Get ready to dance the night away at Ottawa's Viennese Winter Ball

Ambassador Stefan Pehringer hosts Austrian embassy reception for organizers, sponsors of upcoming event
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The Viennese Winter Ball, a cultural evening that benefits music education programs for youth, returns to the Trillium Ballroom at the Shaw Centre on Saturday, February 29th, 2020. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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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.

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From left, Viennese Winter Ball co-chairs Chris Spiteri and Micheline Saikaley with hosts Debra Jean Pehringer and Austrian Ambassador Stefan Pehringer at a reception held at the ambassador's official residence on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, for organizers and supporters of the upcoming event. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Debra Jean Pehringer, wife of the Austrian ambassador, with their family dog at a reception held Wednesday, January 22, 2020, for organizers and supporters of the upcoming Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.

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From left, former debutante Charlotte Dietz, a real estate agent with Engel & Völkers Ottawa Central (seen with Viennese Winter Ball co-chair Micheline Saikaley) is helping with this year's ball, which will benefit music education programs for local youth. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Alina Safonova and Vadim Safonov from Arthur Murray Dance School in Ottawa, at a reception for the upcoming Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.”

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From left, Jane Spiteri, Nancy Chow, Gayle McClelland and Parmoun Eatemadi are volunteering on the organizing committee for the Viennese Winter Ball, taking place Saturday, February 29th, at the Shaw Centre. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, luxury Realtor Marilyn Wilson from Marilyn Wilson Dream Properties with organizing committee member Crickett Lindgren and her husband, John Lindgren, CEO of IPValue, and long-time supporter Grant McDonald, managing partner of KPMG, at a reception held at the official residence of the Austrian ambassador for the upcoming Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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From left, Music and Beyond board member Henrietta Southam, founder and principal designer at Henrietta Southam Design, with Viennese Winter Ball committee members Wanda Brascoupé and Gen Chanteloup at a reception held at the official residence of the Austrian ambassador on Wednesday, January 22, 2020, for organizers and supporters of next month's ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Julian Armour, executive director of non-profit arts organization Music and Beyond, with his wife, Guylaine Lemaire, and guest Elizabeth Wirth, at a reception held at the Austrian ambassador's official residence for organizers and supporters of the Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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.

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One of the highlights of the Viennese Winter Ball are the choreographed dances performed by high school students. Photo by Caroline Phillips

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

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Gowling WLG partner Rob MacDonald, long-time board chair of Thirteen Strings Chamber Orchestra, with his wife, Claire, at a reception held at the Austrian ambassador's official residence for the upcoming Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips
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Nicola Powadiuk, director of exhibitions for Canderel Group, with her husband, Jeff Kubacki, senior development officer and broker at Canderel Group, at a reception held at the Austrian ambassador's official residence in support of the Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Sam Feldberg, owner of Morris Formal Wear on Wellington Street West, with Sophie Duncan and 2019 Forty Under 40 recipient Candace Sutcliffe, of C.A. Paradis/The Chef's Paradise, and Jean-Yves Martineau at a reception held at the Austrian ambassador's official residence in support of the Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips 
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From left, Hannes Machor, deputy head of mission for the Austrian Embassy in Ottawa, with Julian Armour and Alpha Art Gallery owner Edith Betkowski-Sokolowski and Vlad Beno at a reception held at the Austrian ambassador's official residence in support of the Viennese Winter Ball. Photo by Caroline Phillips 

— caroline@obj.ca