The waltz is a smooth, progressive ballroom and folk dance, performed primarily in closed position.
There are several references to a sliding or gliding dance—a waltz—from the 16th century, including the representations of the printer H.S. Beheim. The French philosopher Montaigne wrote of a dance he saw in 1580 in Augsburg, where the dancers held each other so closely that their faces touched. Kunz Haas (of approximately the same period) wrote, "Now they are dancing the godless Weller or Spinner." "The vigorous peasant dancer, following an instinctive knowledge of the weight of fall, utilizes his surplus energy to press all his strength into the proper beat of the measure, thus intensifying his personal enjoyment in dancing."
In the 19th and early 20th century, numerous different waltz forms existed, including versions performed in 3/4 or 6/8 (sauteuse), and 5/4 time (5/4 waltz, half and half)
In the 1910s, a form called the "Hesitation Waltz" was introduced by Vernon and Irene Castle. It incorporated "hesitatiZons" and was danced to fast music. A hesitation is basically a halt on the standing foot during the full waltz measure, with the moving foot suspended in the air or slowly dragged. Similar figures (Hesitation Change, Drag Hesitation, and Cross Hesitation) are incorporated in the International Standard Waltz Syllabus.
The Country Western Waltz is mostly progressive, moving counter clock wise around the dance floor. Both the posture and frame are relaxed, with posture bordering on a slouch. The exaggerated hand and arm gestures of some ballroom styles are not part of this style. Couples may frequently dance in the promenade position, depending on local preferences. Within Country Western waltz, there is the Spanish Waltz and the more modern (for the late 1930s- early 1950s) Pursuit Waltz. At one time it was considered ill treatment for a man to make the woman walk backwards in some locations.
In California the waltz was banned by Mission fathers until after 1834 because of the "closed" dance position. Thereafter a Spanish Waltz was danced. This Spanish Waltz was a combination of dancing around the room in closed position, and a "formation" dance of two couples facing each other and performing a sequence of steps. "Valse a Trois Temps" was the "earliest" waltz step, and the Rye Waltz was favored as a couple dance.
In contemporary ballroom dance, the fast versions of the waltz are called Viennese Waltz.
In traditional Irish music, the waltz was taught by traveling dancing masters to those who could afford their lessons during the 19th century. By the end of that century, the dance spread to the middle and lower classes of Irish society and traditional triple-tune tunes and songs were altered to fit the waltz rhythm. During the 20th century, the waltz found a distinctively Irish playing style in the hands of Céilidh musicians at dances.
International Standard Waltz has only closed figures; that is, the couple never breaks the embrace.
The American Style Waltz, part of the American Smooth ballroom dance syllabus, in contrast to the International Standard Waltz, involves breaking contact almost entirely in some figures. For example, the Syncopated Side-by-Side with Spin includes a free spin for both partners. Open rolls are another good example of an open dance figure, in which the follower alternates between the lead's left and right sides, with the lead's left or right arm (alone) providing the lead. Waltzes were the staple of many American musicals and films, including "Waltz in Swing Time" sung by Fred Astaire.
The Scandinavian Waltz, performed as a part of Scandinavian folk dance, can be fast or slow, but the dancers are always rotating.
The Peruvian Waltz is called and recognized in Peru as vals criollo.
The Cajun Waltz is danced progressively around the floor, and is characterized by the subtle swaying of the hips and step very close to ordinary walking. It is danced entirely in the closed position.
The Cuban (or Tropical) Waltz follows the pattern of the standard waltz throughout the song.
The Venezuelan waltz provided a basis for distinctive regional musical composition.
The Contra Waltz (Freeform Waltz), included in most contra dance evenings, uses both open and closed positions, and incorporates moves from other dances such as swing, modern jive and salsa. Basically the dancers progress around the dance floor with a waltz step, but with no constraints on what moves they can use.
The Valse Musette, a form of waltz popular in France, started in the late 19th century.
The cross-step waltz (French Valse Boston) developed in France in the early 20th century and is popular in social waltz groups today.