Next Saturday, the Viennese Ball will give students the rare chance to dust off the nice clothes in the back of their closets and go waltzing. Wilson Commons will be transformed into a multi-floor dance hall complete with live music, refreshments and door prizes. Roughly 500 guests will get to enjoy “the spirit of an evening in ‘Old Vienna.'”
The Ball has been a campus staple for 20 years, and those unfamiliar will soon learn that it’s a pretty big deal.
“It’s one of those traditions, like Dandelion Day, that defines being an undergraduate here,” Music Department Concert Manager Joe Hanson said. Hanson coordinates the event, with help from Event Support, making Wilson Commons suitable for the dance by dimming the lights, moving furniture and putting up banners.
“What we do is try to take a student union and for one night make it not seem like it’s filled with coke machines and video games,” Hanson said. “Because it’s such a tradition, it’s the only time a group is allowed to come in and completely transform the building.”
Wilson Commons is not the only one to dress up – students will often come in their finest attire. This is the ideal opportunity for women to resurrect their prom dresses, and for men, while tuxedos are not required, formal attire is recommended and adds to the extravagant atmosphere of the night.
To contribute to the ambiance of “Old Vienna,” the Ball enlists two of the University’s finest ensembles: the River Campus Chamber Orchestra and River Campus Chamber Choir.
“Both of these groups represent the pinnacle of River Campus Performance,” Hanson said. Their repertoire for the night is consistent with the theme – 18th century waltz music mostly by Johann Strauss, including his famous “Blue Danube.” Though both chamber groups benefit from the proceeds, the focus is not about money.
“The students love to perform,” Hanson said, “and it’s more about being a unique event.”
What makes it unique is the waltzing. While most student formals play popular music, the Viennese Ball – one of many hosted by colleges across the country – is well known for waltzes and classical music. This tradition is what draws the large crowd of ballroom dancers and community members, such as one woman who dressed last year in an authentic European dress that may or may not have been from “The Sound of Music.” But the waltzing should not frighten students away. According to Hanson, guests “don’t have to know how to waltz,” and it is perfectly acceptable to simply slow dance. For those that do want to learn, the Ballroom Dance Club is teaching crash courses on the basics of waltzing Nov. 6 and10.
The wildcard dance of the night is the Viennese Waltz, “a much different animal,” as Hanson calls it. Students probably don’t want to try this variation on the waltz that requires more involved footwork and quickly covering large amounts of ground. It is best left to the professionals, which is why this year the Music Department has hired The Botsford Ballroom Dancers, a local dance company. Made up of mostly students, the Botsford Dancers are directed by 2002 World Ballroom Dance Champion Michelle Madore, and during the first orchestra break, six of the most experienced ballroom dancing couples will be talking about the Viennese Waltz, followed by a professional demonstration in the May Room.
Closing the night is the trademark “balloon drop” that tops off the event in appropriate fashion. At the stroke of midnight, an enormous chime is struck 12 times, followed by a showering of balloons from the fifth floor balcony down to the Pit. “Of course everyone always ends up popping them,” Hanson said, but that’s alright.
Students who are familiar with the Ball understand what a popular event it can be – if you’re not going, you know someone who is – and in the past it has drawn as many as 1,000 guests. It’s okay to go stag, but be sure to bring that “Old Vienna Spirit.”
Fountaine is a member ofthe class of 2008.