Once you've accomplished the basic box step as explained in the first writeup, it's time to start moving around the room. Waltz is not a dance done in place; everyone waltzes around the perimeter of the ballroom floor, moving counterclockwise and about the same speed.

The Arms

To do this, first practice the box step with your partner until you've got the hang of it. Then you need to practice your stance together, so that you can lead and follow like Real Dancers do. It's easier to explain with pictures, so I'll do my best here with ASCII.

The leader, without his partner, should have his left arm held up away from his body and bent to form a right angle at the elbow. It's hard to represent in ASCII, but your elbow should be bent so that your hand is about eye level -- or more specifically, the follower's eye level.

o  O     (leader, view from behind)
His right arm should be held so that his hand is in front of the right side of his chest, with the elbow in the same horizontal plane as the shoulder and hand. Imagine a gentleman holding his arm for a lady to take hold of so that they can walk together:
      \  (leader, view from above)
Now, the follower should angle her right arm similar to the leader's left arm, with the palm elevated to eye level. She takes the leader's left hand with her right, and both should hold hands firmly but gently.

The follower's left arm is bent similar to the leader's right, but her arm will be placed on top of the leader's. Her hand rests just above the bicep muscle but below the shoulder, holding itself gently in place. At the same time, the leader's right hand is placed gently but firmly against the follower's shoulder blade.

The Feet

The two dancers should not stand directly opposite each other. Instead, each partner will stand slightly to the left of the other, with feet slightly apart:
  v  v   (follower's feet, viewed from above)
^  ^     (leader's feet, viewed from above)
If the leader swings his left leg freely, it will pass outside his partner's right leg without colliding; if he swings his right leg, it should pass between both of her legs without colliding (unless she's three feet tall, in which case swing verrrrrrry carefully).

The Head and Back

Keep your backs up straight, and look over your partner's shoulder -- not directly into his or her eyes. If you're watching your partner's face as you dance around the room, you're going to run into things. Leaders, always keep your eyes over your partner's shoulder so you can see where you're going to lead her to next. Followers, do the same, because it looks better when you're both doing it.

Note that this should be a comfortable stance for both of you. Even if there's a foot or more of difference in your respective heights, you should be able to find a comfortable position for your arms and legs. I'm six foot six and have often danced with women barely over five feet tall; if I can do it without dislocating their shoulders, so can you.


Now, you've got the box step and the stance right: time to practice moving around the room. Begin near the perimeter of whatever room you're in (not in the center), leader facing counterclockwise. Do the first half of the box step as described above:

  • Leader: left foot forward on 1, right foot forward and to the right on 2, left foot to the right and together on 3.
  • Follower: right foot backward on 1, left foot backward and to the left on 2, right foot to the left and together on 3.

Now you're going to do the second half of the box step, except moving in the same line of dance -- forward for the leader, backward for the follower:

  • Leader: right foot forward on 1, left foot forward and to the left on 2, right foot to the left and together on 3.
  • Follower: left foot backward on 1, right foot backward and to the right on 2, left foot to the right and together on 3.

Leading and Following

When you approach a corner, the leader should turn slightly to the left and bring the follower with him. Leader, keep your stance and your arms firm but not rigid, so she can follow exactly which direction you're leading her and how far she has to step backward. You should gently guide her with your arms and body in the direction to turn, never yank her or pull her along with you.

Finally, when you're in a room full of circling waltzers, inevitably some couples will be travelling faster than others around the room. When you're moving faster and are about to collide with another couple, the leader has two options. One is to lead his partner gently to the left (toward the center of the room) and pass them without incident. The second, to be done if passing is somehow impossible, is to stop travelling and lead her into a box step, waltzing in place for one or two measures, and then starting around the room again.

To practice this, simply find a suitably large room free of obstructions and waltz around the perimeter of it counterclockwise. The leader should try switching from a travelling waltz to a box step randomly, without telling or signalling his partner, and then continuing to travel. The follower should practice trusting her partner to lead her away from walls and obstacles, and should be ready to switch to a box step and back whenever her partner does.

Communication is the key -- if the follower isn't being led properly, she should tell the leader so, and if the leader thinks the follower isn't cooperating, he should say so. Ballroom dancing is disturbingly like being married this way.

Lesson Completed

Once you've got these basics down, rejoice! You now know a hundred times more about how to waltz than most of your friends and family members. Practice every couple of weekends, and at every single wedding you go to. And if ever you think you look awkward or undertrained, just remember this: As long as you stay on the beat, non-dancers don't know if you screw up.

I had to learn waltz for my wedding. I did so in about 2 or 3 months, and I had one major problem. Turning so fast got me too giddy and I would loose the pace and even fall, and this without alcohol (and you bet there is alcohol in a wedding reception). So I had to learn to change the direction of rotation after 3 or 4 turns, which is kind of a subtle move (see: How to Waltz: Intermediate Lesson) for someone who does not dance regularly. However, if done well, it is much more impressive than only doing the four basic steps. My mother simply couldn't believe the end result!

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