How to Waltz

Robin Raven
waltzing pair

Just about anyone can learn how to waltz. It is a smooth, gliding dance in three-quarter time with a familiar 'one-two-three' rhythm, that doesn't require mastery of 'Latin hip' movement or syncopated downbeats. Learning waltz steps can be a fun and romantic activity for any couple looking for a new pastime. The waltz has long been considered a high-class dance with simple movements and impeccable style.

The Basic Box Step

Click the image below for printable instructions on how to perform the box step. If you need any help downloading the printable, read these helpful tips.

Six steps make up the basic box step, which will be repeated as the couple makes their way around the room. This will be two full counts of one-two-three.

  1. Leader steps forward with his left foot. Follower steps back with her right.
  2. Leader steps to the right with his right foot. Follower steps to the left with her left foot.
  3. Leader closes his left foot to his right. Follower closes her right foot to her left.
  4. Leader steps back with his right foot. Follower steps forward with her left foot.
  5. Leader steps to the left with his left foot. Follower steps to the right with her right foot.
  6. Leader closes his right foot to his left. Follower closes her left foot to right.

All movements come from this basic step. The couple can take small steps or very large steps. The leader can turn the follower, the two can dance very closely, or in a more open position.

Some Precautions

Leaders should:

  • Never pull or push but rather lead with the body, not the arm
  • Navigate the dance floor responsibly by not running into other couples
  • Generally care for the follower's physical well being

Followers should:

  • Never lean on the leader for support unless directed to do so
  • Always maintain her center of gravity
  • Never back lead, which means anticipating where the leader will go

Leaders and followers should always wear appropriate footwear, including dance shoes that are not worn on the street. Comfortable clothing that facilitates movement without too much fabric is also important. All long hair should be tied back.

The Natural Turn

The natural turn is a fundamental part of the waltz. Although it can be intimidating to those who are new to the dance floor, it only involves six simple steps that most dancers can learn pretty quickly.

  1. Step forward with the right foot as you simultaneously turn it to the right. Step on the heel rising at the end of this step.
  2. Step to the side with your left foot as you continue to turn to the right. This should be done on the ball of your foot.
  3. Bring the right foot in to your left foot. Move on your toes, then drop to your heel when you step back with your left foot.
  4. Step back with your left foot as you continue turning to the right. When you do this, be sure that you are stepping back on the ball of your foot. Lower onto the heel, then bring it up immediately.
  5. Step to the side on the ball of your right foot as it continues to turn.
  6. Bring your left foot up to your right foot while moving on your toes.

The Reverse Turn

The reverse turn is known for allowing dancers to exhibit a bit of character. It's an essential part of the waltz that takes a bit of practice to perfect, but then it becomes second nature to those who waltz often.

  1. Step forward with your left foot as you also turn it to the left.
  2. Step to the side on the ball of your right foot as you continue turning to the left.
  3. Bring your left foot up to your right foot.
  4. Step back with your right foot as it turns to the left. Make sure that you step back on the ball of your foot, then lower onto your heel, which then immediately rises.
  5. Step to the side with your left foot as it continues to turn to the left.
  6. Bring the right foot up to your left foot.

The Backward Passing Change

The backward passing change is an important step that should be practiced differently depending on when you are doing it.

When you do the backward passing change after a natural turn, take the following steps:

  1. Step back on the ball of your left foot as you slightly turn.
  2. Step back on the ball of your right foot.
  3. Step back on the ball of your left foot. Allow it to pass the right foot in the process.

When you do the backward passing change after a reverse turn, take the following steps:

  1. Step back on the ball of your right foot as you slightly turn.
  2. Step back on the ball of your left foot.
  3. Step back on the ball of your right foot.

Rises and Falls

Just as its name suggests, dancers rise and fall by using their knees and ankles. This reduces strain to the muscles, but also adds a certain element of grace and elegance to the dance. A foot rise is when the body rises up by pushing up on the balls of the feet. A lowering takes place when the feet are flat again with slightly bent knees. Lastly, a body rise is when the body rises without the assistance of the feet. Achieve this through different knee stances, or a slight head or shoulder movement as demonstrated in the video below.

Waltz Variations

Once you know how to waltz, try these different variations. Whether you're new to waltzing, an intermediate dancer, or a pro, variations are a way to keep traditional dances fun and exciting.

The Hesitation Waltz

A hesitation waltz is danced to fast music. To execute this style, halt on the standing foot during full measures of the music, with the moving foot in the air.

Cross Step Waltz

To perform the cross step, cross the first step over to a specific line of direction. This is a much more modern form of waltz dancing, started by West Coast college students.

Tips to Remember When Waltzing

The key to all dance movement, like most athletic endeavors, is to be 'light on one's feet.' To do this you must find and maintain your center of balance. The best way to begin is by standing with an erect posture, back straight but not stiff, and chest lifted. As in all partner dances, the leader and follower have distinctive roles. The leader must be strong and deliberate yet gentle while the follower allows guidance while maintaining a firm presence.

The leader (traditionally male) will put his arm gently on the follower's back just below the shoulder blade. He will then gently clasp the follower's right hand with his left. The arms should be in open, second position, curved but with elbows lifted. Shoulders should always be relaxed. There can be no tight gripping or pulling.

The follower (traditionally female) will place her left hand gently on her partner's shoulder. She will not push or lean on him. The follower must always support her weight and remain balanced unless the leader deliberately unbalances her for a lift or other movement.

Continue to Explore the Dance

Learning how to waltz means lovely music, gliding motion, and a transcendent experience. Enjoy learning these steps and then once you learn how to waltz, branch out. Not only do most ballroom dances such as the foxtrot, rhumba and quickstep come from the waltz, many other dances incorporate a waltz form.

How to Waltz