Waltzing through Vienna: A night at the Officer’s Ball

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During J-term 2019, 367 students and 32 program leaders will participate in one of Luther's 18 courses around the globe.Each course is a different journey and has a different blogger (or several). Below you'll find a blog post from the Luther College Symphony Orchestra Residency in Vienna: An Exploration of Viennese Performances. Check out the January Term 2019 Course Blogs page for more on each of the courses! Although it's impossible to keep up with everyone, these blogs are designed to provide glimpses into our students' adventures.

Guten tag! My name is Kari Jacobson and I am a sophomore English major and flutist in the Luther College Symphony Orchestra. Last night, I along with the other orchestra members attended the annual Officer's Ball at the Hofburg Palace. The ball, however, required careful forethought as to the choice of attire and knowledge of the dances.

On the morning of the 18th the orchestra cleared our rehearsal space to prepare for a dance lesson with the son of our tour guide, Ulrike. From his excellent instruction, we learned the basic steps of the Viennese waltz, a 360 degree, quick, and graceful dance, which is deceptively difficult. After an hour of diligent practice, we had by no means mastered the basics of the right and left waltz, but left with many more smiles. As per the suggestion of a bassist, we concluded our session with the Cha-cha Slide, a familiar dance for Americans. Being comfortable with the waltz tradition, however, made us much more comfortable heading into the evening's festivities.

Riding the U-bahn in formal floor-length dresses was a curious feeling, but as the trademark curve of the Hofburg came into view, we no longer felt like imposters- this was our world for the night.

Inside the doors, the ladies received little ball gifts, hand mirrors with the name of the ball emblazoned on the cover. Immediately we were swept up the red carpet staircase leading to the main ballroom. The room was already filling with men and women in uniform and the musicians for the evening.

After finding our group's tables in a smaller ballroom, we returned to the main ballroom for the Opening Ceremony at 9:30 p.m. in which the debutantes would be presented to society. Clamoring for a view of the young women in their white gowns and the officers accompanying them, we lined up along the sides. The announcer for the evening, sparkling silver floral patterns decorating the shoulders and arms of his black suit, alternated between English and German in his commentary for the guests. He introduced several dignitaries such as the ambassador from Croatia, the president of Oman, and several Austrian generals, and welcomed the visitors to Austria. He thanked us for bringing our “international flavor” to the ball. Then the debutantes danced their way into society. The military band with red berets entertained the audience with a marching show. A famous female opera singer from the Staatsoper also performed a crowd pleaser about dancing and spring. Finally, the announcement was made: “alles tanzen!” and couples from the sides descended onto the dance floor for a lively Viennese waltz, accompanied by the orchestra in the balcony.

In the room with our tables, I heard the most unique rendition of the Blue Danube waltz, performed by a keyboardist playing an orchestra reduction and a drummer. Each room in the palace had a different musical ensemble and style of music, from Strauss waltzes to big band jazz to ABBA music at various points of the night.

According to precedent, each emperor could not live in the quarters of the former emperor; thus, the Hofburg Palace is gigantic, comprising over 12% of the city center. After dancing for a while in the main ballroom, a group of us went to explore the endless maze of rooms. We discovered a room in which an all-female chamber orchestra dressed in plum and violet gowns played mainly waltzes. We attempted to put our lesson of the morning to practice and several LCSO women were even asked to dance by the Austrian officers!

At midnight the dancing in all of the rooms came to an abrupt halt for entertainment in the main hall from the Oman and Croatian contingents. The Oman performers combined dance and music, entering the hall with a procession of singers, bagpipes, a marching band, and dancers with swords. The Croatians later performed folk music, featuring an accordion and two violins.

Sustained by a double espresso and glee, we returned to our side ballroom after a few waltzes. The Austrians were getting down to Africa by Toto. When we walked in the door, a formally dressed Austrian officer was singing along at the top of his lungs. ABBA classics provoked many more twirls, wrist flicks, and intricate footwork. By now the atmosphere was buzzing with excitement and everyone was chatting as they danced. Compared to the relatively reserved personalities we had observed in public, these Austrians let loose.

Around 2 a.m. many members of LCSO gathered to leave, but no one really wanted to go. Vienna, we had a ball- a perfect prom with much better dancing, more elegant company, and a beautiful venue. Who cares about the tiredness when you receive a bag of fresh bread on the way out into the crisp, starry night and taste the sweetness melting in your mouth. Who cares about the sore muscles when you chat with a kind, retired electrical engineer on the subway returning from his own celebration with old friends. For me, Toto expresses the sentiment of the night so well: "Gonna take some time to do the things we never had." When I returned to my bed in the wee hours of the morning, I was thankful for such an opportunity to dance the night away alongside the friends I'm making in LCSO.


More blog posts to come! Hope you are enjoying reading our perspectives on this trip.

-Rachel and Briana

People dancing right after the opening ceremony.
Students dressed up for the ball in the main dancing hall.
The waltz room, one of the many smaller rooms at the Hofburg for dancing.
The outside of the Hofburg palace, where the ball took place.

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