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One evening in 1820, dancing master Jonathan Pride, who specializes in teaching the waltz, is ambushed by pirates on the streets of Boston. Forced into hard labor, Jonathan sails around South America with the pirates and ends up on the coast of California, where he eventually tricks his way to freedom. Possessing only his aunt's umbrella and music box, Jonathan wanders into a Spanish village, whose alerted inhabitants greet him with cannon fire and gunshots. Caught hiding in the bedroom of Serafina, the alcalde's beautiful daughter, Jonathan is arrested and sentenced to hang without a trial. Despite Jonathan's protestations of innocence, the buffoonish alcalde, Don Emilio, and the jailer, Pamfilo, insist on the execution until Serafina hears that Jonathan is a dancing teacher who knows the waltz. With the other women behind her, Serafina forces a stay of execution for Jonathan, who gratefully offers to teach her the waltz. After overcoming an initial misunderstanding concerning the placement of hands, Jonathan mesmerizes Serafina, herself an accomplished dancer, with his waltz lessons. Before Jonathan can win permanent freedom, however, Don Baltazar and his men, renegade soldiers from Monterey, arrive and make him their prisoner. Don Emilio, who believes that Baltazar is still a respected military leader, treats him as an honored guest, and Serafina encourages his amorous affections in order to delay Jonathan's departure. Eventually, Baltazar strikes a lucrative marriage deal with Don Emilio and is about to wed Serafina when Jonathan, who has escaped his captors, shows up with a band of rope-wielding Indians. Once Baltazar and his men are tied up and revealed, Serafina continues her wedding, with Jonathan as her groom.