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Vienna Waltz Season


By Bobbie Leigh

As with love affairs, beginnings are best when it comes to a Viennese ball.  That’s because they begin with debutantes, stunningly ethereal in tiaras, elbow length  white gloves,  and billowing white ball gowns partnered by young men  in princely white tie. The young couples  waltz to the fast tempos of Strauss performing the most exacting  counter-clockwise turns in unison  and then show off their classical dance savvy in a mandatory French quadrille.

Important guests or friends of the host organization  get to watch the opening ceremonies in a central ballroom. The rest observe the festivities on large TV screens.   After the obligatory high-profile speeches,  Thomas Schafer Elmayer, the third generation  head  of the legendary Elmayer Dancing School, proclaims “Alles Walzer,”  that is, everybody dance,  and suddenly  the dance floor is crowded with  couples  waltzing –- this time clockwise — followed by everything from  Strauss to Salsa.

The top billing during ball season,  generally November  to February,   is the  Opera Ball  held on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday at the gilded, elegant Staatsoper, the Vienna State Opera House. Tickets cost  230 euro  while a table for  six  is  960 euro.   After the last  opera   performance, some 300 workers strike the sets and  commandeer what must be every palm tree  in the city to prepare for the spectacle which is usually broadcast on television


The second best and costing about 110  euro  is the Coffee House Owners Ball. It’s no small affair, as there are some  800  Kaffeehauser.  Unlike other capitals, Vienna maintains a distinct Baroque  personality, especially in  its   50 classic coffee houses where  waiters   still dress in black and the décor  —wood floors, marble-topped tables –- is decidedly haute- unpretentious.

When it comes to the ball season,  second best does not mean second rate.  The Coffee House Owners  ball — attended by 6,000 guests in 2010 — was held in  the various  chandeliered  rooms of the  sprawling, marbled Hofburg Palace.   Even  the court palace’s   famous Spanish Riding School  was carpeted and  transformed  into a bewitching ball scene.  Six orchestras played  while guests danced  and wandered from one champagne and sea food bar to another.  Officially, the Hofburg  was the winter home of the Habsburgs but you can be sure that even they got lost in the jumble of rooms, stairways, secret entrances, and  regal  staircases  fit for an emperor making his grand entrance.

Several  balls raise funds for charity.  The  Vienna Refugee Ball whose patron is the city’s mayor helps to finance housing for refugees.  The  Life Ball, Europe’s largest AIDS charity event, held on July 17 at City Hall, is  probably the most  up-to-the-second glam event featuring top models, celebrities, and  sexy drag queens.

If you’re thinking about going to a Viennese ball, check out the calendar at Ball Kalender and consult your closet.  The dress code, strictly enforced, is to-the-floor gowns for women and white or black tie for men although military dress with medals seems to get by the  censors.  And of course, you will have much more fun if you brush up on your waltzing.  One option is to  sign up for private waltz lessons at the Elmayer Dancing School, right across from the Hofburg Palace.

But don’t be misled.  The Viennese waltz is 60 beats per minute, a lot livelier than the British which is a mere 30.  Keep in mind that  one or two lessons  are not necessarily confidence building as all the locals  appear   to have studied at one of the 30 dancing schools in the city for at least two years. The tradition goes back to the post-Napoleonic era when the French were still dancing the polka while  the Viennese were studying and rehearsing   intricate ball choreography. Even today, as H.L. Mencken once remarked, the waltz never goes out of fashion… it is always around the corner.

Contact the Austrian Tourist Office for more information.

BOBBIE LEIGH has written for many national publications including The Wall Street Journal, Travel & Leisure, and Departures. Currently she is a New York correspondent for Art & Antiques.

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  1. March 11, 2011 at 2:13 pm — Reply

    My Friend forwarded your Post Vienna Waltz Season | Everett Potter's Travel Report on Friday.Your post was Well written.Pl. keep posting on corner office.

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