When offered the opportunity to attend an international ball, especially now during ball season in Vienna, say yes, please. Our ball-trotting Ms. Modern Manners Sharon Schweitzer, JD shares tips on how excel at international social relations when you are there

Love glamorous ball gowns? Who doesn’t? The international balls in Vienna this time of year are divine if you enjoy the finest in life, know how to avoid stepping on your partner’s feet and appreciate classical music. Of the 400 Viennese balls each season, each has their own unique flair, ceremony, theme and highlight. Plenty of opportunity to experience the richness of Austrian culture, while delighting in the splendor of these grand events. “There is a such a dedication to tradition, it was really remarkable to witness,” shares Austinite Andra Liemandt, who attended the Philharmonic Ball in Vienna last year with her husband, Joe. “From the formal introductions of guests to the arrival of the younger generation (who are clearly being groomed in this beautiful way to carry everything on), you can really sense the long history that’s there.”

Does this mean that we have to be expert dancers to attend? Not really, according to Austinite Carla McDonald, who also attended the Philharmonic Ball in Vienna last year, too. She says, “Don’t worry about your waltz. Jack and I practiced our Viennese Waltz for weeks expecting that we’d be waltzing with everyone else in the traditional way – in one large circle around the dance floor where one mistake could throw off the entire circle. Actually, it wasn’t like that at all. It was a bit more like bumper-cars waltzing – crowded, lively and lots of fun with everyone doing their own thing.” Speaking of crowds, when Austin resident Erin Driscoll attended with John Thornton, she learned the balls offer individual freedom, too. “I had wanted to dye my hair a bluish tint before the ball, yet changed my mind last minute thinking that I would look like some crazy American. When I entered the ball room, it was a sea of colored hair: mint, aubergine, fuchsia, candy apple red and topaz blue. So, really, it’s an expressive, and impressive, evening to behold.”

What A Ball

A Viennese ball is a society dance event with live classical and contemporary music that requires elegant evening attire. That means high black tie (long gowns) and tuxedos for me. Only two balls are strictly white tie for men. Ball wear can vary from traditional gowns and white tie to Dirndl dresses and Lederhosen. Many of the balls are organized by professional guilds and associations, such as the Vienna Philharmonic and the Concordia press club. 

The tradition dates back to the 1800’s, when the the nobility wore masks and costumes on private occasions. To compensate for this, Emperor Josef II began hosting dance events for everyone in the Redoute Rooms of the Hofburg Palace or Grand Imperial Palace. Today, the Vienna ball season honors this tradition by opening the season with the Imperial Ball at the Imperial Palace on New Year’s Eve. The season continues during Carnival with over 300,000 guests attending more than 400 balls each winter.   

Variety Is The Spice

The availability of shortlists describing the variety of Vienna balls will provide a fabulous overview with the choicest locations, best music, and liveliest programs. For example, “Europe’s most glamorous dance floor” is how the scene is described at the Vienna Opera Ball February 4, 2016; then there is a plethora of scrumptious sweets at the Bonbon Ball on February 5, 2016, and then the appearance of international fashion notables and politicos at the high profile Life Ball in May 2016.

International Etiquette Primer. So once you obtain that coveted ticket, book your lovely hotel room, and practice your ballroom dancing, how do you ensure your wardrobe and international etiquette are finessed? Having attended a number of international balls, I offer the following points on international ball etiquette:

Appearances, Strict Dress Codes & What To Wear. Appropriate attire is crucial, the dress codes are strict and entrance is denied if your wardrobe is not up to par. Cinderella wore a gorgeous gown and you should too. Just don’t lose your shoe! Be sure to consult The Right Dress Code for Every Ball in Ball Culture magazine. Another fantastic resource is Vienna Unwrapped.com’s List of Evening Dress Shops in Vienna.

Not Having A Date Is No Excuse. Do you need a man who loves to dance and waltz? In Vienna, there are gentlemen available to waltz for the ball season For more information, visit Taxi-dancer.at.

Opening of the Ball. Observe how the honored guests enter the ballroom and are seated, before the debutantes dressed in beautiful white ball gowns, long white gloves and tiaras arrive. The debutantes are accompanied by their “cavaliers,” who are handsome young men wearing white gloves, coat and tails. As they enter the ballroom, typically Fächer-Polonaise from Carl Michael Ziehrer plays.

Dancing starts when for everyone? After the debutantes and their partners dance, the Master of Ceremony declares Alles Walze which translates to Everyone Waltz. The guests may then sweep onto the dance floor.

Inviting a Lady to Dance: Darf ich bitten? When seated with friends, family or colleagues that you are acquainted with at a table, etiquette requires that you ask every lady to dance by the end of the evening.

Ladies gift: Damenspende. A gift for each lady as she enters the ballroom.

Midnight: Mitternachtseinlage. When the clock strikes Midnight, this is Mitternachtseinlage, or a break in the ball for a surprise performance in the main ballroom by special guests. The ‘midnight interlude’ has also been a quadrille.

Raffle Tickets / Tombola. Raffle tickets are sold at balls and sell out quickly. At most balls, nearly every ticket will win a prize.

See & Be Seen. In a 2010 survey conducted by the Vienna Economic Chamber, ball guests answered a question about why they liked attending Vienna balls. The top three reasons may surprise you since dancing is not listed:

1)  spend a nice evening with partners

2)  enjoyment of the flair

3)  meeting with friends 

When is it time to depart? The Viennese have a subtle way to say thank you for a lovely evening, goodnight and sweet dreams. When you hear Brüderlein fein from Ferdinand Raimund (1826), it will be the last song of the ball. It is a good idea to become very familiar with this music before you attend so you recognize the first few notes.

One final tip. According to Andra Liemandt, “I wish I knew that I would be wearing my shoes and outfit for almost 12 hours straight, more than double the amount of time I anticipated. Had I known hat I could have planned my comfort level a little better.”

So, now you’re ready. Do let us know how the dance proceeds, darlings.

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