How To Shine At A Viennese Ball
Vienna Balls are a must if you love glamorous dresses, are at least faintly interested in dancing and won’t run a mile when hearing classical music. However, quite a few Vienna travellers find it daunting: choosing from hundreds of Viennese balls each season, scrambling for tickets and scarce hotel rooms, getting the dress codes right, brushing up on their dancing, and finally breaking into a formal event guided by an opaque local etiquette.
I have visited a few balls in my hometown since I was 16. Use my knowledge and experience with the best Vienna balls and local ball etiquette, which poured into this page.
What Makes A Vienna Ball?
A Viennese ball is in general a society dance event with live classical and contemporary music that requires elegant evening attire. Many of the best balls are organised by professional guilds and associations such as medical doctors, engineers and lawyers, coffeehouse owners, hunters and firemen. They are open to the general public.
It is easy to drop into a mediocre ball unless you know which event to pick. Use my shortlist of the best Vienna balls to get an overview of the balls in the best historic locations, with great orchestras, a fun programme, and a dress code that will make everyone look gorgeous. The list includes honest reviews of the Vienna Opera Ball, the Vienna Ball of the Coffee Brewers, and the Life Ball, Vienna’s craziest and most flamboyant international ball event.
NOTE: The best Vienna balls usually take place during the carnival season, between January and March, with a few exceptions.
Vienna Ball Tickets
Ticket categories usually range from student tickets to adult flaneur tickets (admission to venue) and tickets for tables or sometimes gala dinners. The average price for a flaneur ticket is approximately EUR 100, a table for 4 to 8 people can cost a couple of hundred Euros. Even if you decide to buy flaneur tickets, you stand a good chance to rest on some of the chairs at the venue, or sit down for gulash at a bar. Go to best Vienna balls for details on ticket prices for each recommended ball.
Each Viennese ball usually adheres to a strict dress code. If you get the evening attire (totally) wrong, you may not be allowed to enter, even with a valid ticket. The dress code for elegant balls is usually long ball gowns for the ladies and tuxedos, tailcoats or black suits (depending on the respective dress code of each organiser) for the gentlemen. With modern balls, such as the Life Ball, the dress code can be themed and quite extravagant. A few balls (Jaegerball, Wiener Kathreintanz, Trachentpaerchenball) accept elegant Austrian folkwear, such as dirndl dresses and Steirer suits.
There are ball gowns for hire and ball gowns for sale at a few good shops in Vienna. Let me share my shortlist of the best evening dress shops in Vienna and some local Austrian jewelry stores with you for inspiration.
You can review the dress code for each individual ball in my selection of the best Vienna balls.
Vienna Waltz And Dancing Lessons
The Vienna waltz is the most popular dance at our traditional balls. Like most good things, the basics are easy to learn.
If you want to learn the waltz or brush up on your dancing skills before stepping on the dance floor, you can book a private lesson or two in English or other languages at a local dancing school.
Hire A Taxi Dancer
Ladies: if you are single or have a dance-averse partner, you are not supposed to go cherry picking your perfect match among ball guests, unless it is ‘Damenwahl’ (see further below). Instead, hire a taxi dancer. These dance-partnering escorts are super well-mannered and groomed gentlemen who will be happy to swirl you around the dance floor without putting on a face. They come at various dance degree levels, and dance at most major local balls. While most of them are under 40, you can apply for a ‘Grandseigneur’.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org for further information.
Travel With Other Dancers To Vienna
Like anglers or equestrians, dancers love to cultivate their special interest en groupe. Listen if you are one of them: Imagine spending a week with other dance lovers in Vienna: attending dance classes, visiting up to four different balls, socialising and discovering Vienna together. Ari Levitt, passionate dance teacher, physician and entrepreneur, takes a small group of travellers for a travel, play and workshop experience during Waltz Week In Vienna.
Next camps: 17th to 23rd February 2014; winter 2016;
At Vienna Balls: Main Traditions You Should Know
Damenspende (Ladies Ball Gift)
Most traditional Viennese balls provide ball gifts to the ladies, either when entering or leaving the event. While in the 19th century these were beautifully decorated cards to register dances promised to different admirers, they come in various shapes today: from silver spoons and fashion jewellery to confectionery.
Balls usually start between 9 and 10pm with an opening ceremony performed by young first-time ball attendees, the ‘debutants’. The girls dress in white gowns (only debutantes should wear white dresses). Wait until the start to waltz, and until you hear the master of ceremony say ‘the ball is officially opened’, then you can join in on the dance floor.
‘Damenwahl’ defines a period during the ball where the ladies are allowed to approach gentlemen for a dance. Single ladies: the Rudolfina Redoute is the only Vienna ball where ladies can choose their partners throughout the evening. The Concordia Ball runs a ‘Herreninsel’ (‘gentlemen’s island’) equipped with experienced male dancers who are ready to dance. This makes approaching a stranger for a dance less daunting.
At midnight, the master of ceremony announces the quadrille, an old French dance which is performed by hundreds of dancers together. The orchestras usually play Johann Strauss‘ famous ‘Fledermaus Quadrille’ from his operetta ‘Die Fledermaus’ (The Bat). This is the most fun part of the ball and allows you to mingle with the crowd. Don’t worry if you have never danced it. The master of ceremony announces each step. If your German is not up to speed, just imitate your neighbour.
Food And Drink
You will find various buffets at Vienna Balls, serving cold and warm meals, and drinks. Eating gulash soup in your ball gown and lace gloves is particularly weird, but a tradition. I had it, against tradition, even before midnight – served me perfectly well to get a few more drinks and dance.
If you want to sit at a table you need to buy an additional table ticket at pre sales. Unless you are a larger group, you will usually share a table with other guests.
Almost every ball runs a raffle. Tickets can be bought at the ball, and proceeds mostly go to charity organisations. Prizes range from cruises and cars to shopping vouchers. Most raffle drawings take place after midnight.
Vienna Balls usually finish at 5am with Johann Strauss”Radetzkymarsch’.