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Take me to the ball! Your guide to a Viennese Ball

February 2, 2016 5:07 pm by

The Viennese Ball has been an institution for over 200 years and every year they return with vigour. Kicking off with the New Year’s Eve Ball, traditionally it’s followed by a high season throughout January and February and finds its peak at Carnival. Over 450 balls are hosted across the city and an impressive 2000 hours of dancing are clocked up. The balls have become such a tradition that they have even been included in the UNESCO Cultural List.

It’s not just about traditional waltzes, pretty dresses and a fancy venue – there is a real etiquette to follow. Whether you are a man or woman, you have your own set of rules to abide by if you are to participate in the balls properly. Here is our guide of the know hows, do’s and don’ts of a Viennese Ball.

Dress code:

Don’t turn up to the ball in anything less than formal evening wear – or you won’t be allowed in! Ladies, full length ball gowns, with a jacket and gloves is preferable. The rule of thumb is the longer the sleeve, the shorter the glove. Men, don your tails, tuxedos and bow ties and don’t forget the satin piped trousers and cummerbunds either. If you’re a military man, you can get away with your military dress. For both men and women, if you have a traditional Austrian dress in your wardrobe, feel free to wear this, too. But there are also costume balls and queer balls. In any case, the required dress code will be written on your ball ticket.


Tickets for Vienna’s most famous and ball, the Opera Ball, are extremely expensive, especially those for boxes, but despite the price they are highly sought after. The city’s other prestigious balls, such as those held in Hofburg palace, are considerably less costly. Tickets for general admission are significantly more affordable than table reservations. There is no need to book a table: wandering through the ball rooms between dances, or savoring the atmosphere at the buffet or cocktail bar are just some of the most enjoyable aspects of a Viennese ball night. Some events even install wine taverns complete with traditional Schrammelmusik for the night.

Should you have booked a table, there will be a seating plan with your name designated to a table. Ladies are always sat to the right of the men and upon introduction, the men will take the ladies hand to mock kiss (note: mock kiss, his lips must not actually touch her skin!) If the lady should need to get up from the table at any point in the night, the man must either get to his feet, or make an effort to. Best practice is to leave your mobile phone at home – using it at the table is a big faux pas.

Opening ceremony:

The balls usually kick off around 9pm-10pm, which means you’ve eaten beforehand. The formal opening ceremony includes a polonaise, a waltz and another choreographed dance performed by the opening committee, couples of men and women dressed in black and white, respectively. At the end of the dances, the floor opens to the attendees upon hearing “Alles Walzer!” – “Everyone waltz!” which means everyone is welcome to the dance floor. But make sure you’re near the front, as it often gets so busy you can’t actually perform the Viennese Waltz in the given space!


For a man to ask a lady to dance, he must say “Darf ich bitten?” Don’t worry if you’re not keen, just let your partner down in a courteous manner – no one wants to be humiliated in public! Before the dance, both parties have to curtsey to each other and once on the dancefloor, it’s the man who leads. After the dance has finished, if the couple don’t wish to dance the next dance, the man must lead the woman back to her table and make a conscious effort to have asked every lady at his table to have danced with him before the night is up. You don’t want to make anyone feel left out, do you…

Although every traditional ball opens the floor to dancers with a waltz, virtually every kind of formal dance will be represented during the course of the evening. While most of the music comes courtesy of orchestras and ensembles, many events also have discos.


Ladies, if you would rather ask the men to dance, wait until Damenwahl. This is the time when you are ‘allowed’ to approach a man for a dance. So if you’re single and ready to mingle, this is your chance to make a move… There’s only one ball in Vienna where women can ask men to dance throughout the evening, and that’s at the Rudolfina Redoute, so rather than be the wallflower, maybe you should book tickets for that one! Look out for ‘taxi dancers’ too, dance partner escorts who are happy to oblige.

Last dance:

At all Viennese balls the official close is also a traditional affair. The lights in the ballroom are dimmed and the orchestra plays the slightly melancholic and downbeat waltz “Brüderlein fein, musst nicht gar so traurig sein” and the remaining revelers step out onto the dance floor for the last time. Many people end the night with a bowl of spicy goulash soup in one of the countless nearby coffee houses which are open at this early hour throughout the ball season. A hearty snack from a sausage stand is another popular option.

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