Preparing for the Viennese Ball

Author: Steve Gainey

Many years ago, my wife Karla and I took some basic beginner dancing lessons when we lived in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC.  These group lessons were VERY basic….six steps in six lessons over six weeks, each group lesson lasting about two hours. 

It’s been at least several decades since then, and I can’t remember all of the steps we learned, but the three which stuck with me were the swing (I’ve since discovered that it’s the East Coast Swing we learned, both single and triple), the fox trot, and the waltz. 

We actually retained enough of the swing and fox trot that we were able to put it to use at wedding receptions and the like, but the dance which I enjoyed more than any other was the waltz.

We had two things working against us with respect to the waltz.  First, it didn’t often present itself for dancing, even at the few social dance occasions we attended.  Second, and more importantly, we remembered only one rudimentary step, making for little enjoyment in moving around the dance floor.  So, we did almost no waltzing for a long time.

About eleven years ago, I learned of a not-for-profit entity in Washington, DC, which had begun an annual charity Viennese Ball in the previous year.  The white-tie ball was given at a beautiful mansion in Washington, complete with a dinner and live orchestra.  This appealed to my sense of romance, as I’ve always thought that I was born 90-100 years too late and on the wrong side of the Atlantic. 

I convinced Karla that we should attend (it didn’t take much convincing), and it certainly didn’t hurt that a three-hour lesson was offered each week for the four weeks preceding the ball for beginning/refresher students.  We took all of the lessons, learned enough not to embarrass ourselves on the dance floor, and prepared for the big evening.

Karla is quite adept with a needle and thread, so she decided to make a ball gown for the occasion.  My recollection is that she used more than one pattern to make the dress.  The skirt was wide enough that she placed a loop near the bottom so that she could insert her gloved finger through it and carry the skirt through the wide turns of the waltz:

We have since attended 25-30 such Viennese Balls, both in the Washington area and in several other cities across the country, but I must say that one never forgets their first.  To quote a dear friend of ours, “It was a magical evening.”


Because we have enjoyed ourselves immensely at these events, and have formed friendships which have taken a life beyond the dance floor, Karla and I discussed on more than one occasion the possibility of taking lessons to really learn how to dance.  These discussions didn’t go anywhere initially, but, about two-and-a-half years ago, a source which escapes me now recommended Social Graces Ballroom Dance Studios for lessons.  I thought about it and called the studio on Christmas Eve to inquire about private lessons.

I was told about an introductory package which seemed to fit our needs, and Social Graces was able to e-mail the gift certificate to me that day so that I could give it to Karla for Christmas.  Social Graces was quite accommodating of our schedule: I was planning to retire from my position in Washington, DC, at the end of March, and our daughter’s wedding was scheduled for mid-May.  I learned that the gift certificates were usually required to be used within 90 days, but ours was extended to 180 days because of our situation.  I remember calling Social Graces in early May and leaving a message concerning our wish to start our lessons after our daughter’s wedding.


At that point, our instructor had been teaching at Social Graces for a few months.  She returned my telephone call, we spoke briefly, set up our first lesson, and began one of the most rewarding relationships of our lives.  She is so good at what she does that I think that she sometimes lets me believe that I am teaching myself.  With that said, I have seen her on the floor with partners who are far more skilled than I and marveled at her talent.  Karla and I have learned so much from her in two years, and enjoyed ourselves so much in doing so, that I wish that we had started this long ago.

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