When Sophie Grau and Iris Klopfer take to the floor as two of the debutants at Vienna’s prestigious Opera Ball today, they would be dancing their way into history.
It would be the first time that a same-sex pair of dancers figures among those whirling their way through the ball’s opening ceremony.
The event is the highlight of Vienna’s annual ball season, watched by about 5,000 people in the lavish Vienna State Opera building and about 2 million on television.
Grau and Klopfer have been friends since high school in their native Germany and, like most of the other pairs, are not a couple outside the dance floor. They showed few nerves at one of the final rehearsals on Sunday, as they smiled and chatted with fellow dancers in between routines.
“Right now we’re really chilled, but you always have that moment before you go on stage when all the nerves kick in,” Grau said, looking ahead to the big event tonight.
Like all the others taking part, Grau, 21, and Klopfer, 22, had to make it through the ball’s rigorous selection process — the foremost requirement being mastery of the Viennese waltz.
While they said they went through the effort purely out of love for dance, there is a message as well.
“We’re trying to use this platform ... to just say that it doesn’t matter what you have in your pants or what you were born with, you can dance whatever part you want to,” Grau said.
“All that matters for a pair of dancers is whether you dance well together and whether you have fun doing it,” she added.
If anyone is uneasy at this reinvention of one of Vienna’s most venerable traditions, it is certainly not ball organizer Maria Grossbauer.
If same-sex couples applied to previous editions of the ball, they would have been welcome, Grossbauer said.
“The ladies dance very well and that’s why they were accepted, they fulfilled the criteria,” she said, adding that a same-sex pairing should not be a big issue nowadays.
In one respect Grau and Klopfer would be sticking to convention: the dress code.
In their application, the pair said that Grau would be happy to don the black evening suit normally worn by the male debutant.
Grau is matter-of-fact about this choice.
“I have short hair, where would you put the crown?” she asked.
“We just decided that we would be comfortable with turning up like this,” she added.
Grossbauer said that the organizers were happy to hear this, as the contrast between black tails and white dresses produces a distinctive visual effect as the dancers move in unison.
As for who leads when they dance, Klopfer said that the two of them take it in turn.
“Everybody that is a dancer ... will know that there are so many men that can’t lead at all and so many women that can lead very well, so it doesn’t really matter,” she said.
A neat way of showing that, as Grossbauer puts it, “within tradition you can have development and progress.”
“You can’t just stay stuck in your ways, you have to be open,” she said.
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