The Classical Period: Part 3
By Nina Pinzarrone
The classical period’s most famous dance form is the waltz. Popular in the late 18th century and the 19th century, this European ballroom dance in 3/4 time derived from the ländler, a peasant couple dance from Austria’s Alpine region of Landl. Danced outdoors, the ländler features hopping and stamping steps; the tempo is slow and heavy, and the music is reminiscent of yodeling. (In The Sound of Music, Maria and Captain von Trapp dance a ländler.)
The ländler’s slow tempo makes it useful for introducing the waltz step to beginning students.
Ballroom dancing was big business in the 1800s. In 1830, Vienna had dozens of dance halls. String orchestras played nightly to capacity crowds, and their leaders rose to popularity according to their innovations. Composer Joseph Lanner (1801–1843) created the waltz’s ballroom form, joining four or five waltz tunes and adding an introduction and coda. The form was perfected by Johann Strauss, the Elder (1804–1849), composer of Kettenbrücke Waltzes, Op. 4 (1828; used in Gerald Arpino’s 1971 ballet Kettentanz), and the “Waltz King,” Johann Strauss, the Younger (1825–1899), composer of The Blue Danube, Op. 314 (1867).
The waltz soon appeared in ballets and operas. Pierre Gardel was the first choreographer to use the waltz balletically, in his 1800 La Dansomanie. Composer Carl Maria von Weber, in his 1819 Invitation to the Dance (used in Michel Fokine’s 1911 ballet La Spectre de la rose), provided the dance world with the rhythm and accompaniment we still associate with the balletic waltz. After that, the waltz became a basic dance in classical and romantic ballets, used for large ensembles, pas de deux, and variations.
In ballet class, waltz music is excellent for almost any exercise, from tendus, pliés, and ronds de jambe to grand allegros.
Nina Pinzarrone, pianist at San Francisco Ballet since 1992, has bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Illinois and has recorded seven CDs for ballet class.