It’s traditional for men to provide their dancing partners with a gift either as they enter the ballroom or when they leave
Grandiose imposing surroundings, elegant formal attire and beautiful classical music, a traditional Viennese ball is a magical event everyone should experience at least once in their lives.
One of the rules during the ceremony is Damenspende.
It’s traditional for men to provide their dancing partners with a gift (known as a damenspende) either as they enter the ballroom or when they leave. In the 19th century, these tokens were beautifully crafted cards which were given as a sort of promise of a dance. Today, the gifts vary hugely and can be anything from jewellery to confectionery and everything in between.
The tradition of artfully designed ball donations reached its peak between 1880 and 1900, experienced its last flowering in the era Jugendstils, ebbed in the distress of the First World War and eventually lived in later years as meaningless relic in today’s known form. Today, they still exist at traditional balls, such as the Viennese Ball. In its original form, damenspende is inextricably linked to the established dance order of a ball, which in turn played a very important role for the respective lady.
If it is customary today for the lady to visit the ball accompanied by her partner and – more or less exclusively – dance with it, the situation was fundamentally different in the past. The girl or the lady appeared accompanied by the parents or a chaperon on the ball and hoped for the various dance partners.
By gentleness or inclination induced gentlemen now asked the lady – as early as possible – to reserve certain announced in the dance order dances, which was, in order to avoid confusion, entered in the dance card.
This dance order or dance card was therefore a very important accessory that the dancer should always have with her.
Damenspende was nothing more than an elaborate form or wrapping of this indispensable prop and gradually became a “treasure”, an original little work of art, which was in various social areas and increasingly evolved towards the much sought after souvenir.
A ball donation was often designed as an artful booklet. On the first pages mostly the dance sequence was printed and humorous articles. Then empty pages followed for the dance entries. For this purpose, a pencil inserted in the flap was provided. The original form of the ball donation was the dance card. Later fans, vases, drinking vessels, plaques, statuettes, miniatures of buildings and musical instruments or mirrors were presented as ball donations.