Hosting a Congress, Spreading a Dance Craze: Vienna and the Waltz

Without a doubt, Vienna is rightly considered the waltzing ‘capital’ of the world. Though its roots are to be found in various alpine whirling dances popular during the 16th and 17th centuries, the history of the waltz is intimately connected with the city of Vienna and the peace talks held there in 1814–1815. During the Congress of Vienna, even the royalty in attendance were gripped by the rampant waltz-mania: “Le Congrès ne marche pas, il danse”, as the Austrian diplomat Charles Joseph de Ligne put it. However, making the dance socially acceptable was no mean feat: waltzing was not allowed in the presence of the emperor and his court, though these restrictions were eased somewhat with regard to the foreign princes and diplomats.

The paper traces the various ways the waltz was utilized in the countless balls held in Vienna at the time of the Congress: Was it a form of dance diplomacy, or was it an instrument of politically motivated distraction? By evaluating the eyewitness accounts of Richard Bright, Auguste La Garde-Chambonas, Matthias Franz Perth, and Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, these questions shall be answered from a contemporary point of view – contributing to an urban topography of the waltz.

Hanna Walsdorf
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