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Dancing, Dining, Docking up the Danube on an AmaWaterways River Cruise

By Lisa Skriloff, editor Dance Travel News

Any vacation we take becomes an ideal one when we can also dance every day along with sightseeing.  For me and John, two ballroom dancing enthusiasts, we found this ideal vacation sailing onboard the AmaStella “Melodies of the Danube” itinerary from Budapest to Vilshofen, Germany this past May.

“Dance a waltz on the Danube.” That is now checked off our bucket list, along with visits to 5 places in that quintessential travel guidebook “1000 Places to See Before You Die” and 6 places on the UNESCO World Heritage sites list.

The river cruise plunged us deep into the culture of 5 countries as the ship made its way up the Danube from our port of embarkation in Budapest, Hungary to Slovakia, Austria and Germany. A shore excursion to Cesky Krumlov added the Czech Republic to our list. (Read more in a related article at A Multicultural Travel Experience Onboard an AmaWaterways River Cruise.)

Granted, at no time did the River Danube ever look blue. (Speculation is that Austria’s Johann Strauss was possibly in love, depressed, drunk or taking poetic license when he composed the Blue Danube waltz in 1866.) But we did waltz to The Blue Danube at least 6 times during our trip both on the ship and in Vienna, one of the ports of call on our cruise. A memory of a lifetime! If you aren’t hearing the tune in your head right now, listen in at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CTYymbbEL4.

The lovely AmaStella’s main lounge has a big enough dance floor. Live music by Bulgarian keyboard musician Gancho was scheduled several times each day and evening and John and I also appeared nightly to dance.

 
Dancing onboard the AmaStella

Gancho came to know us as we showed up in our dance shoes on cue after dinner ready to boogie to his tunes. If he noticed that a couple got up to dance to a slow dance, then he played another one to keep them happy on the dance floor. If it were a cha cha that brought them to their feet, another one was on the way. One couple requested Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” and did a cha cha and then asked him to play “Lady in Red” which brought out their night-club 2-step. And their twist to “Jailhouse Rock.” And then Gancho followed with “Let’s twist again.”

With his trusty ipad, no request was out of his reach. With us, our waltz to his Blue Danube led to another to “The Last Waltz.” We did a swing dance to “Just a Gigolo,” then another to “See you Later, Alligator,” and a Foxtrot to “Beneath the Sea.”

Every night after dinner, we joined our fellow passengers on the dance floor – or we were the only ones! No matter – while perhaps shy-er in real life, we won’t let good music go to waste when it comes to an inviting dance floor.

The dance floor holds perhaps 6 couples, John estimated, “if they all behave,” he noted, meaning no aerials or Dancers Under the Influence (or holding a drink while dancing.)

The main lounge, where we would come to dance, was also the location of the nightly “late night snack” whether passengers were drawn to the meatballs or sweet dessert and then to dance. As John said, “They came for the crudites but stayed to cha cha.”

And we came to know our fellow passengers well. Unlike a giant ocean liner where you might meet another couple and then never see them again for the remainder of the cruise, we came to know the other guests and made friends with a couple from California, who we met the first night in the specialty dining room, The Chef’s Table and another from Long Island who we dined with several times. His Don Rickles humor worked on us.

Besides dancing onboard nightly in the lounge, we had the opportunity to go dancing in Vienna, Vilshofen, Germany and then in Munich, our airport city of departure.

At our overnight stop in Vienna, our excursion was an evening visit to a Heuriger, a local Austrian wine tavern, where the entire group of passengers was on their feet at the command of the accordion player entertainer who had us all doing the chicken dance. And then the Blue Danube waltz for those of us who knew it.

 

Austrian Heuriger (wine tavern)

We also got to dance in Vilshofen where a dockside tent, which I suspect was erected to hold our day of departure luggage, was repurposed as a private Oktoberfest for our farewell party.

The Beer Queen of Vilshofen and her partner taught the local dance and some of us got up to learn it. Others of us stayed seated at our picnic tables enjoying our pitchers of beer and German pretzels. I know this well:  I can’t get John on the dance floor when free beer is my competition. No matter, our Oktoberfest experience at the end of May was a highlight of our cruise. Apparently, the real Oktoberfest is held in September, anyway.

 
 

Vilshofen Oktoberfest

Our real dance highlight was a private waltz lesson I booked for us in Vienna. An advance study of our itinerary the month before we departed showed that we had a free afternoon in Vienna so I researched schools in advance and made our appointment by email.

Indeed, the cruise literature was notable in its detail in revealing pockets of free time and which attractions would be covered on the organized tours, providing key information to those of us who like to plan every minute and not miss a thing. (Indeed FOMA or fear of missing out is a thing!)

Our printed trip itinerary identified, for each day, “What you will see” (drive or walk by during the tour) as well as “what you will visit” and I studied this brochure in detail. Using that, I was able to create our own secondary itinerary to complement our daily port tours.

John doesn’t mind when I overbook us on vacation, with daily early-rising, the daily group tours, the daily free-time itinerary and the nightly dancing, as long as I add a vacation from our vacation at the end. Indeed, AmaWaterways offered post-cruise excursions in both Prague and Munich, the nearest airports to our disembarkation city of Vilshofen, Germany.

Our overnight in Vienna provided two opportunities to dance a waltz.

Researching online in advance, I narrowed the choices for our waltz lesson to two schools: a drop-in group class with no reservations needed, billed as Hop On Waltz at Rueff Dance School  (Tanzschule Rueff ) or a private lesson at Elmayer (Tanzschule Willy Elmayer-Vestenbrugg).

We opted for the private lesson as John and I are already had the basics of the waltz down pat. We wanted to  focus on the Viennese waltz, danced almost twice as fast as the American waltz.

The 3 pm lesson fit in perfectly with our day, as the afternoon was free after the morning walking tour of Vienna and before the evening concert by the Vienna Orchestra.

Our private teacher, David Petrovic, and his partner Sabine Oliva, started our lesson by watching us do a waltz on our own to see where we had room for improvement. Apparently, it was easy for them to spot that our outstretched hands were held too high (keep them at eye level of the shorter partner not level with our heads), that we leaned to one side too much and that I somehow squeezed in an extra step.  David also told us to stand even closer to each other, so that there was no gap at all between our bodies. No wonder that the waltz was considered scandalous at the time. The Dirty Dancing of the day!

 
Elmayer Dance School and Elmayer Dance School instructors David Petrovic and Sabine Oliva

John picked up the instructions quickly and earned the teacher’s praise of “and that’s how it’s done.” To me he nicely said, “That’s the spirit.”

Well worth the 62 Euro fee, and cheaper than a private lesson in NYC! Elmayer is located at Braeunerstrasse 13, just two blocks down a feeder street from Graben Street, the main pedestrian shopping street. We were happy that we had selected Elmayer, considered Vienna’s most famous dance school and highly recommend our instructors.

While we were in Vienna we visited the other school I had researched online to see their studio, the Rueff Dance School at Friedrich-Schmidt-Platz 4, on the street behind the Rathaus.

I was curious to see this school where they offered the drop in “Blitz” dance lesson. I briefly spoke with school owner Yvonne Rueff and learned that waltz lessons are held in German and English, and in other languages by prior arrangement including Japanese and Russian and the cost is 50 Euros per couple.

Both schools are conveniently located to the tour drop off spot near St. Stephen‘s church.

How can you book your waltz lesson at Elmayer? Learn more at https://elmayer.at/en/dance-classes/waltz-at-elmayer/ and contact Elmayer at office@elmayer.at

More info about Rueff Dance School is at http://viennesewaltz.at/index.php?id=3&L=1 or www.tanzschulerueff.at and by email at office@tanzschulerueff.at

Note to self, suggest to AmaWaterways that they add a Waltz lesson to the choice of excursions in Vienna!

The dancing fit in nicely with the active theme of the AmaWaterways River cruises. Rather than the sightseeing bus excursions many ocean cruise lines offer to transport passengers from a ship terminal to a city, our AmaStella ship was able to pull up along the river into the center of every town and we were able to disembark right into the heart of Budapest and all other ports including Bratislava, Weissenkirchen, Ybbs,  Linz,  Passau and Vilshofen, Germany (except Vienna.)  Indeed, active tours such as walking tours, fast walking tours, hiking tours and bike tours are the hallmark of the cruise line.

The captain did an outstanding job of docking all along the Danube – and parallel parking and double parking when called for.

More dancing in Munich!

When our cruise came to an end in Vilshofen, Germany, we hitched a ride on the bus taking other passengers to the Munich airport for their flight home and then made our own way from the airport by train to Central station in Munich and walked to our hotel. We knew we wouldn’t be ready to end our vacation after the 8-day river cruise so we had booked a hotel in Munich for a 4-night stay.

The official post-cruise Munich package offered by AmaWaterways was tempting and would have included a direct transfer from the ship to the hotel, the 5-star Bayerischer Hotel and more guided tours.

But we opted to decompress on our own so we could relax in the city and then more dancing in Munich! In Munich we discovered that dancing could be had at a nearby school, in walking distance from our hotel, the Vintage Club - Swing-Tanzen in München. Schedule at www.worldofswing.com or contact info@worldofswing.com. The Munich swing calendar is at http://swinginmunich.de/en.

But our visit to Munich coincided with the Boogie-Bären dance camp (http://boogie-baeren.de/bb-dancecamp-en.html) so dances at the school were cancelled as everyone would be outside Munich in Landsberg am Lech.

No matter, we enjoyed evenings of live music listening to American standards at the piano bar in nearby Hotel Konigshof at Karlsplatz.

And by then we were too deep into our other obsession, trying every one of Munich’s six official beers so we focused on accomplishing that.

For us, perhaps our next goal will be to dance a flamenco on the river that runs thru Spain! 

Ama Waterways schedule of cruises in 2018 includes the one we were on. Learn more at www.AmaWaterways.com.