is thought to date from Neolithic times, about 3000 BC (Trevor Homer, Book
of Origins, New York, 2007). It was first mentioned in 1050 AD, when a monk
in the Tegernsee Monastery, Bavaria, described a village dance containing leaps
and hand gestures. Over the centuries, the Schuhplattler gradually
evolved as farmers, hunters and woodsmen practiced it in the isolated
towns and villages of the Bavarian and Tyrolean Alps.
By the beginning of the 19th century the Schuhplattler had become a
kind of courtship dance, with young men trying to impress the ladies by
displaying their strength and agility in time to the music. The dances often
highlighted the towns where they were invented or the various professions of
the performers, such as the Mühlradl (Miller’s Dance), the Holzhacker (wood
cutter), and the Glockenplattler (Bell Dance).
Girls participated by twirling
in their colorful dirndls as the boys leaped, stomped, slapped and performed
acrobatic figures. Acrobatics were an important part of the dance at least by
the 1820’s, when boys began sitting on the shoulders of their partners and
stamping their feet rhythmically on the ceiling!
In 1838 the Empress of Russia was honored by the locals of Wildbad Kreuth with
a Schuhplattler, and the aristocracy, fascinated by the colorful costumes and
quaint pursuits of the common folk, began taking an interest in the dance.
consider the birth of the modern Schuhplattler to have occurred in 1858, when
it was performed for King Maximilian II of Bavaria on his excursion through the
1886 the French traveler Hugues Krafft wrote of the Bavarian Schuhplattler:
|On Sundays and holidays one sees couples dancing to music
on larger town squares everywhere — preferably the Landler, a leisurely waltz
popular among girls and boys . The biggest attraction, however, even for the
local farmers, is always the Schuhplatter. It ... begins with forming a
circle. Then, while the girl is briefly separated from her partner and
continues to follow waltz steps, the boy must perform a number of difficult
movements to the beat of the music. He turns around on his axis, slaps his
thighs and legs, falls to his knees, jumps in the air and throws his hat as he
lets out a joyful whoop... Those who master the dance are cheered with
(Spangenberg & Wiedenmann, Hrsg.: 1886. Bayern und die Schlösser König
Ludwigs II. aus der Sicht von Hugues Krafft).
By the late 19th century, traditional costume clubs (Tracht-vereine)
were being established all across Bavaria and Tyrol, and soon these groups
spread to the German emigrant communities in America and elsewhere.
mission of these clubs was to preserve the age-old customs, lore and dress of
the German and Austrian Alps, the Schuhplattler became a central part of their
Some of the older clubs were strict and exacting about how the dance
was to be performed and how club members were to dress, but new, less purist
Schuhplattler groups sprang up in the second half of the 20th
Children were often invited to join these groups, with girls either
twirling in their colorful dirndls or trading them for lederhosen and
slap-dancing like the boys.
Similar dances with slaps on the hands, thighs, and shoes have grown up in
Hungary, Norway, the Ukraine and elsewhere. But just as the cowboy hat typifies
America and the kangaroo means Australia to much of the rest of the world, the
lively music and energetic dances of the Schuhplattler always come quickly to
mind when we think of the Bavarian and Tyrolean Alps.