“Everybody waltz!”: the viennese ball etiquette.


Every year: right after the Christmas and Advent markets, the New Year's concert and the end of the holidays, the whole of Vienna prepares for the ball season. Balls in Vienna have a long tradition. Even during the Congress of Vienna in 1814 it was said that: "The congress dances". However, as we know today, work was also done.

The annual viennese opera ball does not only attract austrians, but people from all over the world.

Anyone who indulges in this festive Viennese habit today will dress unusually festively, eat well beforehand and - if affordable - drink plenty of champagne. And then there's an absolute must at the nightly ball – to promenade arm in arm and as elegantly as possible through the most beautiful ball locations in Vienna, gossiping about the celebrities or politicians and listening to live music. So there is a lot to do at such a ball. You don't necessarily have to dance: that's the good news. 
Otherwise there is still a lot to consider in order not to avoid appearing as an absolute ball dummy.

The dates of this year’s balls can be found on our website!

A ball night in Vienna – you have the choice.

The success of your personal ball night depends on the choice of the right ball. There are plenty to choose from in Vienna: a very grand affair at the Opera Ball, to the sounds of the world-famous Philharmonic Orchestra in the Musikverein, or more "down-to-earth" at the Flower Ball in the Vienna City Hall? Or dance with the confectioners with lots of sweet accompaniment? If you want to wear traditional costume, if you are bulletproof or if you feel a special affiliation to an Austrian province, then the Styrian and Hunters’ Balls are both to recommended, as well as the more exotic "Ball of the Vorarlbergers in Vienna".

Every professional group, every group of artists and every association organises its own ball in Vienna. Important are the location, the music which is played, how many celebrities and artists are attending and - of course - the price: it’s no good fooling ourselves – such a ball night can be quite expensive. Basically the more elite the pompous location is, the higher the ticket price will be.  Except for students. Then it is cheaper - even tickets for the big balls.

In a palais, in the palace or in the opera?
The opera, the Hofburg or the many palais are “once in a lifetime” locations for a real Viennese ball, but not really cheap. The price of the ticket is not just all. Dinner, a table reservation, taxi, drinks and dress hire are all additional costs. And depending on the location, even the sausages are expensive at a ball. 

The masquerade ball and ballroom party
The famous Rudolfina masquerade ball has been a fixed highlight in the ball scene since 1899 because the ladies have to wear a mask!  We are not talking about simple masks as are worn at carnival time but about beautiful masks for the eyes. The masks are dropped at the stroke of midnight! Anyone who is already tired by 9 pm is better off at a “Kränzchen” or a ballroom party: they usually start around 5 pm and the fun ends at midnight, but they are just as festive.

Each to his or her own ball. Alternative, hip or very special.
Techno ball, refugee ball, vegan ball, hip hop ball, pensioners’ ball, diversity ball, Chinese New Year’s ball, sweet ball, diplomat ball, space ball or a simple parish ball – everyone dances in Vienna. You just have to choose where you feel at home. There is only more behind the “Academics’ Ball”, but then there is always plenty to read about that in the daily press. 

A donation for the ladies and floral decoration 
A tip for female newcomers to a ball: a "women's donation" is not a charity, but rather a small (or larger, depending on the ball theme) gift for the lady. On the other hand the following applies to the sumptuous floral decorations in the ballroom: "Not to be takenl". Unless it is explicitly offered to you when you go home and not by your companion.

This is how you should not do it.

Ball fashion for you and your charming escort

You want to go to a "typical" Viennese ball? Then first of all you should meticulously plan your outfit: the dress code is already stated on the ball invitation, which needs to be studied carefully. You can't afford an error, really not a single error in interpretation here. Or do you want to stand alone in front of the doors of the Hofburg while everybody else is celebrating inside?

Admittedly, at first glance the dress code stated on the ball invitation often seems to be a little, well, daunting. Because: "The ball committee reserves the right to refuse entry if the dress code is not adhered to correctly", and this it really does. In which case you should then have an alternative evening programme ready.

Full-length is down to the floor and not just ankle-length or short. 
The length of the robe is never just a matter of interpretation and can also never be discussed. Study the invitation carefully: your dress is as long as the floor if only the tips of your shoes are protruding. Knee-length because you can afford to show your legs? No problem at a party in a tent but never ever at a Viennese ball.

Full ball gown or evening dress
A full ball gown stands out with lots of tulle, lace, brocade or silk and a large neckline at the top and is ALWAYS full length. It can be worn with a stole, long gloves and patent leather shoes. White is an absolute no-go if you are not a debutante, an embarrassing IT girl or well under 16. An evening dress can be simpler but “floor length” is simply not a matter for discussion. 

Tuxedo, tails and cummerbund 
A ball is the only place in the world where a gentleman in a tailcoat does not pass as a waiter, penguin or an active member of the Philharmonic Orchestra at the New Year's concert. Unless he wears the wrong tie, namely a black tie, with it because then the evening is over for him anyway. The cummerbund, on the other hand, is an important part of the tuxedo - here you can show some colour!

For gentlemen: the thing with the wristwatch and the wallet.
Wristwatches are frowned upon, therefore it is recommended that you take along a pocket watch (!), which nowadays is not something which the average man possesses. So: just forget about the time - your aching feet will tell you the right time. Avoid a bulging wallet and instead use a clip with lots of large notes. You will need them!

For ladies: the thing about stockings and the handbag
Anyone who is used to always carting around everything they own in a large handbag, will despair on the evening of the ball: ball handbags are usually only the size of a smart phone. That poses many problems and there is simply no recommendable solution. There isn’t even room for a second pair of stockings. But: a ladder in your stockings is still better than bare legs.

You can hire a ball gown but not good manners. 

Elegant, sedate and as upright as possible: this is how you should enter every ballroom. Trying to be particularly cool and slouching along do not look good in an evening dress or tuxedo. Chin up and chest out: you're at a Viennese ball and not with your mates at the sausage stand - it's time for that later.

For ladies: take advantage of every arm which is offered to you. 
On the night of the ball it is OK to you accept some help, even if you are otherwise a very emancipated woman. Some have already tripped over in their unusually long and flowing dress on the red carpet. So: entrust one arm to the gentleman and with the other hand always keep the dress up.

Say no to somebody? Yes, but only to the gentleman. 
As a lady you basically have the choice whether you accept a dance invitation or not: If you don't like a dance-keen gentleman, you can refuse. On the other hand, however, no worldly gentlemen who has any manners may give you a rebuff - if he does, then he is an uncouth journeyman and hasn’t the least idea of ball etiquette.

The famous dizziness
Especially if you are not particularly expert at the Viennese Waltz, but the temperament of "Viennese Blood" takes hold of you: before you become dizzy and you both fall to the floor, fix your eyes on a fixed point in the hall or change direction as you rotate. Similar to driving a bumper car at the fairground!

Midnight hour: Quadrille dancing & picking up your desired refreshment
Even if you are sceptical at first: join in the loud "Quadrille" dance at the witching hour. Everything you have to do will be announced and the others can't do it any better. And if you go the sausage stand in your ball gown and tuxedo at the end of the ball, you will realise: sausages never taste better than after a night of dancing!

Dancing is optional, having fun isn’t. 
Why can you go to a ball without mastering a single correct dance step? Because the crowds will make a complex fox trot combination or dynamic cha-cha-cha steps impossible anyway. No matter whether you sway or waltz (you will probably still be able to do that) – the main thing is that you are there!



Angelika Mandler-Saul

Angelika Mandler-Saul, who grew up in the Weinviertel region in Lower Austria, is a travel blogger and freelance author. Since 2013 she has been writing about her experiences and impressions while travelling throughout the world on www.wiederunterwegs.com. Her focus: nature and culture. She is regularly accompanied by her sooty black labrador Coffee, who is also good for many stories.
Angelika is particularly fond of travelling in her native country Austria, bringing her love of Austrian history and literature, travelling and writing under one roof. Travelling with culture: that sums it up precisely.

more articles by the author

our newest tips

Art, Culture and design in the capital of indulgence

Theater, Architecture and Art - enjoy the diverse cultural landscape of Graz.

Read on   →

Prost, cheers and to your health in Salzburg

A drink after a sightseeing tour or a marathon meeting in Salzburg?

Read on   →

Winter weekend in Vienna

Restaurants, bars, concept stores: A trip through wintry Vienna with the coolest locations

Read on   →