ONE, two three, ONE, two, three, ONE, two, three is repeated over and over in my mind as I twirled around the ballroom. The orchestra played waltz after waltz at the Ball of the Vienna University of Technology (TU Ball). Even though I have never taken ballroom dance in all my years of dance training, learning to waltz really was not hard at all… I was more worried about getting my feet stepped on and twirling into another pair on a dance floor with hundreds of people crammed onto it. The most exciting part about that night was just experiencing first hand the traditions of the Viennese ball culture.
Viennese balls date back to the 18th century where they were reserved for the elite and nobility. Emperor Joseph II opened up rooms in the beautiful Hofburg palace to enable everyone to participate in the pomp and circumstance of the extravagant balls. Today, the balls still include features like very strict dress codes, a grand opening with debutants, a midnight quadrille and the Damenspende (gifts for the women). Another tradition is if a lady is asked to dance, it is considered very rude to decline… but don’t worry ladies, if there’s someone you want to dance with, there is an hour in the night that is considered “ladies choice.”
In the title of my post, it says through the Night. I quite literally mean through the night. The Viennese Balls don’t start (opening fanfare, entrance of debutants, and open dance floor) until about 20/20:30 and they last until 5am. The quadrille is an exciting feature that takes place at midnight; The ball that I attended also had one at 3am. The quadrilles are just as much fun to watch as they are to participate in. It’s a bit easier to watch a quadrille, than try to explain what it is. Enjoy!
As you can see, everyone crowds into the main ballroom with a partner (yes, there is more than one room open for dancing and each room features a different style of music) and joins the “organized” chaos of the dance. There’s a caller on stage with the orchestra giving out commands to very fast paced gallop and everyone is frantically trying to keep up as the line eventually snakes its way around the room. It is a nice jolt of energy at different intervals in the night to keep the celebration going and to keep everyone awake.
The other ballrooms at the ball I attended featured a band playing jazz music, and a band/DJ that played more Latin music and some popular music in which we called “the disko.” Now, if you thought the quadrille was a sight to see, imagine these bewildering (from the perspective of an American) images: 1. Couples trying to ballroom dance to Gangnam Style and 2. An elderly Austrian gentleman actually trying to do the dance to Gangnam Style. My first though watching this was “How???” I mean, you could clearly tell who the Americans were because they were the ones doing the actual party dance. Looking back, it is interesting to see how generations and styles mix, and how the old traditions of Viennese balls have evolved over time to include some modern day flair.
Winters in Vienna are host to around 400 balls and are organized around just about every professional group there is. There is the Zuckerbäckerball for confectioners, the Kaffeesiedler Ball for coffee brewers, the Juristenball for lawyers and the Jägerball where instead of wearing the formal long gowns and tuxedoes, the mandatory dress is traditional dirndl and lederhosen. The most well known and highest in placement on the social calendar of Vienna are the Philharmoniker Ball, hosted by the Vienna Philharmonic at the Musikverein, and the Wiener Opernball, at the Staatsoper (State Opera House).
There is an array of balls to choose from to celebrate and join in with the locals and international guests. Sadly, this year’s ball season has come to an end with Fasching (Carnival) and the beginning of the Lenten season. Find your dancing shoes and start practicing your waltzing in preparation for next year’s ball season.