Hail a partner: Vienna ‘taxi dancers’ waltz in for ball season

Edgar Kogler, 49-year-old “taxi dancer,” dances with a partner during a dance ball at Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, on February 2, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 19 February 2018

Hail a partner: Vienna ‘taxi dancers’ waltz in for ball season

VIENNA: It’s her third Vienna ball of the season and Renate Drabek plans to dance until the small hours. Tango, waltz, rumba, boogie: her dance partner can’t say ‘no’ as she’s hired him for the evening.
Vienna’s famous ball season, which peaks in January and February, is where hard-headed business sense meets more than 100 years of tradition, whether it’s hiring someone to dance with, taking a crash course in waltzing or handing out promotional freebies.
Some 450 balls organized in the Austrian capital through the winter are expected to attract more than 500,000 revellers, mostly from Vienna, while about 55,000 of them are visitors from abroad.
All the while, thousands will earn their living in the flourishing sector, in hotels, restaurants, fashioning evening wear, hairdressing, floristry as well as the all-important ballroom orchestras.
Rono Alam is one of the season’s entrepreneurs: several times a week he’s a “taxi dancer,” accompanying female ball lovers who need a partner.
Fifty-something and impeccably dressed, Alam was formerly a keen participant in dance competitions and set up his own company around 10 years ago when he realized that “many women couldn’t find a partner to dance with.”
Working for a rival outfit, 49-year-old “taxi dancer” Edgar Kogler is the quintessential Viennese waltzer: trained in the capital’s dance schools and a youth spent opening some of its most famed balls.
A secondary schoolteacher by day, by night Kogler indulges his love of dancing, taking to the ballroom floor and carefully attuning himself to his partner’s level, tastes and conversation.
Drabek feels at ease with the dancers she “hires” for a cost of around 150 euros an evening several times during the season, ever since the death of her husband.
“I love dancing, it’s my sort of sport,” says the retiree, resplendent in a daring bustier gown.
“And I adore this atmosphere,” she says, pointing to the marble columns, chandeliers, bouquets of fresh flowers and majestic staircase at the Hofburg palace, former residence of the Habsburg emperors and one of the most sought-after ball venues.
Austria’s chamber of commerce expects ball guests to spend a record 139 million euros ($172 million) this season — eight million more than last year, or 275 euros more on average per guest.
Every ball has an entry charge, with greatly varying ticket prices that rise according to the evening’s prestige. Students pay 25 euros for a university ball held at the Hofburg, compared to 70 euros for a full-price guest.
“Some balls have become big business,” says Ronan Svabek, master of ceremonies at the most famous of them all, the Opera Ball, which took place on February 8 and where the cheapest ticket costs 290 euros.
The ball season can prove a useful way to wine and dine important business contacts, especially from abroad.
“In many business branches it is a perfect tool to get close contact to business people,” said the manager of a family-owned Austrian milling and farming company who declined to be named.
Although many of his business partners are local and are ball-goers anyway, he said he did invite certain colleagues who are keen hunters to the hunters’ ball.
These days, ball sponsors, along with press offices and product placement, are the norm.
Ball-goers at the “BonbonBall” (“Vienna’s Sweetest“) received samples and freebies from an array of biscuit, ice cream and confectionery makers.
But Svabek stresses that there are still “lots of small neighborhood balls, school balls, balls for co-workers” which all embody the essence of the Viennese institution of “gathering different people together in one place, who don’t know each other but who spend the evening together, they talk and they get to know each other, all through the sheer love of dance.”
The tradition originates in the 18th century, when the balls of the Habsburg royal court ceased to be reserved for the aristocracy alone. The Viennese began adopting court customs and ways for their own soirées.
Now there is a ball for every taste.
Hunters, café owners, florists, butchers, building caretakers, vegans, hip-hop lovers and fans of space exploration can all find a dedicated event.
Certain customs, however, unite them, such as a strict dress code, an imperial ambiance, a choreographed opening dance by young, hand-picked débutants or first-time ball attendees, a succession of dance styles and musical genres, all capped off with a midnight quadrille.
It is no longer de rigueur for attendees to have gone to a formal dance school, whose numbers in Vienna have dropped from 70 in 1998 to around 20.
Many prefer instead to take a few hours’ instruction when they can, or even a crash course in waltzing before the ball.
Though, cautions Svabek, they risk missing out on learning the finer points of Viennese manners, the key to being ball-ready.
“How to approach someone, how to get to know them, how far one should persevere, at what point one should accept,” he said, referring to ball etiquette.
“Useful rules for dancing but also in society, for our way of living together,” he says.

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week 2018. (Arab News)
Updated 19 November 2018

Highlights: Next-gen designs from the Global Grad Show

  • The Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week showcased 150 innovative designs created by students from around the world
  • Designs ranged from high-tech solutions to simple objects

DUBAI: Highlights from the Global Grad Show at Dubai Design Week, which showcased 150 innovative and potentially life-changing designs created by students from around the world, ranging from high-tech scientific solutions to conceptually simple physical objects.

Ukranian designer Olga Zelenska says her work “focuses on simplicity, sustainability and aesthetics of design,” and “From Nowhere With Love” delivers on all three. It’s a set of biodegradable postcards, designed for “migrants and modern nomads” to allow them to take a piece of their homeland’s nature with them wherever they travel. The postcards contain seeds specific to the plant life of the country or area in which they are bought. Those seeds can then be planted wherever the buyer — or the recipient of the postcard — wishes. (We’re not sure they’re guaranteed to grow well, but you get the idea…)

Yara Ahmed Rady is a product design student at the German University in Cairo. Her GGS project “Dyslexia Learning Difficulty” is designed to help dyslexic children learn Arabic through a series of exercises that use conventional teaching techniques which Rady has transformed into educational games using digital technology and engaging all five senses, thereby, she wrote in her project description “offering alternative routes to literacy.”

One of the questions that GGS was attempting to answer this year was “How do we do more with less?” South Korean designer Yesul Jang, currently studying in Switzerland, came up with a product which addresses the needs of the ever-growing number of people living alone in small apartments or rented rooms in urban spaces. “Tiny Home Bed” is a raised bed with storage space — covered by a sliding fabric curtain allowing easier access than drawers — beneath. The frame is constructed of lightweight wood and is, Jang insists, “easy to construct.” Just as importantly, it’s not an eyesore.

After several years of working in the sportswear industry, London-based designer Jen Keane wanted to come up with a more sustainable way to make products. By combining digital and biological technology, she created a strong, lightweight, hybrid shoe that is made partly from bacteria. “I weave fibers into the shape and the bacteria grows around it,” Keane explained to Arab News. “It’s kind of a scaffold.” Keane added that she created the shoe in her kitchen at home. “I don’t have a lab,” she said. “I don’t have a [science] background. I learned how to do this by reading a lot, experimenting and talking to biologists. It’s totally doable.”

Sustainability also factored into Christian Hammer Juhl’s thinking when the Netherlands-based Danish designer was creating his inflatable furniture collection “10:01.” Made from dense foam material, the furniture can compress down to 10 percent of its original size (through a process similar to vacuum packing). So it’s not only ideal for modern transient lifestyles, but also means that transport from factory to retailer is more sustainable too.

Billed as “clothing that can save your life,” David Bursell’s “Tardigrade” is the jacket you’re going to want to be wearing when the zombie apocalypse hit. Or, you know, a more conventional kind of Armageddon (Bursell says it was “inspired by climate change and the increasingly extreme natural and social crises it will trigger”). “Tardigrade” can be transformed into a shelter, a shoulder bag, a hammock, and any number of other things. It’s detatchable pockets can be used to collect water and other material. A warning though: at the moment, the jacket aids survival for “three to seven days,” so you might want to invest in several if things get really bad.

“It’s flying lighting for urban safety,” designer Jiabao Li told Arab News about “Twinkle,” which she co-designed with fellow Harvard student Honghao Deng. Basically, flying drones clamp themselves to lampposts during the day to recharge their batteries, and at night they head to poorly lit neighborhoods. “They fly off to follow people around and provide sufficient lighting to guide their way. Like fireflies,” she explained. Both designers describe their creations as “living” creatures. “They’re curious animals,” said Deng. “We don’t think they should be owned. They should just be living around the place.” Li and Deng are currently talking to various governments trying to get permission for a trial run.

Developed by a team of students from the Art University of Isfahan, “Naji” is an ingenious product designed to provide assistance in times of severe flooding. In normal situations, the device — four rectangles constructed of ethylene vinyl acetate (“resilient and buoyant”) with holes in — forms part of the base of streetlights, and the designers claim it will fit into existing infrastructure without the need for additional construction. If an area floods, however, the device floats to the surface of the water and provides a place for people to sit safely in one of the squares, strap in and await rescue.

Another team project, this time from the Huazhong University of Science and Technology, “Acorn” is designed, according to the team’s statement “to be entirely beneficial to the environment.” Lead designer Zhang Liye told Arab News that the project is specifically intended for use in desert cities like those in the Gulf “because the soil lacks minerals and nutrition.” “Acorn” is an easy-to-assemble biodegradable plant base made from compressed crop waste that you simply bury in soil so that it can provide that missing nutrition to your plant.

A great example of how designers at GGS tackled another question: “How can technology make us more human?” In other words, how can we make life easier for people in tough situations? “Sahayak” is designed for porters working on railway platforms in India, who traditionally carry luggage on their heads, which can create several long-term health issues. “Sahayak” is a backpack that transfers the weight of their loads from their heads to their shoulders and protects the spine. “The design uses an inexpensive torsion spring to distribute the load throughout the backpack’s frame, reducing the load borne by the user’s head and neck by 75 percent,” designer Risbagh Singh claimed in his GGS statement.