Ear.

(*) The lady always commences with the right foot before.
To perform this step place your left foot into the 2nd pos. turning the foot a little forwards, which will incline your left shoulder round, then place the right foot behind into the 5th pos. and turn on your toes have round, finishing with the right foot before in the 3rd pos. at the same time let the two heels fall to the floor, then on your toes advance, the right foot well turned outwards to the 4th pos. afterwards step round with the left to the 2nd pos. on your toes, then bring the right foot to the left into the 1st pos at the same time let both heels fall to the floor, the same again repeated as often as the figure of the dance may require. This step occupied Two bars.

For a Lady and Gentleman

To perform this step, at the time the gentleman places his left foot into the 2nd pos. the lady advances her right into the 4th pos. as the gentleman places his right foot behind and turns half round, the lady steps round with the left and brings her right foot into the 1st pos. the gentleman now advances his right foot into the 4th pos. while the lady steps with her left into the 2nd pos. the gentleman then steps round with his left foot into the 2nd pos. and brings the right up to the 1st pos. as the lady places her right foot behind in the 5th pos. and turns on the toes half round, which completes the step.

Waltz dance music was often associated with Quadrille dancing. Most Quadrille publications of the 1810s and 1820s also included an example Waltz tune in addition to the promised Quadrille Set, and Waltz and Quadrille Balls remained popular throughout the 1820s.

R. Hill, author of the 1822 A Guide to the Ball Room (I'm quoting from the 1830 edition) wrote of the Waltz: There is a great variety in the time of the music, as introductory steps are made use of, such as the March, the Slow, the Sauteuse, and the quick Sauteuse Waltz; but the general time should be played moderately. The most graceful are the French and German progressive and setting steps, but the great art in Waltzing is to be particular to the elegant movement of the head and arms, which require the aid of a master, as well as great practice.

The elegance of the Waltz is something the Dancing Masters clearly emphasised. Wilson included the following passage in his 1821 The Address commenting on the poor performance of some dancers:

It is too frequently observed, that in public assemblies, persons are to be found, who not only Waltz in an awkward and inelegant manner; but by hugging and dancing so close to their partners, stamping with their feet, bending forward at their knees, and poking out their elbows, disgust the spectators, and prove unpleasant to their partners; this method of Waltzing is not only objectionable to the company, but tends to bring this elegant species of Dancing into disrepute, which if well performed according to the Rules laid down, will be found to be one of the most elegant and interesting departments of the art. It is not alone sufficient to make a good Waltzer, to have a correct knowledge of the steps, or a brilliant execution of the feet; but they must be united with a graceful carriage of the head and arms, and an easy and elegant deportment of the person.

Wilson of course hoped to sell his own tuition (and books), and thereby improve the English waltzer. The anonymous A Gentleman in his 1823 Etiquette of the Ball Room commented on the process by which the Waltz came to be accepted in England:

Figure 13. Wilson's Waltz figures, 1816, from A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing
Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France.
When Waltzing first its fashion found,
To be practis'd on English ground,
It was objected to for reason -
It was thought to decency a treason,
Russians, like bears, hug and squeeze,-
But did not English Ladies please;
At any rate, where ceremony required,
Sight of Waltzing soon tir'd;
Patience became exhausted - at an end -
To see the attitudes Russian bend;
So wisely alter'd the foreign form,
For graceful movements to step adorn.
The English provided graceful movements for the Waltz, and gradually the dance was Anglicised. But the process of acceptance changed the English nation itself, intimate couple-dances remained popular throughout the 19th Century.

Our investigation of the Waltz ends here, though the story of the Waltz certainly doesn't. If you have any more information that amplifies the early history of the Waltz in Britain, we'd love to hear it, so please do get in touch.

If you'd like to learn more about the early Waltz, I'd recommend reading Thomas Wilson's 1816 A Description of the Correct Method of Waltzing. I can also recommend Volume 7 of John Gardiner-Garden's Historic Dance, and Susan de Guardiola's Capering & Kickery blog. On a more practical level I can recommend Waltzing, A Manual for Dancing and Living by Richard Powers and Nick Enge. If you'd like to see some Regency era Waltz music, I've shared a copy of Monro's c.1818 Waltziana from my personal collection here.











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