For those looking to waltz through winter effortlessly, do we have just the thing for you.
The Viennese Winter Ball, now in its 23rd year, returns to the Trillium Ballroom of the Shaw Centre this Saturday, Feb. 29.
The evening is considered to be one of the most elegant galas in town, with its fine dining as well as dancing to live orchestral music played by the Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra.
The ball is held under the patronage of Austrian Ambassador Stefan Pehringer, who – together with his wife, Debra Jean Pehringer – hosted a reception Wednesday at their official residence in Rockcliffe Park for organizers, sponsors and supporters. There was even a special appearance from their cuddly dog, Guenny, a Shih Tzu-Yorkie mix.
One of the highlights of the night is watching the dancing of the debutantes with their male counterparts, the cavaliers. It's a tradition that originates from the days of the intricate courtship-ritual that saw well-bred young ladies, who were coming of age, introduced to society while on the arms of their tuxedoed escorts.
Charlotte Dietz, who joined this year’s organizing committee, has fond memories of the time she participated as a debutante in Ottawa's Viennese ball, 15 years ago. Her father, Otto Ditz, was the Austrian ambassador at the time (he uses the Austrian spelling of his surname, if you're wondering).
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she told OBJ.social at the embassy reception. “It’s a very magical night. You don’t forget it.”
The young men and women, who attend local high schools and private schools, are being taught how to waltz by Arthur Murray Dance Studio on Gladstone Avenue. Its owners, Vadim Safonov and Alina Safonova, were at the reception. They also do the ballroom dance training of local physicians for The Ottawa Hospital Foundation's popular Dancing with the Docs fundraiser.
Five years ago, Music and Beyond, a non-profit arts organization, picked up the ball and ran with it after the volunteer-driven event was looking to hang up its dancing shoes. Some recent changes have been made, such as lowering ticket prices to make the event more accessible, and adding emerging talent to the lineup of entertainment, primarily through the music program at Canterbury High School.
“Last year was without question the best event that we’ve had,” Chris Spiteri, board chair of Music and Beyond and senior law partner at corporate sponsor Spiteri & Ursulak, told OBJ.social. “The word is getting out in terms of what we’re doing to help young people in their musical development.”
Last year, the ball raised a net total of around $60,000. Proceeds were directed toward youth music education programs run by Music and Beyond, Thirteen Strings and OrKidstra. Some of the funds were also donated to Canterbury’s music program and toward a new award for high school musicians with The Cappies theatre productions.
The Viennese Winter Ball is organized by a volunteer committee led by Spiteri and Micheline Saikaley, who’s also president of the Ashbury College Guild. Saikaley’s daughter, Alexa Nasrallah, 16, is dancing as a debutante after volunteering for the past two years as a debutante-in-waiting. Spiteri's son is also waltzing this year, which means Spiteri will have watched all four of his children participate in the ball, either as a debutante or cavalier.
“I’m going to miss that part of it,” he said.
Spiteri has done a lot of volunteer fundraising over the years for causes ranging from mental health to leukemia and lymphoma to the humane society. None has been as challenging as raising money for youth music initiatives, he said.
“I do it because I love it, and they need my help more than the other causes do.”
Among the guests were Gowling WLG partner Rob MacDonald, who heads the board of the Thirteen String Chamber Orchestra, and Montreal businesswoman and philanthropist Elizabeth Wirth, chair of Wirth Rail Corporation and past-president of the Viennese Ball of Montreal.
Even if you have two left feet, the Viennese Winter Ball is still a really fun night to dress up and soak in some live music and culture. And, the Ottawa band The Hornettes will be playing later in the evening, for those who want to cut loose on the dance floor.
For more information about the event, see viennesewinterball.ca