Waltz offences: when to call the police

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A fairground waltzer

A waltzer at Winter Wonderland, 2018. With no competition the most horrible experience (the waltzer) I have ever had. I thought I was going to die or throw up or both.

For no reason except that I love the story, here’s an interesting fact about the waltz in 19th century Innsbruck.

According to Eric McKee (2014) after 1780, the term deutscher Tanz, which until then meant any German spinning dance, began to refer to dances—like the Walzer (waltz)—where couples made circuits around the edge of the dance space, while also turning in their own, smaller circles. If you’ve ever been on a waltzer at a fairground, that’s the principle: a surprising case of a fancy name reliably describing the thing it’s applied to. 

For that reason, McKee refers to the waltz, Walzer, and Deutscher with the collective term Deutscher–Waltzer. The difference between these dances and the later “Viennese waltz” was that in the earlier forms, couples tried to co-ordinate their travel around the room with the other dancers, so that it was in effect a very large group dance. By contrast, in the first decade of the 19th century, couples began to treat the ballroom as a kind of anticlockwise circular motorway, choosing to create other smaller “lanes” inside the space, and varying the length of their stride so they could dawdle or overtake, choosing their own, independent speed. 

And here we come to my favourite bit of McKee’s description: 

However, in some regions an ordered an arrangement of dancers continued to be practiced. As late as 1816 in a dance hall in Innsbruck, upon his second warning a man could be reported to the police commissioner for passing ahead of another waltzing couple of the ballroom dance floor (Fink 1990, p. 39)

[The Fink citation at the end is part of McKee’s text. The quote above is from McKee 2014, p. 175)—see references for details].

Having seen the dirty looks that dancers in open classes can give to someone who fails to get out of the way at the end of a travelling exercise, or who is still working out the steps in their head in the middle of the studio while others are about to crash in to them, I can see the attraction of being able to call the police when you’re beyond narked. I’d be interested to know what the police commissioner thought about this—and what similar dancing crimes would be so heinous as to warrant a call to Cressida Dick? 

References

McKee, E. (2014). Ballroom dances of the late eighteenth century. In D. Mirka (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Topic Theory (pp. 164–193). New York: Oxford University Press. Retrieved from https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199841578.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199841578-e-7
Fink, M. (1990). Tanzveranstaltungen und Bälle. In W. Salmen (Ed.), Mozart in der Tanzkultur seiner Zeit (pp. 33–46). Innsbruck: Helbling.
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