Slow Waltz was probably the first ballroom dance you've learned. In my country Slovenia we have a beautiful custom to dance it with a parent at three important life milestones – the end of primary school ball, the prom ball and the wedding ball.
Slow Waltz is simple to learn, the music sounds like a tender invitation to a place where there is love. It is timeless regardless of the purpose behind it. As a competitive ballroom dance, Slow Waltz has elevated over decades since 1922 into a symbol of smoothness, perfect glide and most of all a swinging freedom through space and time, weightless and nearly magical.
A long process of mastering the fundamental technique of this dance is needed in order to achieve its unique atmosphere and preserve its character. It can only happen if the movement merges together with the music. Due to beautiful Waltz melodies your body wants to swing, turn and elevate or nearly levitate in an attempt to reach the peaks that symbolise freedom, hope, peace...·
Attention to basic principles
The basic principles which create the character of Slow Waltz are rise and fall, lateral swing combined with rotation and sway. Sway is most obvious in Slow Waltz due to the more pronounced rise and fall and the lilt/upward trend of the dance.
Way back, when I was learning from great experts like Bill and Bobbie Irvine, I realised that each step has a purpose – for example how much you lower in order to measure the amount of swing that you are going to produce. The strongest step has to come together with the strongest beat which in Waltz is the first in the bar. However, you need to anticipate (lower at the end on the third beat) in order that you arrive on the first beat rather than start on it.
No feet, no flight
You've heard many times: "No feet, no flight." What does that mean? I would say without the correct foot-usage you cannot control the rise and fall and the foot scale needs to be mastered from flat to low ball, ball, high ball up to toe and vice-versa. Like do-re-mi-fa-so in solfeggio voice mastering. Rise and fall should appear effortless and for that you need the strength of a tiger in your feet and core to dance with the freedom of a bird.
The correct application of rise and fall is not only required in basic movements, but also in turns, spins and pivots to stay in the character of the dance. Your feet remain in contact with the floor at all times allowing a smooth, gliding look.
On which beat in the music do you reach the peak of the rise? There are several types of rise and fall in the Slow Waltz. When closing the feet on step 3, the rise will start at the end of beat 1, continue to rise on 2 and 3 and lower at the end of beat 3. So the peak will be reached during the first part of beat 3. Often the peak is achieved already at the end of the second beat and then kept up on the first half of the third beat, for example figures with four weight transfers over one bar of music (Chasse from PP, Turning Lock) or figures when the feet finish apart on step 3 (Outside Change, Wing as Lady, Whisk, Back Whisk).
Your ability to stay up has a lot to do with accurate foot usage, entire body weight coordination and balancing skills. If your feet are not relaxed enough you will not absorb and control the body weight to the fullest. The strength lies not only in the actual physical strength of your feet, legs and core, but also in your ability to coordinate and unify different body parts. They need to work for each other (standing leg versus supporting leg, one body side for the other...)
Unity is strength! Photo credit - Sybil Tay
Practise with a sense of having time to accomplish each action accurately. Pay more attention to give time to the closing leg. Slow Waltz is not a running dance, quite the opposite, it has a potential to prolong/stretch the time, taking a moment of breath.
Here is the most beautiful example of how to make time rather than cutting it away, a truly romantic dance, composed of soft, round, flowing movements. Observe the rising and hovering actions and how it is possible to maintain the perfect smoothness.
Talking is a need, listening is an art
The aim of every dancer is to talk to the music, to merge with it. In order to talk sense, we need to learn to listen. Ask yourself how attentively you listen to the music, what Slow Waltz music tells you.
Pendulum swing, the most typical Slow Waltz movement, was without doubt inspired by typical melodies in music. There are many great examples you could listen to, starting with romantic Waltzes written far ago by Chopin (Nocturne Op.9 No.2), Mozart (Piano Concerto No.21) and later Satie (Gnossiennes).
The spirit of Waltz inspired many great musicians; composers, conductors and singers. If you prefer to listen to popular music, film music or musical, here are some suggestions for you: 'Moon river' (from the movie Breakfast at Tiffany's), 'A time for us' (from the musical Phantom of the Opera), 'Fascination' (Nat King Cole), 'Are you lonesome tonight' (Elvis Presley), 'You light up my life', 'I will always love you' (Whitney Houston), 'If you don't know me by now' (Simply Red), 'Love ain't here anymore' (Take That), 'Come away with me' (Norah Jones),...
Speaking about Slow Waltz music and dance I cannot not mention Victor Silvester.
Tribute to Victor Silvester OBI (1900-1978)
Victor Silvester was one of most significant figures in the development of ballroom dance during the first half of the 20th century; dancer, writer, musician, band leader and founding member and later the president of ISTD (Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing). He was one of the first English dancers to feature the full Natural Turn in the Slow Waltz. Maybe that is why he won the first World Ballroom Dancing Championship in 1922 with Phyllis Clarke as his partner.
However, it was difficult to make a full turn on natural and reverse turns, therefore Frank Ford, another great dancer at that time, suggested making only 3/4 of a turn over each basic turn that resulted in a diagonal pattern on the floor and the so-called "diagonal" Waltz was born.
Victor Silvester published his first book 'Modern Ballroom Dancing' embodying the new standards in 1927. By 1958, when he published his autobiography, he was the most successful dance band leader in British musical history. His recordings conformed precisely to the number of bars per minute, a concept termed "strict tempo" and his records sold 75 million copies from the 1930s through to the 1980s.
The Silvester band always had a distinctive sound, achieved by a rhythm section, two alto and two tenor saxophones, a lead violin and two pianos, one taking turns in melodies and the other maintaining an improvisation which Silvester called his "lemonade". Many of his Slow Waltz tunes are still very popular with top dancers and coaches today – 'Anniversary Waltz', 'Fascination Waltz', 'Cuban Lady', 'Sleepy Lagoon', 'Charmaine', 'Always'…
Many Slow Waltz choreographies nowadays seem overloaded with lines and effects. Maybe what is ruining ballroom dancing today is what we usually call "human greed", always wanting to have more. Although I'm not sure this is the prevalent reason. We can approach the phenomenon of "never enough" a bit differently.
Without a doubt life today is defined by excess. There must always be more, there is never enough. Ask yourself whether you work to have a decent life or to have more money. It seems that we need a surplus to what we need in order to be able to truly enjoy what we have.
In his recently published book 'Surplus – Enjoyment, A guide for the non-perplexed' Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek argues that what is surplus to our needs is by its very nature unnecessary. But without this surplus, we wouldn't be able to enjoy what truly is of considerable importance.
In our case, what needs to be determined is which figures to choose and how to interpret them to create a balanced, characteristic choreography. Is there a way out or are we forever doomed to want more? Indeed, without the surplus we wouldn't be able to identify what would be the perfect amount. Could it be that perfection and sophistication lie in simplicity?
Source of inspiration
Alex Moore - "Ballroom dancing"
Philip J.S. Richardson - “A history of English Ballroom Dancing”