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
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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.


Writing’s on the wall for unsightly graffiti in 36 Saudi cities

Updated 21 July 2019
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Writing’s on the wall for unsightly graffiti in 36 Saudi cities

  • 5,700 students tapped to replace graffiti with traditional art
  • The massive spruce-up operation will take place in southwest region of Asir

RIYADH: An initiative to clear unsightly graffiti from the walls of 36 Saudi cities and replace it with traditional art has been officially launched.

A 5,700-strong army of students will be drafted for the massive spruce-up operation to take place over a period of 36 hours across the Kingdom’s southwest region of Asir.

Once the walls have been cleaned, the second phase of the project will involve raising awareness about the importance of maintaining public spaces, with the city of Abha the first to benefit. There, a length of wall covering more than 2,000 square meters, will be decorated.

The scheme is partly aimed at encouraging Asir youth to become proactive citizens in their own cities, and role models for other provinces.

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The scheme aims to encourage Asir youth to become proactive citizens in their own cities, and role models for other provinces.

Students from seven education administrations in the region will clean walls on main and side roads, and also suburbs, in 36 cities.

An official statement issued by Asir regional authorities, said the objectives behind the Asir campaign were “to encourage social responsibility among its citizens, empower youth to participate in activities that bring out their potential, and to increase awareness of responsibility toward public ownership.”

Students from seven education administrations in the region will clean walls on main and side roads, and also suburbs, in 36 cities.

Many of the walls will then be decked out with art works including Al-Qatt Al-Asiri, a traditionally female interior wall decoration. In 2017, the ancient art form was added to the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The statement added that Asir had been embracing cultural art for decades, and Al-Qatt Al-Asiri was now identified with the Asir region around the world. The British Museum and other major international exhibition centers have been acquiring the work of Asir artists in recent years.

Attending the launch of the initiative in Abha, Dr. Walid Al-Humaidi, the secretary of Asir region, said: “This initiative is part of objectives to improve the urban landscape, which is one of the most important programs of national transformation in the municipal sector in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.”

He added that the second part of the project aimed to increase awareness about the value of artwork and its role in developing a sense of human belonging.