How to Create Waltz Variations


The innovation process is similar to sculpting in damp clay.  First just rough out the concept that you want to try.  Walk through any verson of what you have in mind.  Then you can see where it flows and where it jams.  You can see what is comfortable for your partner or not.  Then you fine-tune your first draft, like finessing your clay sculpture.

Leads, be especially gentle in this first stage.  Don't force your partner into anything that might be painful, or throw the Follow off balance.  Don't make the Follow rotate faster than is possible.

Ask you partner for feedback at this first stage.  Where could it be better?


Here's the simplest 3-step approach to creating a waltz variation:  Break out of the frame, maintain waltz phrasing, and smoothly return to the basic step.

1) Break out of the frame.

The original Waltz continually rotates, in closed dance position (Waltz Position), while the couple travels around the room.  It's like orbiting twin planets traveling around a sun.  Breaking out of the frame (the closed waltz position) means varying that basic dynamic.

  • You can both travel forward, not rotating.
  • The Follow can travel under the Lead's raised arm, as in swing and salsa.
  • The Lead can travel under his own raised arm.
  • Both dancers can travel with fancier steps, like Grapevines.
  • You can vary the closed Waltz Position with other dance positions:
    Open or Closed Promenade Position
    Shadow (Sweetheart) Position
    Crossed-Hand Hold
    Follow's and Lead's Cradle Positions
    Skater's Position

2) Fit the variation into pairs of 3-count waltz phrases.  i.e., a variation will usually be danced to 2, 4 or 8 measures the music (therefore taking 6, 12 or 24 steps).

3) Return to the basic step.

An elegantly designed variation will end up in the starting position of a turning basic step, with the Lead in the inside lane facing out of the hall, and the Follow in the outside lane facing in, with your first foot free.

See more on the Cross-Step Waltz page, with a demo video.


Other considerations (ideal but optional)

The variation should function in freestyle partnering, as opposed to a choreographed pattern that both dancers need to know and practice ahead of time.  However a flashy pattern that requires both dancers learning and practicing ahead of time may occasionally be a worthy exception.

The variations should work smoothly and easily for the Follow.  Maintain the Follow's momentum (including angular momentum) if possible.  Where and how would she naturally step next?  Let the Follow continue with her usual footwork.  If someone needs to make a foot-fudge, the Lead usually makes it.

If you introduce fancier steps, they ideally continue the basic even-step-timing.  But if you choose to introduce combinations of slow and quick steps, make that clear to your partner.