The ballroom dance that scandalized polite English society in the 19th century for its salacious pairing of men and women is causing a ruckus...
The ballroom dance that scandalized polite English society in the 19th century for its salacious pairing of men and women is causing a ruckus again. The waltz, it turns out, can have health benefits.
In a study of 110 heart-failure patients, presented at a recent meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago, researchers reported that dancing the waltz three times a week for eight weeks was just as effective in improving cardiopulmonary function as exercising on a treadmill or bicycle for the same period.
That’s because the waltz, which looks so smooth and elegant when done well, is deceptively rigorous. Because of that, its aerobic benefits extend to others as well, says Dr. William Averill, a cardiologist and past president of the association’s Los Angeles division.
Of course, die-hard aficionados knew this — and regard the recent study as vindication.
“The waltz is more of a workout than aerobics or running,” says Stuart Cole, co-owner of Vivo Dancesport Center in the Los Angeles area. On a recent Tuesday night, he was teaching both the slow (American) and faster (Viennese) styles of the waltz to several dozen students.
This most civilized of dances wasn’t always so socially acceptable.
“Of all the dances in history that created scandal, the waltz created the biggest uproar,” says Jeff Allen, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ballroom Dancing.” In fact, in 1816, The Times of London railed against the waltz’s encouragement of ” ‘voluptuous intertwining of the limbs,’ ” he says. “They made it sound like the lambada.”
Nevertheless, the waltz has always had its supporters — Napoleon and Queen Victoria among them — and has endured.
Although most people like the idea of the waltz, says Allen, many have no idea what it is. He estimates that as many as 80 percent of his students confuse it with romantic slow dancing, or ballad dancing. “That’s when people rock back and forth like two monkeys huddling in the rain,” he says.
The waltz is done in three-four time, or three beats to the bar. Imagine counting 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, very rapidly, with a weight change on every step, says Allen. There aren’t a lot of contemporary songs written in that cadence. So come wedding time, it’s slim pickings. Those that are waltzable include Anne Murray’s “Could I Have This Dance” and the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home.”
In the American-style waltz, there are 30 to 36 bars per minute, so you’re doing 90 weight changes per minute or more, he says. This style of waltz is great for toning and strengthening muscles, says Tami Stevens, co-owner of the Pasadena Ballroom Dance Association in Pasadena, Calif. “You’re elongating and stretching your body as you move,” she says. “We do a lot of turns and variations on it, so at the end of the dance, your heart is beating harder because you’ve been turning and twirling.”
The Viennese-style waltz is performed at 56 to 61 bars per minute, roughly twice the speed of the American waltz — even faster than a Lindy Hop or jitterbug, Allen says.
“You have to work yourself up to a Viennese waltz very much like an aerobics workout, because it’s nonstop,” says Loren Kalin, owner of the Long Beach Dance Centre in Long Beach, Calif. “The music is 1-2-3, and your feet have to move to that rhythm.”
“If you’re not in peak condition, you’re going to be almost dead by the time you end the song,” Allen says.
The dance requires excellent body control as the couple moves in and out of various positions, which isn’t easy. “The rib cage has to be lifted and supported from the abdominal muscles,” Allen says, while the hamstrings and gluts stretch vertically to keep an erect carriage.
The muscles work even harder as the dancer moves across the floor. As the dancer puts one foot down and moves another, he’s carrying the entirety of his torso weight plus his head, on every single dance step, he says. “If you can do the Viennese waltz, you don’t really have to worry about your health because you have to be in shape,” Allen says.
Not even “Dancing With the Stars” contestants will tackle that style of waltz — and that includes all-time NFL rushing leader Emmitt Smith, this season’s winner (nicknamed “Twinkle Toes” by the judges). Although the running back proved deceptively smooth and light on his feet, particularly in the waltz, he and other contestants mostly stayed away from the classic Viennese style.
“It’s just too fast,” Allen says.
Muscle and cardio benefits aside, the waltz has perks that a run on the elliptical doesn’t. Two words: less sweat. Waltzers get to exercise in an elegant setting, with pleasant music, and they don’t have to hold their noses while toweling someone else’s sweat from a chrome machine.
“No one smells bad, ” says Cecilia Yu, an avid waltzer who took up ballroom dance 14 years ago.
Where people go wrong is in assuming that it’s easy because it looks effortless.
“It’s very easy to dance the waltz,” says Theresa Woo, who dances with her husband at Vivo Dancesport Center. “But it’s very hard to do it right.”
Allen has even stronger words about the waltz: “It’s not good for you,” he says. “It’s fabulous.”