D A N C E S   F O R   A

Richard Powers

  What is Steampunk?
Steampunk is the realm of historical science fiction and fantasy that explores
alternative futures from 19th century steam-driven technology,
including the worlds of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells.
Themes range from adventurers and air pirates to time travel,
often set in Victorian or Edwardian England.

   What is a Steampunk Ball?

There are three predominant approaches to a Steampunk Ball:
• Re-creating a Victorian or Edwardian ball but modifying the original dances and music of those eras into alternative-future paths.  How might the dances and music have gone differently?  Sometimes there is an additional science and/or adventurer theme.

• Morphing the look and feel of Victorian England with futuristic aesthetics and gadgets of today, including computers, ray guns and space travel.  In this version the dancing can be vintage dances morphed with futuristic elements.

• Dressing in Steampunk attire and doing whatever freestyle dancing one knows, to the participants' favorite genre of music.  i.e., if the ball is attended by a punk or goth crowd, that would be the music played.  The focus here is the costuming more than the dancing.

Elements of these three genres can also be mixed and blended.

The definition of a Steampunk Ball is debated.  One might stage a reenactment of an actual historic ball that had a science fiction theme  (for instance, re-creating the 1877 ball that Jules Verne held in Paris for the publication of his FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON) and call it Steampunk.  Others would argue, "No, that is straightforward historical science fiction, not Steampunk."  The genre is still evolving so there is no consensus yet.

The dances on this page mostly belong to the first category, alternative futures of a Victorian or Edwardian ball.  However that shouldn't imply that I think that this approach is better than the others.  Each to their own.

We have to be realistic.  19th century dances can require some skill and training.  Furthermore you don't want to turn a party into a workshop.  People come to have fun.
So steampunk dances should be fairly easy, either taught at a pre-ball workshop, or very quickly taught at the ball.  My rule of thumb is: if it's a dance party (a ball), teaching should take no longer than five minutes.

The following dances were designed for our San Francisco Bay Area dancers who regularly go to the Gaskells balls, PEERS balls, Friday Night Waltz and contras.  Therefore they already know how to do a basic waltz and polka.  If your dancers don't, these can easily be taught at a pre-ball workshop.  These dances don't require knowledge of the more difficult 19th century steps such as redowa and mazurka.

Longer choreographies and stylistic details can be taught at an afternoon pre-ball workshop before the Steampunk Ball.

Below are five of sixteen Steampunk dances I created for the PEERS Legion Fantastique Steampunk Ball, Friday Night Waltz and the Stanford Dance Weekend.

These are only brief reminders of dances that I taught, not stand-alone descriptions.


Dancers at a ball often like short easy sequences that repeat.  Fortunately there was a rage for these short sequence dances in England during the reign of King Edward VII (1901 to 1910).  They're easy to learn and fun to modify for steampunk.  Here are three sequence dances, followed by three other approaches for steampunk dances.

By Tom Walton, 1908

Take Open Position facing LOD (line of direction), meaning you hold inside hands, lady on the right side.
The steps are described for the gent.  The lady begins opposite.
  2      Pas de Basque away from partner and toward partner.
            For the man, leap in place onto L foot, cross R foot over L foot,
            fall back onto L foot (QQS timing).  Repeat opposite.
  2      Walk forward three steps, L R L, then turn back to face against LOD, changing hands.
  2      Pas de Basque away from partner and toward partner (man begins onto R).
  2      Walk fwd against LOD three steps, then turn a quarter to face partner.

  2      Giving partner both hands opened, Pas de Basque toward and against LOD.
  2      Take two side-steps (side-close, side-close) toward LOD, taking Waltz Position.
  4      Do four rotating Two-Steps (smooth polkas) traveling in LOD.

Steampunk style:

Instead of just holding inside hands, he throws his right arm straight forward with a fist, and she holds onto his wrist with her left hand.  Repeat opposite when you return to place.  Waltz position can be the same, with her holding his wrist as he puts his right arm around her.
Or he can hold her with only his right arm, other hands free.

The Pas de Basques can be step-kicks and any other flamboyant solo stepping.

Any steps can be stamped, especially with boots.


To put a futuristic spin on a 19th century tune, I recommend Vanessa Mae's techno-edged Can, Can (You?) available on iTunes and Amazon mp3s.  I recommend slowing it down a bit.

OVER THE TOP  is similar.
Unknown choreographer, same time period.

Take Open Position facing LOD.
  2      Starting outside foot, take 4 walking steps fwd closing on the 4th step.
  2      Pas de Basque away from partner and toward partner.
  2      Walk fwd L, R, turning to face partner, join both hands (M's back to center),
          step L to side, close R to L.
  2      Pas de Basques facing partner.

  2      Balance (polka) forward, M's L, bringing R hips almost adjacent; balance back M's R.
  2      Release rearward hands (M's R, W's L).  With 2 two-steps the W makes one complete
          turn to the R under the fwd joined hands (M's L, W's R) while the M at the same
          time takes a step to the side with L, closes R to L, and repeats L to side, close R.
  4      Take Waltz Position and do four rotating Two-Steps traveling in LOD.

Steampunk style:  Same as above.

Music:  This works wonderfully to any of many techno versions of Edvard Grieg's 1876 Hall of the Mountain King, fitting that musical phrasing.  One version suddenly drops to half-speed.  That's when the air pirates brought back a zombie virus and everyone lurches around like zombies.  Then the tempo accelerates.  (Did anyone say Steampunk dances can't be silly?)


This is an easy 3-part waltz sequence, as a contrast to the above 2-part two-steps.  This combines Waltz Superbe (Charles Gardner, 1909), St. George's Waltz (William Lamb, 1896) and the classic Veleta (Arthur Morris, 1900), combining Victorian and Edwardian dances.

This one began with the music, Otherworldly Concerto from Disneyland's Haunted Mansion.
It sounds like a spooky steam-powered organ, perfect for a steampunk ball, and happens to be a three-part waltz, requiring a three-part dance. 

Take Open Position facing LOD.
  1      Waltz Walk 3 steps forward LOD turning outward away from partner (keeping hands)
  2      Taking both hands, back-to-back, side-close-side LOD, holding the 3rd step.
  1      Keep second hand and Waltz Walk 3 steps RLOD back to place, turning inward.
  2      Give 2-hands and side-close twice traveling RLOD, closing w/o weight the second time.
  2      Drop hands and solo roll-away waltz traveling LOD.

Take Open Position facing LOD.
  2      Pas de Basque away from partner and toward partner.
  2      Taking both hands , step side-close-side toward LOD; change hands.
  2      Facing back against LOD, Pas de Basque away from partner and toward partner.
  2      Taking both hands , step side-close-side against LOD.

  2      Taking Waltz Position, do one full turn of a clockwise rotary waltz.
  2      Do 2 side-draws toward LOD (he steps L side, closes R to L, repeats both).
  4      Take Waltz Position and Waltz toward LOD, two full turns.

Steampunk style:  Same as above.


This was also inspired by the music:  the polonaise from Howl's Moving Castle, Miyazaki's steampunk anime film.  Record of Lodoss War also works.
Formation: Line of threes, which is not the traditional Polonaise arrangement.  Stand side-by-side taking hands 3, either M-W-M or W-M-W.

Polonaise step:  1) Step as tall as you can;  2) walk flat;  3) step then sink on the third step extending other foot straight/low forward.  Repeat opposite.

  4      Polonaise steps forward beginning right foot.
  2      Pas de Basque R, crossover L, replace R.  Repeat opposite.
  2      Polonaise forward.

  2      Center person arches R hand over L, outside two cross over, all face back.
  2      Polonaise RLOD.
  2      Arch L over R, outside two cross over, all face forward.
  2      Polonaise forward.

  2      Right-hand person casts back one place.
  2      Left-hand person casts back one place.
  2      Center person kneels in place, as the outside two advance one place, then rises.
  2      Trio Polonaise forward.

  1      Center person arches R hand over L, outside two cross over, all face forward LOD
          with outside two taking hands behind the center person's back.
  2      Polonaise forward.
  1      Center person ducks, outside two arch over center's head, form a Cloverleaf.
  4      Cloverleaf circle left (CW) once and a half until center person is facing back.
          2 outside people raise arched hands, pull center person through and that person
          turns to face LOD.

Repeat once through.  Stay in Cloverleaf the second time and bow.


This alternative future includes the fact that there were no polka mixers in the 19th century
(and there are almost none today).

Formation:  Couples taking hands in Single Circle, W at M's left side

Bar number
  1-3     All take 3 smoothly bouncy polka steps to the R in closed circle, beginning with R ft.
  4        Stamp R and L while turning to face left.
  5-7     All take 3 polka steps to the L, beginning with the L ft.  On 3rd polka, look at your
            next partner, W to the LEFT of the M.  He lets go of his R hand and approaches her
            on the 3rd polka step.
  8        Taking closed waltz position, W lightly stamps R and L while M does a R polka step.
            M has come slightly in toward center of circle, facing out.

  9-11   As a couple, do 3 smooth turning clockwise polka steps around the circle LOD.
  12      M steps quietly 2 times in place, W does 4th polka step, shifting to Buzz Step Swing
            Position while still rotating.
  13-15  Buzz-Step Swing clockwise in place, beginning R foot, 6 times.
  16      End with 2 stamps in place, man placing lady on his right side, taking hands in
            Single Circle.
Repeat with your new partner.

Steampunk style:  Loud, stomping and noisy.

Music:  Wanderlust by Abney Park, a renowned steampunk band, or Wonderlust King by Gogol Bordello.


If your dancers already know some waltz and polka variations, they may be given a Steampunk flavor by using the wrist handhold described above,  a one-arm handhold,  the "muscleman" handhold where he brings their held hands to his left hip,  the Regency Era "bondage" handhold where she holds both of her hands behind her back and both of his arms are around her, holding her hands,  or later era handholds and dance steps (brought back by time-travelers).  Try role reversal (adventuresses and women in the outlands are strong)  and turning without even touching each other (as in Gypsy).

If your vision of Steampunk includes influences brought back from the future by time-travelers, note that dances get more intimate through time.  Tracey said, "I'd also like to see Victorian dancing done in close embrace, incorporating blues and tango moves.  Steampunk makes Victorians overtly sexy.  Maybe the dances should do the same."


• A steampunk polka line dance, to music by Abney Park.
• An advanced-skill Kerry Polka Set to industrial music, with a role-reversal chorus.
• Jolly Roger de Coverly, to a techno Celtic waltz.
• Punk Polka Paul Jones.
• Steampunkified Veleta Waltz Mixer to "The Devil's Feet" by Azure Ray.
• Steampunk parlor cotillion games, like Polka Dodge Ball (knocking out polka-ing couples), and a 19th century parlor game where women shoot at the backs of the gents they want to dance with, with steampunked nerf guns.

Have a ball!

Anna Botelho also has a page on creating steampunk dances.
See more about Steampunk at the Gizmodo and Wikipedia pages.