Schuhplattler History

The Schuhplattler 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.

Some 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 Alps.

In 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 vigorous applause. (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.

Since their 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 programs.

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 century.

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.

Schuhplattler Kids

Subpages (1): Geschichte