From Waltz to Vals in one hundred years   Leave a comment

From Waltz to Vals in one hundred years

Long before the tango became the target of society’s scorn because of its immense popularity with the immigrant population, the gay community, and the dwellers of the city’s outskirts, the puritanical arrows of disdain had been aimed at another dance with similar uncertain origins that had caught the imagination of European society. The Waltz.Most experts agree that the origin of the word waltz refers to the action of turning around while dancing. The origin of the Waltz as a dance itself is uncertain, but historians agree that it first appeared around the seventeenth hundreds.

There are certain musical forms of popular nature that originate as dances and later follow a transformation into songs. Of interest to us, the Waltz and the Tango, a couple of centuries apart, represent a typical example of the fusion of dance and song into internationally acclaimed musical expressions.

Records show that the Waltz was in vogue in Vienna around 1773. In spite of being a genre of popular origins, it seduced composers such as Mozart, who wrote many waltzes for the dancers of Vienna. From this romantic period originated the most classic compositions of the Viennese waltz by Schubert, Chopin and Brahms which still are played today.

When it begun to appear in Europe it was considered an indecorous dance.

France is credited with the transformation of the uniform and lively danceable rhythm of the Viennese Waltz into a more insinuating and romantic melody which allowed the use of lyrics and the creation of the waltz-song.

On the American continent, the waltz arrived to the salons of high society around 1840. It quickly became the favorite dance conquering new fans at the lower levels of society as well. Many folklore dances from Argentina show the influence of the waltz.

It was in the nineteenth century that a new type of waltz was created in the city of Boston, the Boston Waltz. Its characteristic reflected a change in the role of the piano, or rather the pianist. Instead of using the left hand to mark the 1-2-3 rhythm of the waltz, the left hand only marked the first beat of the rhythm while the right hand combined rhythm and melody.

The Boston waltz conquered Buenos Aires at the beginning of the twentieth century. Prior to that, the waltz had been the darling of the aristocracy in the 1800’s and gradually had gained acceptance among pianists and musical groups in Buenos Aires.

The immigrant invasion that started in the 1870’s brought songs and dances from their native lands. The waltz was among their favorites. Their descendants, the first Creole generation grew up to the popular sounds of the waltz, enjoying the old tunes while beginning to modify the songs and dances of their parents under the influence of the new customs and the new environment of the country where they had been born and where they lived. Thus was born the Argentine folklore, a collection of regional dances and rhythms that make up for a very rich musical heritage.

The new Creole generation added a grounded-to-the-land feeling to the traditional waltz, giving birth to the Vals Criollo. The Creole Waltzes, composed by Latin American musicians preserved the characteristic and style of the Viennese waltz. It continued to be mainly a dance. It had three parts especially arranged for dancing. Two classic examples of Vals Criollo are,


By the first decade of the twentieth century, composers in both Argentina and Uruguay wrote a large number of valses which became part of the repertoire of the first Tango orchestras. Buenos Aires was becoming a city with its own personality, and the valses composed during that period were acquiring that personality as well. The rapid growth of the city and an environment heavily influenced by the cadence of the Tango added an authentic Buenos Aires melodic tone to the music of the Vals Criollo. While the “scorned” Tango was being played by guitars, flutes, violins, pianos and bandoneons for good and bad elements of society, at the weekly neighborhood social dances the same instruments played the Vals Porteño or valsecito for the decent families.

The preference of the Buenos Aires musicians for the valsecito over the other dances of the time, i.e. polkas, mazurkas, was due in part to the expression and nuances of its melody, which on a larger scale were elements intrinsic to the Argentine tango. Erroneously, some foreigners refer to the resulting rhythm as Tango Vals or even Valse, refusing to respect and accept the correct terminology used by those who rightfully know better.

Nowadays the vals criollo or valsecito is danced using mostly tango turns choreography with the significant difference that the dancers step on the ONE of the 1-2-3 sequence, begin to move the other foot on the TWO and bring it together on the THREE. Choosing to hold and pass the foot into the next ONE beat, or changing weight on the THREE for a syncopated effect gives the vals criollo its own look and feel with an unlimited set of possibilities. The proper management of the three beats of the vals gives the dance a floating sensation as the dancers must be aware that each step takes three beats of the music, making it the slowest dance of the tango, milonga, vals trilogy. To differentiate the popular valsecito that uses tango steps with crossings of the legs from the regular ballroom vals, the dance of vals criollo has been given the name of vals cruzado. In clear terms, the music is vals criollo, and the dance is vals cruzado. We teach and dance vals cruzado to vals criollo music.

Outstanding musicians who made the Vals an integral part of their repertoire included Roberto Firpo, Juan Maglio “Pacho,” Francisco Canaro and Francisco Lomuto.

The Vals began to loose its dance appeal around 1917 when the first wave of American dances (Fox-Trot, One-Step, Two-Step and Shimmy) begun to be heavily promoted to the Argentine youth. Ten years later the Charleston finished off the appeal of the Vals, at least until the 1940’s when it returned to the dance floors with the renaissance of the tango in the Golden Era.

The most popular valses that remain as the classic of classics today are,

DESDE EL ALMA (Boston vals)
PALOMITA BLANCA (Vals criollo)

Reference: Del vals al vals criollo y al “vals porteño” by Sebastian Piana – La historia del tango (Ediciones Corregidor 1978)

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