Music Weird previously wrote about the doomed effort to revive the waltz among teenagers in the 1950s. Back then, the waltz seemed genteel and old fashioned in comparison to rock and roll, but it wasn't always that way. In fact, the waltz was once the "dirty dancing" of the 1800s, like twerking is today.
You could even argue that the waltz was worse than twerking, because twerking is likely to be a passing fad, but the waltz hung around for ages to torment moral authorities.
The waltz is rooted in gliding dances of the 16th century in which dancers held each other close, which the was the largest part of the controversy surrounding the dance. By the mid 17th century, a dance called the waltzer was being danced in Germany and Austria. By the early 18th century, the dance had spread to Britain.
Today, Music Weird compiles over 100 years' worth (!) of grousing about the moral blight that was the waltz.
In the German novel Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim by Sophie von La Roche, one of the characters described the waltz as follows:
But when he put his arm around her, pressed her to his breast, cavorted with her in the shameless, indecent whirling-dance of the Germans and engaged in a familiarity that broke all the bounds of good breeding—then my silent misery turned into burning rage.
The book Mozart: A Cultural Biography reports that the Queen of Prussia "averted her eyes when she beheld the waltz at its introduction to the court in 1794," and that Montaigne "stared in astonishment at couples turning away as they danced in close embrace" in Augsburg, Germany.
The Universal Magazine of Knowledge and Pleasure reported on an English duel that resulted from a disagreement over the waltz:
A dispute arose, whether the Waltz was an indecent dance ; and till this attempt at murder, we did not imagine that a single Englishman would stand up in its defence. To settle this dispute the parties took to their pistols, and we are glad to say returned unhurt ; but had the vindicator of the Waltz murdered his antagonist, we should not have been the more reconciled to this indecent exhibition from Germany.
When English dancers danced the waltz at the Prince Regent’s Grand Ball in 1816, The Times of London wrote:
We remarked with pain that the indecent foreign dance called the Waltz was introduced (we believe for the first time) at the English court on Friday last…. [I]t is quite sufficient to cast one’s eyes on the voluptuous intertwining of the limbs and close compressor on the bodies in their dance, to see that it is indeed far removed from the modest reserve which has hitherto been considered distinctive of English females. So long as this obscene display was confined to prostitutes and adulteresses, we did not think it deserving of notice; but now that it is attempted to be forced on the respectable classes of society by the civil examples of their superiors, we feel it a duty to warn every parent against exposing his daughter to so fatal a contagion.
The New World ran a piece that appealed to readers' patriotism in hoping that "with the feminine dignity and simplicity that so well becomes the daughters of a Republic like our own, they will discard the waltz as a dance revolting to modesty, and unfavorable to virtue...."
Belgravia magazine printed the following commentary on the waltz:
We who go forth of nights and see without the slightest discomposure our sister and our wife seized on by a strange man and subjected to violent embraces and canterings round a small-sized apartment—the only apparent excuse for such treatment being that is done to the sound of music—can scarcely realize the horror which greeted the introduction of this wicked dance.
William Rulofson, under the pseudonym William Henry, published the book The Dance of Death in 1877 to show society "what a loathsome ulcer festers in its midst." He described the male waltz dancer as one whose "eyes, gleaming with a fierce intolerable lust, gloat[s] satyr-like over" his female dancing partner.
In an 1878 review of the book, Scientific Farmer said:
We thought, on reading the title, that we were to be treated to a dance by the author, as the title indicates ; but we soon found that the author was not writing his own dance-music, but finding fault with the dancing of others. It is probable that dancers will not be converted into non-dancers by reading this book, but those who have not yet learned the art may receive consolation from its pages. We agree, however, with the author, in his continuation and conclusion, that the modern waltz may be the instrument of evil. The book is finely gotten up, and is creditable to its publishers. It is strongly and fearlessly written, with an intensity of expression that is almost startling.
The Lutheran Witness ran a piece on dancing in which numerous moral authorities expressed their views.
Rev. B.M. Palmer of New Orleans said:
Promiscuous dancing between the sexes is essentially voluptuous and demoralizing. The waltz—a species of dance I do not hesitate thus publicly to denounce as undisguisedly licentious.
Howard Crosby said:
The foundation for the vast amount of domestic misery and domestic crime which startles us often in its public outcroppings was laid when parents allowed the sacredness of their daughters' persons and the purity of their maiden instincts to be rudely shocked in the waltz.
Bishop Cleveland Coxe said:
The gross, debasing waltz would not be tolerated another year if Christian mothers in our communion would only set their faces against it and remove their daughters from its contaminations and their songs from that contempt of womanhood and womanly modesty which it begets.