Let's start at the very beginning.
Where did the waltz come from?
Back to pretty much the dawn of history, Rural folk frolicked in their traditional folk revelries with pair dances and circle dances and line dances of all kinds. This stuff that doesn't get into the archeological record. Literate folk saw no reason to record the details.
But we have pictures.
Polite ballroom dances like the waltz evolved out of this madness.
So did "country dancing", which was what they were doing in English assembly halls and ballrooms in late Eighteenth Century to early 1800s. These were not so much "country" as in 'I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool' but "Contre". Contre-dance — highly mannered French group dance. Kinda like . . . well . . . square dancing.
Here's an example of a country dance. See Darcy and Elizabeth talk while they dance. That's a conversation all snipped up and intermittent, isn't it?
But country dances were also somewhat like this on the right.
Touching goes on. Arms around waists. Side to side touching. Emotion. "All the feels", so to speak. Hubba hubba.
Dancing madness in a contre-dance.
Anyhow, those wild and crazy Europeans waltzed in their ballrooms long before the dance leapt the Channel. Ye Staid Old English considered waltzing risqué in 1790 and 1800. A man touching a woman's body with only four layers of clothing in between? His hand resting on her back! Horrors!
Many a waltz sneaked in under the radar in the early years of the century.Not quite quite dancing. Vulgar dancing.
But so much fun. By 1810 to 1812, social leaders like the Countess of Shaftesbury and the Duchess of Devonshire played the waltz at their balls. The waltz had arrived.
In 1810 a man could write,
"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 Royal Cornwall Gazette (17th November 1810).
". . . 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 . . . , 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."
Morning Post in 1811
Elbow holding. What is the world coming to?
So why was the waltz so shocking to contemporaries? Maybe not so much what managed to get touched . . . but for how long. I think, the uneasiness was about extended physical connection. Long eye contact. Maybe even the chance to hold an uninterrupted conversation. Radical idea, men and women talking.
A contemporary said, "it is susceptible of degrees of personal familiarity which render it liable to gross abuse."
Who shall disagree?
What's your favorite dance to do or to watch? English Country Dancing? American Square? Clogging? Irish Dance?
One lucky commenter takes home their choice of one of my books.