Taxi! Let's try the Vienna Waltz

BALL BELLES: Beautiful white-gowned debutantes and dashing young men in perfectly pressed tuxedos. Photos: Vienna Tourism
BALL BELLES: Beautiful white-gowned debutantes and dashing young men in perfectly pressed tuxedos. Photos: Vienna Tourism

IT'S a Cinderella moment as I step from a horse-drawn carriage to attend one of Vienna's famous balls at the beautiful Hofburg Palace.

The former imperial home of the Habsburgs is looking its elegant best for the 62nd annual Coffee-House Owners' Ball attended by 4800 guests, who are well acquainted with the Viennese Waltz.

It is one of 450 balls hosted in Vienna each season that range from the elegant and traditional to rollicking carnival parties. The quirkiest must be the chimney sweeps' ball and the hip-hop ball where you swap your stilettos for sneakers.

One thing for sure is the Viennese love their music. Which is not surprising as Mozart, Mahler, Haydn and Johan Strauss, the king of the Viennese waltz, were all born in Vienna.

An hour-long lesson with Austria's leading authority on waltz and social etiquette, the charming Thomas Schafer-Elmayer, at Vienna's legendary Elmayer Dance School founded in 1919, helps me with the basics.

Anyone can go to a ball here; it just takes a little planning. You can buy a general admission ticket and wander around all night or pay more for a table. Ball attire can be hired: for women it's floor-length evening gowns and for men tailcoat or tuxedo.

It's a magical experience as we enter the palace, discard our coats and find our table in the magnificent ballroom complete with glittering chandeliers.

Excitement builds as the orchestra plays. Debutantes dressed in stunning white gowns enter on the arms of dashing young men in perfectly pressed tuxedos and polished shoes. They twirl and spin around the dance floor ever so elegantly.

But it's not until you hear the words "Alles Waltzer", meaning everyone dance, that others join in.

I am politely invited to dance by a handsome young man known as a "taxi dancer". These dancers can be hired from dance schools to partner women on the dance floor and our group takes it in turn.

Andreas, who is studying at university, takes me for a twirl; and despite a rocky start when I stand on his toes, my waltz lesson pays off.

"Left foot back, right to side and close," rings in my ears and I manage to avoid Andreas' toes for the remainder of the evening.

We visit other palace rooms where there are concerts and even a disco downstairs.

At 3am we indulge in another time-honoured Austrian tradition, a wursti at the Bitzinger sausage stand at Albertina Platz.

I fall asleep humming to the Viennese Waltz on what was truly a fairytale night and spare a thought for my taxi dancer's bruised toes.

If you go

ELEGANCE PERSONIFIED: Vienna's balls are glamorous affairs.

ELEGANCE PERSONIFIED: Vienna's balls are glamorous affairs.

Thai Airways International flies 29 times a week non-stop from Australia to Thailand with onward connections to more than 40 cities in Asia and to Europe including Vienna.

Other destinations in Europe include London, Rome, Milan, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Moscow, Zurich, Frankfurt and Munich - www.thaiairways.com

STAY: Park Hyatt Vienna - www.parkhyattvienna.com

DANCE LESSONS: Elmayer Dancing School - www.elmayer.at

For more information www.wien.info and search Balls.

The writer was a guest of Vienna Tourism and Thai Airways.