This simple and attractive waltz contra dance figure appears under the name German Waltz in at least two of the mid-nineteenth-century dance manuals of Boston musician, caller, and author Elias Howe, as well as under the name Narragansett Waltz in at least one other. I first encountered it under the German Waltz name, so that is the one I habitually use, though the association with the tune(s) "Narragansett Waltz" actually came a few years earlier and both names seem to belong belong to the tunes rather than the dance figures.
My interest in reconstructing this dance arose from a desire for a mid-century waltz country dance that could satisfy dancers the same way the Spanish Dance does and thus occasionally replace it at balls. I love the Spanish Dance, but after more than two decades of dancing and calling it, a little variety is pleasant!
Along with being a nice change of pace socially, the German Waltz also makes an excellent performance piece. Most longways country dances are not particularly good performance pieces, since the nature of the longways formation means that the dancers spend a lot of time with their backs to the audience. In the German Waltz, the dancers spend most of their time either facing up and down the set or waltzing in a circle. This makes it a much more audience-friendly dance.
Howe's original calls:
First couple join right hands and swing once and a half round, join hands with second couple -- balance four in line, swing opposite with left hand -- balance again, swing with right hand -- four waltz.
Figures (32-bar waltz country dance)
6b Active couple join right hands and swing once and a half round in the center of the set, keeping hands
2b Second couple steps up to join left hands with the first couple, creating a line of four across the set
4b The four dancers balance right and left twice
4b Active couple drops right hands and swings all the way round by the left hand with their neighboring dancer, coming back to re-form the same line
4b The four dancers balance right and left twice
4b Active couple swings by the right hand in the center of the set and takes waltz position while the second couple moves below them and also takes waltz position
8b The two couples waltz around each other one and a half times, progressing one place up or down the set
Performance and reconstruction notes
The reconstruction is very straightforward; the only interpretive choice I've made is breaking the first figure into six bars for the turn-and-a-half and allowing the second couple two bars to move to place. This is roughly what happens in practice even with no specific directions, since it simply does not take eight bars to swing once and a half around. The first three quarters of this dance are a familiar sequence very similar to the first half of the more-famous contra, Hull's Victory.
Since the dance is in waltz time, the dancers are moving with three small steps per measure. For the balance, either a small step-and-close to the side, with some rise and fall, will work, or a low-key pas-de-basque step in waltz time.
The dancers do need to be alert to one tricky part: the separation back into longways formation at the end of the waltz-around. In the Spanish Dance and similar couple-facing-couple formations, this is very easy. Going back into a longways proper set means the dancers need to be very careful to end the waltz with their backs to their own lines and separate slightly early to back gracefully into their places.
As noted above, these figures were associated by Howe with at least two tunes, "German Waltz" and "Narragansett Waltz". The former name is rather generic (there were many waltzes from what would become Germany), but Howe at least twice (c1842 and 1861) published a tune called, simply, "German Waltz" with three strains of eight, eight, and sixteen bars. Played straight through, this fits the dance nicely.
In 1843, Howe also published a pair of tunes under the name "Naragansett [sic] Waltz". Each has two strains of eight bars each; played AABB, either would fit the dance nicely. They might also be played as a medley, for variety.
For those with access to live musicians, here are the best versions I have of the tunes. Click the images to enlarge.
Unfortunately, I have never found a recording of either tune, so in the absence of live musicians, dancers will have to make do with some other recorded waltz music. Any period waltz with a thirty-two-bar repeat structure will work.
(Edited March 22, 2015 to add: I recently taught this dance at my workshops in Voronezh, Russia, using the tune "Mammoth Cave Waltz" from the Lexington Vintage Dancers' CD set A Romantic Revel. If you already own this CD set, I can provide an extended edit of the track that is long enough to dance the figures twelve times through.)
Elias Howe, First Part of the Musician's Companion, Boston, c1842 (music, German Waltz)
Elias Howe, Second Part of the Musician's Companion, Boston, 1843 (music, Narragansett Waltz; two tunes)
Elias Howe, Complete Ball-Room Hand Book, Boston, 1858 (figures, Narragansett Waltz)
Elias Howe, Improved Edition of the Musician's Omnibus, Boston, 1861 (music, German Waltz)
Elias Howe, American Dancing Master and Ball-Room Prompter, Boston, 1862 (figures, German Waltz)
Elias Howe, American Dancing Master and Ball-Room Prompter, Boston, 1866 (figures, German Waltz)