There used to be a time, not even that long ago, when it was taken for granted that Viennese youth would attend dancing school once they turned 16 or 17. This might not be the case anymore, but most Viennese can muster a halfway decent waltz at least.
The Congress dances: The history of Viennese ball tradition
It all began in the 18th century, when Emperor Joseph II. held the first balls in the Redoute Wing of the Hofburg Palaces. It is that time many of the customs, which are still part of ball tradition today, originated: The Debutante Procession, the Ladies’ Gift, the Midnight Quadrille.
Ball tradition really began to pervade the Viennese Society thanks to the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15. Plenty of dance parties were thrown in order to offset all the political work that was being done during the Congress. That’s how the saying “The Congress dances!” was born and how the dancing fever caught on.
The Viennese ball season has begun!
Traditionally, balls only took place during Carnival season, between 11 November and Shrove Tuesday. That time still counts as high season, but today the ball season has been extended to entertain dancers through all of winter.
The Vienna Opera Ball is perhaps the most well-known ball of the season. Most balls, however, are organised by professional associations. Kaffeesiederball (Coffee Makers’ Ball, loosely translated), ZuckerBäckerball (Confectioners’ Ball), and Philharmonikerball (Vienna Philharmonic Ball) are three of the most popular balls.
World-famous is the Life Ball Vienna, a charity ball benefiting the fight against AIDS. Every year socially conscious celebrities like Bill Clinton, Jean Paul Gaultier or Charlize Theron flock to Vienna to support the Life Ball and its mission.
The Grand Ferdinand is the perfect hotel for all those looking to “shake a leg” at one of Vienna’s many balls. Getting from the hotel to most ball locations is easy and fast. And, thanks to the underground trains running 24/7 on the weekends (Friday to Sunday night), you won’t have to rely on taxi cabs on your way back to the hotel – no matter the hour.
And, in case you’re hungry coming back from a night at the ball, our high-end “Würstelstand” Gulasch & Champagne, a play on the Vienna sausage stands, will be there for you at the hotel, making sure you’re happy and fed before you head up to bed so you can finally put your feet up – that’s what extra pillows are for, after all.
Ball ceremony for beginners
Dress code: Most balls are pretty lax on attire these days. However, men are usually expected to wear a dark suit, women evening or cocktail dresses. Some balls, like the State Opera Ball, have a stricter dress code. Black tie is required, formal evening dresses must reach the floor. Generally, it’s advisable to check the ticket or the ball website for dress code instructions.
Ladies’ Gift: At the entrance ladies traditionally receive a little present. Formerly, this was an elaborate way of packaging the dance cards. These days, with dance cards not being in use any longer, the Ladies’ Gift is simply a nice souvenir, often a contribution by the ball’s sponsors. To even things out, a lot of balls have introduced Gentlemen’s Gifts as well.
Formal Opening: The formal opening of a ball includes the Debutante Procession, the entry and dance of the young ladies and young gentlemen. The ladies wear white dresses (which many ditch for more comfortable outfits after the opening ceremony), the gentlemen dinner suits or tails. Their opening dance always ends in a reverse waltz or left hand waltz (“Linkswalzer”). When the “dancing master” finally calls out “Alles Walzer!” (“Waltz for all!”) all guests are invited to join the debutantes on the dance floor.
Ladies’ Choice: Dance cards have gone out of style, and the rules on who asks whom to dance have blurred. Nonetheless, the tradition of calling Ladies’ Choice during a ball has remained upright during most events. So, for a while, the ladies are the ones who get to ask: “May I have this dance?”
Midnight stage show: The stage show at midnight draws guests back to the main ballroom. At traditional balls the entertainment on stage is followed by the so-called Midnight Quadrille. To the music of the “Fledermaus-Quadrille” by Johann Strauss II. guests flock to the dance floor, where the dancing master instructs them in a group dance, which usually elicits a lot of laughter and hilarity.