WU Ball at the Hofburg

Tuxedo Clad Men Playing Air Guitar and Bejewelled Women Jumping Around With Wildly -- Expectation Meet Reality

Young men in tuxedos playing air guitar to the thumping sounds of rock; young women in long dresses jumping wildly around in formless frenzy –  this was not exactly

Not what I thought a Viennese ball would be like.

For one thing, I had expected a waltz. As a former ballroom dancer, I imagined men and women in stylish evening clothes swirling to a ¾ beat or a Latin tango. And as it turned out, I was not all wrong. It was just that some other, unexpected things have been added to the scene.

The crowd looked like a stream of ants going into the Hofburg for the Economics University Ball on Saturday Jan.12. And economists or not, the denizens of the Wirtschaftsuniversität were arriving late, just minutes before the program was to begin.

For a modest 23 euro entrance fee, we received champagne cocktails courtesy of  the consulting firm of Deloitte and Touche, cosmetic samples from Estée Lauder, a breakfast package and of course the entertainment. And just being in the former Imperial Residence was an honor in itself.

Once I got in, the sight of gleaming chandeliers, profusions of flowers and the long halls spreading out in all directions was dazzling, and I felt like a movie star, trailing down the red carpet in my long flowing dress. In fact, there were so many attractive characters on every side, it felt like a fashion show, and a perfect occasion for people watching.

The men in their tuxedos and tails were a blur of black, highlighted by a couple of older gents in officers uniforms with chests full of ribbons and epaulettes on their shoulders.

The women were far more interesting and within the scope of the term “festliche Abendgarderobe,” there seemed to be a lot room for interpretation. A women made her entrance in a gown of rose and gold with tiny gems stones embroidered into the silky folds reflecting the light. Is this gaudy or glamorous? It was hard to say. Others felt as beautiful in elegant, simple black sheath dresses accented with carefully chosen silver or golden jewelry. Others still came in knee long cocktail dresses you might see at the bar of the Hilton after work. We even saw a lady in a Sari floating through the crowd.

Camera’s were flashing reminding me of a prom, with young happy people grouping together and smiling for the camera. And just as everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives, a woman was carried out who had fainted in the crowd.

Once upstairs, we stumbled upon one of the bars. They also served hot dogs and cola, which was so amusingly out of place, I had to take them up on the offer.

The ball was officially opened – as are most ball’s in Vienna – with a quadrille by experienced young dancers trained at one of the city’s dancing schools followed by a waltz to the music of Johann Strauss played by C.M.Ziehrer’s Hofballorchester.

They entered the hall – the women wearing the long white dresses of traditional debutants and the men in tuxedos and tails – in rows of  couples poised and graceful in this ageless tribute to aristocratic decadence. And then multitudes join in, who gave more the impression of motor racing in an amusement park than the diversions of privilege.

Among the several rooms there was music for everyone’s taste. The show band The Coffee Club was playing in the Zeremoniensaal, boogie and rock and roll played by The Legendary Daltons in Rittersaal and jazz and DJs were playing in the Studentenbeisl, a student pub where my friends and I spent most of the evening, mostly because of its contemporary playlist and inexpensive drinks. There was also a beauty corner behind the orchestra for people of all ages to get makeup tips or service by Nivea.

When the clock struck twelve, the guests danced together in the Festsaal to the Donauwalzer, Blue Danube Waltz of Johann Strauss, after a tutorial by a dancing instructor.  Hundreds of people gathered on one floor. I wanted to join or at least watch, but I could barely squeeze into the hall.

Having spent the evening in the former winter residence of the Habsburg emperors, I felt like a princess in my long gown. Waltzing in the Hofburg in the shimmer of a fairy tale evening, I couldn’t help but feel a little like a part of history. Perhaps this is what it takes to become fully integrated here.

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