Viennese Ball carries on for 42nd year despite funding cuts

This Saturday night, Shooters won’t be the only place with a dance floor full of students.

The Duke Wind Symphony will host its 42nd annual Viennese Ball in the Freeman Center this Saturday, Feb. 13. The entire event, save for one song, is played live by Wind Symphony members, and features traditional Austrian waltzes and polkas. Dance workshops will be also held, in which formal dance instructors will teach attendees how to dance the waltz and the polka.

“Even for beginners that have not danced at all, this is definitely something fun to try out,” said Verena Mösenbichler-Bryant, director of the Duke University Wind Symphony and assistant professor of the practice of music.

The highlight of the evening is the Promenade, in which 16 members of the wind symphony perform a choreographed waltz that they have spent the last several weeks perfecting. The members of the symphony have their choice in playing either in the full symphony orchestra—accompanied by outside string players—or in a polka band.

“Our biggest strength is the music, because it’s live music, and that’s really special,” said senior Grant Kelly, co-chair of the Viennese Ball.

The Wind Symphony faces a special challenge this year, as this year is the first one in which the Wind Symphony has received no funding from Duke to put on the ball. In the past the ball has received funding through the John Spencer Bassett Fund, which is used for cultural events. This year, however, the fund is limiting its resources to events that students can attend for free, and the Viennese Ball requires attendees to purchase tickets.

Though co-chairs Kelly and William Harris, a junior, had to cut costs, they did not forgo any key parts of the ball to save money.

“We’re not sacrificing quality,” Kelly said.

The Viennese Ball is the Wind Symphony’s only fundraiser for the year, and the money earned in ticket sales helps the symphony host other cultural events. In addition to providing funds to put on future Viennese balls, the money is used to help the Wind Symphony tour. Three years ago, the symphony toured in Atlanta, and this past fall they went to Washington, D.C. and worked with the U.S. Air Force band.

The Viennese Ball is student-run, under the supervision of Mösenbichler-Bryant. Members of the Wind Symphony divide into committees and handle all aspects of the ball, including food, publicity, ticketing and equipment. The event is usually attended by hundreds of students, both undergraduate and graduate. Outside community members frequent the ball as well. Mösenbichler-Bryant estimated that the event draws in 350 to 400 attendees.

When the Viennese Ball began, it was tradition for the Wind Symphony to tour Austria for an entire semester. Inspired by the formal balls they saw in Austria, Wind Symphony members returned to campus and wanted to bring the tradition to Duke. Ever since moving the event back on campus and to the Freeman Center, the popularity of the ball has increased dramatically.

The Wind Symphony has close to 70 members and performs two to three formal concerts per semester. Members of the symphony are not necessarily music majors or minors and have interests as diverse as engineering and pre-med.

Though the theme of the event is very specific, Duke is not alone in hosting a Viennese Ball. Other universities, most notably Stanford and Harvard, host their own Viennese Balls, albeit with different focuses. Kelly, who spoke with Stanford about their Viennese Ball, said that the event was more focused on dancing rather than music, as Stanford holds dance lessons ahead of time instead of at the time of the event.

Since the Wind Symphony covers the live music at Duke, tickets are considerably less expensive than similar events at Stanford and other college campuses.

While the Viennese Ball does not host a formal dinner, snacks, ranging from fruit to brownies to chocolate covered strawberries, are offered when attendees grow tired of dancing. Though many students attend the event with a date, attendees are free to go alone or with a group of friends instead. The dress code to semi formal to formal. Women typically wear prom dresses or other formal dresses, while men usually don suits or tuxedoes for the night.

For those who want an affordable and elegant Valentine’s Day weekend, Kelly suggests, “Duke puts on a darn good Viennese Ball.” 

Tickets are available at $12 for Duke students, with a special Valentine’s Day special of $20 for two tickets. Tickets are available through, and the Wind Symphony is also tabling in the Bryan Center. The Viennese Ball is held at the Freeman Center Saturday at 7 p.m.


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