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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

This week we're looking at the many forms of rhythm in our lives. Today, dance - specifically the waltz. It's familiar one, two, three, one, two, three conjures images of ballrooms and formal dresses. But in fact, the waltz has racy roots. As NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas reports.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Some people will tell you that the waltz isn't just a dance. It caused a social revolution when it first became popular in Vienna, Austria in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

EDUARD STRAUSS: You must understand that it was one of the first dances where dancers were allowed to come closer.

TSIOULCAS: That's Eduard Strauss.

STRAUSS: Men could hold the lady and squeeze the lady and bring her near to, well, where the man wants the lady to be and it was just very erotic.

TSIOULCAS: Strauss should know about the power of the waltz. He's the chairman of the Vienna Institute for Strauss Research.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DER SCHONEN, BLAUEN DONAU")

TSIOULCAS: You could even say that the waltz is Eduard Strauss' family business.

STRAUSS: Yes. We have Johann Strauss - the father. And he had three sons - Johann II, the very famous Johann Strauss - "The Blue Danube", "Die Fledermaus" and all this. The second son was Josef, and the third son was Eduard. And the third son, Eduard, is my great-grandfather.

TSIOULCAS: And he composed waltzes too.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOCTRINEN WALTZES, OP 79")

TSIOULCAS: After it swept Vienna in the early 19th century, this long-quick-quick rhythm seized the imagination of musicians and dancers around the world. Tchaikovsky loved it in Russia.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS")

TSIOULCAS: It even made its way to the New World, to places like Louisiana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OLD CARPENTER'S WALTZ")

TSIOULCAS: And across Latin America.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL REY")

VICENTE FERNANDEZ: (Singing in foreign language).

TSIOULCAS: Once you start listening for the waltz rhythm, you start to hear it absolutely everywhere.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MANIC DEPRESSION")

JIMI HENDRIX: Manic Depression is searching my soul.

TSIOULCAS: And the waltz is still very much a part of our pop consciousness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF I KNEW")

BRUNO MARS: Oh, Oh, Oh, I - I was a city boy.

TSIOULCAS: The Bruno Mars waltz, "If I Knew" was featured in the semifinals of the wildly popular show "Dancing with the Stars." Choreographer and dancer, Bruno Tonioli, is one of the show's judges. And he says it's no surprise why this form has had such staying power.

BRUNO TONIOLI: It sweeps you away, you know. It is a wonderful, wonderful dance. And to require that control that gives you that incredible weightless, gliding quality, the rise and fall sway - it demands an incredible control. But I think when you look at it, it seems easy, but it's very deceptive. It demands the highest level of technical control because making something look easy is so hard.

TSIOULCAS: Tonioli says the waltz's insistent pattern - the one of that one, two, three - still presents a challenge. You don't want to thud down on that downbeat.

TONIOLI: You can never make it look heavy. It's like a breath. You have to use the breath of the music, never go down on the music. We know there's that moments of stillness at the end of the bar, when you almost feel like you're getting to the last beat and you hold it for a second, or a millisecond, before you take the next beat. That's what makes it so magical.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ACT 3. LA DONNA E MOBILE")

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI: (Singing in foreign language).

TSIOULCAS: Regardless of whether waltz was written 150 years ago or just last year, Eduard Strauss says there's one thing that we have to remember.

STRAUSS: Nowadays, one tends to forget that this music basically was written to be danced to - dance music.

TSIOULCAS: So the next time you hear that long-quick-quick, get out there and kick up your heels. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TENNESSEE WALTZ")

PATTI PAGE: I was dancing with my darling.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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