1880 – 1900: Polka, Mazurka, Galop, Waltz, Cotilion

Significant dances

The end of 19th Century, the Victorian Era added intricate embellishments and improvisational sequences to the dances of the Romantic Era, signifying the coming freedoms of the 20th century. 

Polka. A folk dance from Bohemia, the Polka traveled to France, then England, then America. The Polka craze was at its height in Europe in the 1840s. It remained popular until the 1880s.

Mazurka. A Polish folk dance from the Province of Mosavia, it traveled to France and by 1845 to England. It then traveled to America. It was the most virtuoso couple dance of the 19th century.

Galop. Originally from France, it was introduced to England in 1829 by H.M. Ball at St. James Palace, as the final form of a Quadrille. The simplest of all the couple dances, it traveled to America with all the other couple dances of the era.

Waltz. In German, it meant “to roll” or “to turn.” It was introduced to Germany at the end of the 18th century, then traveled to France, England (1812), and finally, America. It became the most popular and enduring 19th century couple dance. When it arrived in England, it was not accepted because it was the first “closed” dance where people danced “arm in arm.” It revolutionized couple dances, reflecting the rhythms of the Industrial Revolution (the turning of the steam engine) and the romanticism of the era.

Cotillon. Derived from certain 18th century contradances that operated in a small square. The name comes from a contemporary word meaning “petticoat,” and from the poem, “My gossipy companion, how does my petticoat look when I dance? It goes like that, like the tail of the cat.” The cotillion evolved into a final series of improvisational dances, which often included party favors. It became the German Cotillion, in which the master of ceremonies directed a series of musical dance games akin to parlor games, with exchanges of partners through chance and playful encounters.

Historical context

  • Queen Victoria rules England.
  • Bismarck unifies Germany.
  • US Presidents are Harrison and McKinley.
  • US defeats Spain in war over Cuba; the Paris Treaty is signed.


  • Tolstoy, Nietsche, Zola, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, R.L. Stevenson, Hardy, and H.G. Wells produce important works.


  • Strauss, Offenbach, Tchaikovsky, Brahms, Dvorak, Gilbert, and Sullivan are the composers of the day.

Visual arts:

  • Van Gogh, Renoir, Rodin, Monet, and Toulouse-Lautrec rule the art scene; Art Nouveau begins.


  • The Curies discover radium.
  • The first steam turbine engine is invented.
  • Alexander Graham Bell patents the telephone in 1876.
  • X-rays are discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen.

Daily life:

  • First skyscraper built in Chicago.
  • The Statue of Liberty is dedicated.
  • First modern Olympics take place.
  • Football, golf, and lawn tennis are popular organized sports.
  • The Paris Metro opens.
  • Alfred Nobel’s will establishes a prize for peace, science, and literature.
  • The Sherman Antitrust Act is established to counter monopolies.
  • In the US, women’s suffrage for those over age 30 begins.

Relevant Dancetime Publications DVDs

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume I:  The Romance of Mid-19th Century Couple Dances: Waltz, Polka, Mazurka, Galop

DANCETIME DVD! 500 YEARS OF SOCIAL DANCE, Volume I: 15th-19th Centuries: Quadrille, Cotillion

HOW TO DANCE THROUGH TIME, Volume VI. A 19th Century Ball: The Charm of Group Dances: Quadrille, Cotillion

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