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Stanford presents first-ever waltz week

When the waltz was introduced to English ballrooms in the early 1800s, it was, in the proud tradition of all cool dances, denounced as vulgar and immoral.

These days the waltz is considered the quintessential ballroom dance, and one of the most romantic. How else could you describe the flare of satin gowns and black coattails twirling to the rise and fall of violins? The waltz has inspired countless film directors from Victor Fleming in Gone with the Wind to Martin Scorsese in The Age of Innocence to capture its lush clockwork from high above the dance floor.

The many variations of the dance will be taught during the first-ever Stanford Waltz Week, July 28 through Aug. 2. Tuition is $333 (waltz time, not coincidentally) a bargain made possible through the support of the Dance Division and Friends of Stanford Dance. Register online at For more information, visit the website, call the Dance Division at (650) 723-1234 or send e-mail to

"Everyone comes to the waltz for a different reason," said Stanford dance instructor Richard Powers, Waltz Week director and one of the world's foremost experts on social dance. "Some like it for the romance. Some might like it for the trance-like euphoric state the repetitive nature of the waltz can create quite a different physical sensation which you don't find in other dances. Some people like it for its complex variations. Some people like it for its history and tradition. Other people like it because of the music."

The waltz entered the world as a country folk dance in 17th-century Austria and Bavaria. It caught fire on the Continent before making it across the Channel and, by the mid-19th century, to America. Compared to the minuet, a dance in which partners delicately hold hands and maintain a chaste distance, the embrace of the waltz though innocent by today's standards was considered "shockingly intimate," Powers said. In England, the wealthy and lower classes were the first to dance the waltz, owing to the fact that the lower classes were generally not subject to intense social scrutiny and the wealthy class, as Powers noted, "could always get away with anything."

The waltz eventually gained a much more substantial foothold in popular culture by riding on the coattails of a polka mania that swept Paris, London and New York in 1844, Powers said.

The upcoming dance week will focus on the full range of waltzes, including early (1820s) Viennese waltz variations; mid-19th-century waltz and mazurka waltz variations; polka and schottische variations; ragtime era hesitation waltz variations; waltz swing; American ballroom slow waltz; and radical vintage waltz.

In addition to Powers, who is directing his 21st dance week, several of social dancing's finest will instruct:

  • Angela Amarillas, who has taught, partnered and performed with Powers across the United States and in Paris, Rome, Prague, Venice, London and St. Petersburg.
  • Campbell Miller, who has partnered with Powers in his Stanford classes and performs with the Vintage Dance Ensemble, the Swing Cats Rhythm Revue, Danse Libre, and Monica and Ryan Shen Knotts' Radical Vintage group.
  • Joan Walton, who has led workshops on vintage and historical dance across the country, as well as in Australia and the Czech Republic. She has performed as a guest artist with the Naples Philharmonic and the Cincinnati Pops orchestras.
  • Ryan and Monica Shen Knotts, assistant directors of the Stanford Vintage Dance Ensemble and instructors for the Academy of Danse Libre and the Alhambra Ballroom. They have choreographed vintage dances for the last seven years and performed in Paris, St. Petersburg and Prague and at the Smithsonian Institution.
  • Gail Barton, who has taught in the Dance Department at the City College of San Francisco for the past 20 years. She is a fellow of the U.S. Terpsichore Association.

Live music will accompany dancers every night. Bands scheduled to perform are the Royal Society Jazz Orchestra, the Brassworks Band, Hillbillies from Mars and the Baguette Quartette. In addition, there will be a dance concert featuring members of the Academy of Danse Libre and Radical Vintage.


By John Sanford

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