Why The Waltz?

One of the earworms from which I suffer from time to time is the Radetsky March by Strauss Senior. If the Blue Danube (by his son) can be regarded as an unofficial Austrian national anthem, so too can this.

Meeting Viennese popular music again in Claudio Magris’ travelogue of the Danube inspired me to research the waltz. When I was about 13 my parents, who conceptually belonged to a nineteenth century that they had never actually seen, wanted me to learn it and thereby meet girls. They claimed that failure to do so was due to my inability to ballroom-dance, though this being already the Sixties I was not entirely convinced.

I have previously waxed sarcastic about the finding of “romance” in mossy castle walls when it is not detected in Camp Bastion or Abu Ghraib, which fulfil just precisely the same function. Something similar might be said about the way in which costume dramas venerate what is essentially teenage gallantry in extremely expensive clothes – while at the same time mocking the disco era and its successors. But how exactly did the Saturday Night Fever of our own time differ from that of the late Habsburgs?

If we look at the waltz from an evolutionary perspective, we shall probably recognise it as a display of physical mastery. The same goes for all dancing, of course, but grace (something hard to define but we all know it when we see it) may even be a supreme biological signal.

The waltz was quite a revolutionary departure from the stately court dances in which the participants did not actually touch – although the peasants, to whom the waltz can be traced, certainly did. No, as compared with the minuets of Mozart’s day the waltz was an excuse for a good grope, and thus sociologically belongs together with the drive-in movie. In the Renaissance there had been even a step called the volta, in which the man more or less lifts the woman by the pussy, but the Viennese waltz turned such trumpery goings-on into middle-class property. If, as some aver, young people now go to clubs in order to fuck perfect strangers on the dance-floor, then the waltz was the first step on that particular road, and so perhaps its critics had a point.

Posted on May 22, 2011 at 17:51 by Hugo Grinebiter · Permalink

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