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Tales from Vienna

The St. Petersburg Ball

Friday February 6th, 2004

Cafe Royal, London
Susan Luff


It was  a magical Friday.  At 6:45 I arrived at the Cafe Royal where I changed into my costume. With other female guests, together, we helped each other with the many hooks and eyes, re-adjusting tiaras etc that Ladies have to contend with.  Once  we were introduced to the hosts for the evening everyone had their photographs taken. I was very pleased with mine as I am sure that some of those taken during the Ball (bearing in mind that Champagne and wine were freely flowing) may have slight variations such as missing feet or possibly even out of focus, not sure if it was the exertion of the previous dance or ...........

The Napoleon Suite was exactly as its name conjured up, with its beautiful crystal chandeliers. Some of the costumes and jewellery were amazing, everyone had gone to so much trouble and I felt very much at home in that era.

The host for my table and the other diners were really friendly.  My dance card was soon filled up (I think that is such a lovely idea), and I even got a couple of dances from some of the gentlemen on other tables that had been at the practices. Of course we were not always quite sure in which direction we were going but it was fun nevertheless.

Regarding the space on the dance floor for a proper Viennese Waltz, it was packed, but I realise that in the short space of an evening at a Ball we all wish to make the most of the evening and everyone is in such good spirits that the dancing is just a bonus.

I met some wonderful people, including two lovely Russian girls (with equally lovely  names, especially when pronounced with a Russian dialect) and an enchanting couple who were beautifully dressed (in costumes they made themselves with very authentic jewellery and medals) and indeed I introduced myself and told them so and I was very surprised and delighted when they told me that they had been admiring my costume whilst I was dancing.  A real accolade!

The Coldstream Guards were very striking in their red uniforms as you would expect and the Ball started with the entry of the ball guests and straight into a Viennese Waltz to Kaiserwaltzer, Spanish Waltz, Polka and Two-Step and Russian Ballet and then after the interval we began with La Tempete, a Watlz, Polka Mazurka, another Spanish Waltz, Schottische and the Viennese Waltz to Blue Danube.   Die Fledermaus was changed to a Gallop, rather than the Quadrille and as you can imagine there were many breathless dancers at the end of it as the music got faster and faster. It was a wonderful end to the evening although it didn't quite stop there as as I was leaving someone said to me, 'have you checked your raffle tickets' and to my surprise I had won a prize, a Chelsea Arts Yearbook, so I shall use it as an album for any Balls that I attend......!

Hints & Tips For Finding A Costume
Being a working girl I found it difficult to find any costume hire shops that were open after working hours/weekends, close enough, which not only causes a problem for collecting a garment, let alone trying anything on, but also for returning said garments. I also tried the internet for costume hire in London and again came up against early closing and no weekends.

I contacted my local theatre and the wardrobe lady was excellent and in the end I hired a beautiful costume complete with gloves, jewellery and hairpieces all for only 20 GBP. The costumes alone in London started at 75 GBP so that was a real bonus.

As I work at a College which has its own Drama Department, I find that I have another outlet which I can make use of.  I am not sure whether other colleges/Universities who have a Drama Department would hire out garments to non-members of staff but it's worth a try.


There are other costumiers in London: One of them is Angels, based in Hendon. Costumes start from around à«–AT.

Opening Times: 9-5:30 (Mon-Fri) with last costume fitting at 4:30.
Telephone Number: (44) 0 207 836 5678.

For exquisite jewellery pieces and tiaras, a wonderful website is:
13 The Mall Antiques Arcade,
359 Upper Street
Camden Passage, Islington
London N1 OPD
Telephone: (44) 0 20 7354 0058
Opening hours: Tues-Fri 10:00-4:30, Sat 10:00-5:30

Back to everyday life now ..... as far as Waltzing goes,  but I have the May Ball to look forward to. In a slightly different century, I am going to a Medieval Banquet this coming Saturday at Hatfield House. I have just borrowed a costume from the wardrobe here at Goldsmiths College - not such a romantic period but I am sure I will find myself transported into another world for a while!!!!!