I've been thinking a lot over the last few years about the underlying skills needed for various forms of social dance. A critical one is the ability to shift steps between time signatures, as I discussed a couple of months ago. And one of the best examples of that is what happened with the much-maligned "box step" in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
The box step doesn't get a lot of respect among historical dancers in America because it is strongly associated with modern ballroom dance studio practices. That's unfortunate, because I'm increasingly convinced that its historical incarnation, the "new waltz" (in contrast to the older valse à trois temps with its pirouette), is extremely important to know for anyone studying American social dancing of the 1880s-1910s. Despite this, it often gets pushed aside in favor of the older style, which is usually taught first and thus becomes the default social waltz in modern reenactment. That's not wrong, exactly; it's not like the older waltz vanished in favor of the new. But I think that we ought to be spending a lot more time on the new waltz, because it appears to be one of the fundamental building blocks of the social dance of the entire late Victorian/Edwardian/ragtime era.
Let's look at how the box step got used historically: