Saturday, March 17, 2007

When the Waltz was Banned

The Waltz was the focus of outrage as the dance spread from Austria and Germany to France and England in the late 18th and early 19th century:

'[The Waltz] had a swing that demanded a new style of dancing, a close hold (to maintain balance), and a breathless turn of speed that was itself intoxicating. Naturally, the pleasure it gave to the couples who lost themselves in each other's arms, who pressed breast against chest and who, as the music whirled on, embraced each other more and more tightly, itself attracted strong criticism. In parts of Germany and Switzerland, the waltz was banned altogether. A German book proving that "the waltz is a main source of the weakness of body and mind of our generation" proved popular as late as 1799...

Byron himself displayed an extraordinary hostility to the dance. He objected to the "lewd grasp and lawless contact warm," especially between strangers; to the foreign origins of the dance and its adoption by the lower classes; and to the fact that "thin clad daughters" leaping around the floor would not "leave much mystery for the nupital night."

An article in The Times in 1816 about 'the indecent foreign dance called the "waltz"' fumed:

'National morals depend on national habits: and it is quite sufficient to cast one's eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs, and close compressure of the bodies, in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adultresses we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced upon 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'.

Source: Peter Buckman, Let’s Dance: Social, Ballroon and Folk Dancing (Paddington Press, London, 1978), p.124-7

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