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The style of dance in Germanic regions varies greatly as you go from region to region within German, Austria and Switzerland. In the northern part of Germany, 4-couple dances (Quadrille or square dance) are most common. In the southern part of Germany, couple dances are prevalant.

Several of the dances exist in neighboring regions with slightly different music, steps, and names. For instance Dätscher is the name of a simple clapping dance in Bavaria, while in the Schwabenland it is called Patscher. The difference between the two is a very small difference in teh clapping sequence and a music change to accompany that. The dance Kreuzpolka is a very common dance in Germany and it exists in many forms in several different regions.

The German dances that most Americans know are but a small subset of the dances native to Germany, and are usually not the ones most commonly danced there. One example is the Zwiefache which is a dance form commonly known to Ameriacan "international folkdancers". The way it is danced by folkdancers in the USA is quite different than how it is danced in Germany.

Look at the dance reference websites for information about many of the specific dances.


Zwiefache are tunes/dances that change time signatures between 2/4 and 3/4 for a given number of measures. Each Zwiefache has it's own formula. A simple one is Die Alte Kath which alternates 2 measures waltz and 2 measures pivots. In the sheet music this is 3/4 time for 2 measures and 2/4 time for 2 measures.
Many have more complex patterns. They are often accompanied by words (see list below for online lyrics) which help to show where the changes are located. They are fun to dance once you get the hang of it and usually very interesting musically.

The best way to learn these dances is to listen to the music, to hear the changing meter. Often a 'key' is made available to dancers saying WWDD or WWPP (for the example above) meaning "two waltzes then two dreher or pivots." This is best used as an aid to hearing it in the music rather than as a series of steps to dance.

Zwiefache are a very old form of music. They are documented back to the middle of the 16th century. The evidence is musical only, and it is not known whether they were actually danced at that time.

Zwiefache sheet music written in the traditional way (traditionellen Zwiefachennotierung) is not played the same as modern sheet music.
What I mean by this is that traditional Zwiefache sheet music the 3/4 time measures the quarter note is played like a quarternote, and in 1/4, 2/4, or 4/4 time measures, the 1/8 note is played as long as a quarternote. If you have Zwiefache sheet music, check it out before you play it.

Dance Style/Flow
Another common misconception is about the flow of this dance. It is actually a stationary dance, with the best dancers in Germany boasting that they can dance in a small area. Many people ask me where I know this from. There are multiple sources, I have included two here for the skeptical. One was a folkdance teacher from Germany who taught at a workshop I attended, and that was how he illustrated the dance,
and another is a passage from a book about dances that says:

    "Ubrigens: Schlechte Zwiefachen-Tänzer erkennt man daran, daß sie wie der Blitz über die Tanzfläche rasen und hin- und herschwanken; gute daran, daß sie ruhig fast auf der Stelle tanzen.

which translates approximately to

    "BTW: One can recognize poor Zwiefache dancers by the way they race like lightning over the dance floor and totter here and there; the good ones are those that dance quietly almost in one place."

- Tanz rüber, tanz nüber, Kurt Becher, Bayerischen Landesverein für Heimatpflege e.V.

Spelling and Pronounciation
Now that you know what the dance is, do you know how to spell and pronounce it? The pronunciation and spelling of this dance is often in error. It is correctly spelled zwiefacher (or zwiefache or zwiefachen based on case), and pronounced "zwee-facher" not "zwii-facher". The prefix "zwie" has the implication of duality, one entity with two aspects, rather than "zwei" which means the number two and implies two separate entities.
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photo by: AleksandraEa