YAKIMA, Wash. -- One of the most beautiful intersections of music and movement can be found in a dance called the waltz. A ballroom dance in 3/4 time, through its coming-of-age the waltz propelled transformation of the dance culture of its time and became one of the most popular dances in the world.
The waltz’s roots date to the 17th century in the location of modern Austria and Germany where peasants had devised a folk dance that, with its rolls, glides and turns, was different from the popular court dances.
Court dances of the day like the minuet were precisely choreographed and generally kept dancers at a polite arms’ length from each other. The basic steps of the waltz, on the other hand, could be learned in a relatively short time and allowed partners to be close and (to the moral outrage of many at the time) to place their arms around one another while spinning around the floor.
While religious leaders and dancing masters, whose livelihood depended on students taking many lessons to learn and master court dances, saw it as a threat and decried its shameless vulgarity, by the end of the 18th century even the highest society in Europe had accepted the waltz as the very embodiment of elegance and sophistication in dance.
Its popularity inspired many Austrian composers such as Johann Strauss I, Joseph Lanner and Johann Strauss II to compose waltzes, the latter of whom composed the iconic Viennese waltz, “The Blue Danube.” Through these composers, the waltz also found an enduring home in orchestral repertoire.
Concerts entirely or even partially composed of waltzes are hot tickets today, especially at this time of year as orchestras around the world echo the Viennese tradition of waltzing in the new year.
At the height of the recent recession, when the Yakima Youth Symphony Orchestra was looking for a new fundraiser, the idea of a waltzing event was conceived. It was an immediate success, as it combined one of the world’s most popular dances with beloved waltz music and live orchestra performance. The event included dancing to a live orchestra, dance instruction (for those new to waltzing), a dessert reception and a silent auction.
Eight seasons later, the YYSO is preparing for its ninth annual Waltzing With the Youth Symphony on Jan. 26. Eight seasons of graduating senior musicians have gone out into the world with at least the rudiments of waltzing, and they can thank the YYSO for helping them learn both the exquisite music and the dance which inspired its creation. They have an additional international and timeless tool in their backpacks through which they can meet new people, make connections and create opportunities: the waltz.
• This column was written by the Yakima Symphony Orchestra staff. Learn more at www.ysomusic.org.