Celebrating Women as Flirts

woman leap in the air as they dance

Rudolfina Redoute - Vienna, Austria

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This is an excerpt from the book Celebrating Women.

The Radetsky March trumpets the processions and the VIPs arrive in the Festsaal hall.  First come military guests in uniforms, then masked women, then older members of the Rudolfina union, University professors and deacons, the “opening committee” of students and their girlfriends whom we watched in rehearsal, and finally, the State Opera Ballet dancers, one of whom is, I notice, clad in a Biedermeier dress.

The fraternity students, whose dates wear pure white debutante gowns and carry nosegays, perform the Chit Chat Polka perfectly. The State Opera Ballet corps takes my breath away. And then, Alles Waltzes! Three thousand guests take the floor.

The masked women approach the men who catch their fancies, exciting romantic mysteries everywhere. Flattered and laughing, the men waltz away with them.


Harald Willenig watches and smiles, “There are a lot of married couples who started their relationship at the Rudolfina Redoute.” Just before midnight, I talk with Wolfgang Ortner, the conductor. He first played at the Rudolfina Redoute in 1964. Fifteen years ago, he progressed to the main room, where he now leads the full orchestra. “Not much is different from 38 years ago” he reminisces, “Women wear masks, people are happy, it’s ladies’ choice until midnight.”

Wolfgang hurries off to conduct the orchestra for the Demaskierungsquadrille. Simone Rueff instructs the guests to line up facing their partners. Technically, two couples dance a quadrille, but there is barely space to move. Everyone is laughing and somehow, amid the revelry, the women slide their masks to the back of their necks. The elastic bands create tiny black necklaces. Their identities are revealed.

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