The emergence of the waltz in Vienna
: a socio-cultural analysis of the dancing embrace

  • Catherine Dulin

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The emergence of the waltz onto the dance floors of Europe during the second half of the eighteenth century is noted to have caused a revolutionary shift in Western social dance history. Despite its popularity, the execution of the dance generated scandalous commentary, most especially due to the sexual nature of the classic waltz-hold. This thesis focuses on Vienna, the city most closely linked to the waltz, from 1740 to 1790 with the aim of understanding ‘how’ and ‘why’ a particular sector of society transitioned from the open dances of the late Baroque to the closedcouple intimacy of the early form of the waltz.

    By narrowing the subject matter to one place and a particular timeframe, this study implements a new methodology. Socio-cultural aspects linked to all social classes and the corporeality of the revolving, dancing embrace are integrated through a historical ethnographic approach. The analysis incorporates only period sources evident in the city, such as diaries, plays, books, newspapers and images, supported by relevant secondary sources. Primarily, the material was compiled sequentially in time and then evaluated chronologically to progressively follow the lives of the Viennese.

    The dancing embrace communicates both tangible and intangible sensations between couples on the dance floor, which correlates with the enlightened thoughts of the period on ‘nature’ and the ‘natural’. A corporeal release from more formal dances leads to the rise in the early form of the waltz amongst all classes. Two monarchs ruled during the decades examined, which reveal transitions within a city of aspirational subjects. Morality, censorship, the Catholic Church, and class proxemics transform as the years progress, but most particularly in the 1780s when a more sexually open city becomes evident. The results confirm parallel developments of the waltz within all classes in Vienna, as well as a new, corporeal perspective through the lens of the dancing embrace.
    Date of Award18 Dec 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Roehampton
    SponsorsThe Anglo-Austrian Society
    SupervisorTheresa Buckland (Director of Studies) & Helena Hammond (Co-Supervisor)


    • waltz
    • Vienna
    • eighteenth century
    • Social dance
    • enlightenment

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