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Strictly Russian ballroom

Waltzes, period dresses and duels: why Russian ballroom dancing is experiencing a revival

Russian balls are the stuff of legend. For fans of Tolstoy’s ‘War and Peace’, they conjure up pictures of aristocratic officers in splendid uniforms twirling breathless young ladies in Empire dresses round the glittering ballrooms of the Tsar’s palaces along to the racily intimate waltz, as a distraction from fighting Napoleon.

In 21st century Russia, historical ballroom dancing is experiencing a revival. Enthusiasts of all ages take dance classes to learn the polka, the polonaise as well as the correct etiquette of the era. They gather in stately homes to dance the night away in Romantic-era crinolines accompanied by full orchestras.

RTD correspondent James Brown joins in to try and understand the appeal of Russian balls for contemporary Russians. He takes his first tentative steps in a dance studio, gets measured up for the perfectly-fitted costume before being thrust into his first period ball. Young aficionados reveal why historical balls are so addictive, while historical experts warn James against committing the cardinal sin against one’s dance partner.

Russian ballroom dancing isn’t just a craze among nostalgic history buffs. James Brown gets an invitation to one of the society events of the season, Moscow’s Viennese Ball, which is held in some of the jet set’s favourite European destinations. Ball organiser Aleksandr Smalgin talks about the behind-the-scenes work that make the events a success, but can James hold his own when entrusted with an unexpected responsibility?