Every year, more than 300 grand balls are held. Ladies and gentlemen in gowns and black tie assemble to waltz, see, and be seen in some of Austria's finest venues, including the Imperial Palace. I had the pleasure of attending once such ball this year, The Coffeehouse Owners' Ball, held annually at said location with a guest list of over 5,000.
The Coffeehouse Owners' Ball, like most balls in Vienna, is open to the public. Just as every child in Vienna is taught social dance as a school requirement, every single person in Austria is eligible to attend most balls, simply by buying a ticket. Table seating and drinks come at an additional cost, as do carriage rides, fabulous dresses and other associated expenditures, but in Vienna, you'd be a fool not to attend at least one of these important societal gatherings each year -- and if you're a tourist, it's an experience you will never, never forget.
A typical ball evening begins with dinner, as one must prep for a late night of dancing. Then, most guests head to the ball venue around 7:30 PM to see the opening ceremony -- though I'm told "professional" ball goers, or people who've been attending several balls per week for years, tend to skip the ceremony and arrive at 11 or so when the real "party" starts. Depending on which ball it is, the ceremony may be less or more lavish. The Coffeehouse Owners' Ball included not only singing, dancing, and speeches by dignitaries and, of course, coffeehouse owners, but a presentation by Austria's most accomplished debutantes, who must apply and audition for a coveted debut slot at one of the larger balls.
Once the ceremonies are completed, the ball begins. At the Coffeehouse Owners' Ball, Professor Thomas Schäfer-Elmayer, Austria's etiquette expert, announces "Alles walzer!" or "Everyone waltz!" -- and that they do.