In Vienna, over 400 balls are staged each winter, frequented by 300,000 dance-loving visitors from all around the world. A unique flair is invested in proceedings by the ceremonial program. The reason for the carnival-like addiction to balls amongst the Viennese can be found back in the 18th century, when the wearing of masks and costumes was reserved for the nobility, on private occasions. To compensate for this, Emperor Joseph II opened up the dances in the Redoute Rooms in the Hofburg palace to everyone. This allowed the Viennese to copy the courtly customs of these celebrations, something which they retain to this day: strict dress codes, an opening fanfare, the entrance of the debutants and debutantes and the call “Alles Walzer”, dance cards and changes of music, together with the ‘midnight interlude’, generally a quadrille, and the formal ending are all evidence of this. Another unique feature is the “Damenspende”, a selected gift for each lady as she enters the room.
The waltz, being a partner dance, was initially perceived as a provocation, and it caused moral outrage. The Vienna Congress (1814/15), meeting in the city to establish the new order in Europe following Napoleon’s campaigns, made it acceptable via the salons. The political work was so lavishly accompanied by balls that it gave rise to the legendary saying “Der Kongress tanzt!” (“The congress is dancing!”). What the Congress was dancing to ultimately moved the world more than any of its decisions: the Viennese waltz was honoured as the king of dances.
The intoxicating turning movements at waltzing speed brought an intimate pleasure into ecclesiastically-solemn ballrooms. And Johann Strauss the Elder (1804 - 1849), who established the supremacy of the waltz with 152 such successful compositions, struck up the invitation to this dreamy dance from Vienna to London with his orchestra. “Darf ich bitten?” (“May I have this dance?”) is the most wonderful invitation of a long ball evening, and it makes the heart beat that bit faster. And when it is ladies’ choice (when the women invite the men to dance), men too get to experience that feeling of being the chosen one.
Many of the Viennese balls are now organised by groups of professional persons. The “Kaffeesieder-Ball” (organised by the Coffee Brewers) transforms the Hofburg in Vienna into the most formal dance café in the city, with an elegantly charming programme; the Confectioners delight by serving up a ballet of pastries at their ball. For many, the ball staged by the Vienna Philharmonic is considered the unofficial highlight of the ball season; it is held in the rooms of the Vienna Musikverein, from where the New Year’s Day concert is also broadcast around the world every year. The Opera Ball, held in the Vienna Opera House, “in the most beautiful ballroom in the world”, is the State Ball of the Federal Republic of Austria, and also the artists’ ball of the Vienna State Opera.
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