For the last two decades, the Viennese Ball has been known as one of UR’s favorite traditions, an opportunity for the student body to mingle with members of the community, listen to beautiful classical music and, perhaps most importantly, get another use out of that pricey prom dress or tuxedo. Yet this year, the continuation of this celebrated event has been uncertain from the start. An abrupt change in leadership has left the ball riddled with problems from funding, to assembling an orchestra, to finding a location and on the verge of cancellation.

Despite these odds, a dedicated group of students from UR’s Ballroom Dance Club has taken on the huge task of not only keeping this tradition alive, but making this year’s ball the most elegant and memorable of them all.

Up until this year, UR’s music department has put on the Viennese Ball as a fundraiser, with the Chamber Orchestra providing the traditional waltzes, marches and polkas of the Strauss family. The music and dance have taken place on three floors of Wilson Commons, which is decorated for the evening to resemble ‘Old Vienna.” It has, since its beginnings in 1986, been the only formal dance available not only to the entire campus but to the public as well.

Early in the semester, the music department decided not to put on the ball. This was primarily due to the Chamber Orchestra’s trip to South America later this year, which unfortunately but understandably takes precedence over the Viennese Ball in terms of money and time.

UR’s Ballroom Dance Club, for whom the Viennese Ball has always been a culmination of a semester’s worth of dance lessons, did not want to let the tradition die out.

‘Ballroom had an interest because of the lessons we do at the beginning of the year,” Henry Henderson, co-president of Ballroom Dance and senior, said. ‘Without a ball there’s much less incentive.”

Indeed, there have been upwards of 120 students attending ballroom dancing lessons. The Viennese Ball acts as a way to not only showcase these newfound skills but, as Henderson noted, ‘to showcase to the community something about the University.”

Despite the fact that they lacked many of the resources of the music department specifically an already organized sixty-person orchestra Henderson and co-president and senior Kyra West, decided that they and the rest of the ballroom dancers would take on the challenge of putting on the ball. Not only would they accept responsibility for the ball, but they would also work to make it an event that more closely resembles the formal dances that still take place during the Viennese winter ball season today. Specifically, they hoped to move it to a more elegant location than Wilson Commons, something like the historic Harrow East Ballroom in downtown Rochester, which would allow more room for actual waltzing.

‘Wilson Commons is an awkward place to dance,” Henderson said. ‘Off campus it would seem less promlike and more sophisticated.”

However, as soon as the club got to work on its high aspirations for the event, they discovered just how difficult it would be. While the event was originally planned to take place at the Harrow East Ballroom this month, it has already been postponed to a not-yet-determined date next semester, and the threat of cancellation still looms. While the music department had no problem putting together the traditional 60-person orchestra needed for a Viennese Ball because it had an orchestra that would play for credit, the Ballroom Dance Club does not have this resource.

Thus, the co-presidents, along with Eastman graduate student Oliver Hagen, who has volunteered to conduct the orchestra, have been trying to find the high number of musicians they need for free and found it to be nearly impossible. ‘Ideally we need 9,000 more dollars, just so we could pay each musician $150,” Hagen said. Hagen pointed out that at other universities, such as Stanford University, the budget for their Viennese Balls are as high as $80,000.

Despite the financial problems currently facing the Viennese Ball, Henderson and the rest of the Ballroom Dance Club remain hopeful that the University and organizations within the University such as sororities and fraternities will step up to keep this tradition alive. ‘For fraternities and sororities and other groups, it’s an opportunity to do something diverse and outside their scope,” Henderson said. ‘We need help, ideas and money.”

For a school that prizes its traditions so highly, it would be a shame to lose one of the most anticipated events. Ballroom Dance Club, however, has confidence that this will not happen. ‘It is going to happen even if it’s in the Palestra with a DJ,” Henderson said. ‘We just need help.”

Healy is a member of the class of 2011.



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