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The first openly queer couple in 200 years has been accepted to dance at the Vienna Opera Ball

Lily Wakefield February 5, 2020
Vienna Opera Ball

Debutantes and their escorts perform a dance at the Vienna Opera Ball. (Gallup/Getty)

For the first time in its 200-year history, the Vienna Opera Ball will allow an openly queer couple to dance together as “debutantes”.

Though not a couple when off the dance floor, Iris Klopfer and Sophie Grau, who identifies as non-binary, met at school in Germany and have been dancing together for six years.

But on February 20 they will form the ball’s first-ever dance partnership not comprised of a man and a woman, joining 288 other “debutantes” for the first waltz at the high-society event.

The Vienna Opera Ball is an Austrian society ball, which has been taking place in some form since 1814. The Vienna State Opera building is transformed into a ballroom for the night, and the event welcomes many political, industrial and society figures.

The pair told Der Spiegel that they will be just like any other couple at the ball because they are “good dancers and stick to the dress code”.

The dress code has always required men to dress in white tie and tails, while women must wear floor-length white gowns.

While Klopfer said she feels most “comfortable” wearing the white dress, Grau said they are fluid in how they dress, sometimes presenting as more feminine and sometimes as more masculine.

They said: “I identify myself as non-binary. That means the rigid classification into male and female does not suit me.

“Iris will come in a white dress, I will come in tails and trousers… The dress code makes sense to preserve the black and white pattern on the stage.

“For the ball, I will lean into my masculine side. A couple who both want to wear a dress would probably have a harder time.”

Asked if they wanted to set an example for increasing diversity, Grau said: “We didn’t sign up for that. But we noticed: ‘Oh, we’re the first’. 

“Then we thought: ‘It’s a shame that we’re the first’. And then: ‘Someone has to be first’.

“Now we face that. Standard dance is still very binary, divided into men and women. Not everyone is as open as the dance school in Ludwigsburg, where Iris and I learned to dance.”

Klopfer and Grau’s attendance has irritated some regulars at the exclusive ball.

87-year-old construction billionaire Richard Lugner told Der Spiegel: “If two women love each other, then that is accepted nowadays, but they have no business at the opening of the opera ball. Destroying the ball’s reputation should be avoided.”

Lugner is well-known for his tradition of each year paying female celebrity to be his date to the ball, despite being on his fifth marriage to 24-year-old model Cathy Schmitz.

His previous dates to the ball have included Ivana Trump, Paris Hilton, Pamela Anderson and Kim Kardashian.

State opera director Dominique Meyer embrace Klopfer and Grau’s partnership, and said: “We are no longer in the 19th century.”

More: debutantes, Richard Lugner, same-sex dance couples, Vienna, Vienna Opera ball

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