What is a Café Orchestra?


A hundred fifty years ago there were so many small orchestras playing Europe’s popular symphonic music that you’d need a phone book-sized directory to catalogue them all. Even in the grand Vienna of Johann Strauss, the cost of mounting a concert or costume ball with a full philharmonic orchestra was often prohibitive, and so “café” orchestras became an affordable, popular alternative. These were small enough to entertain in side-street clubs, yet played with such verve and professionalism they could hold forth in large pavilions teeming with dancers. And they did all of this acoustically, without amplification.


The conductors of the best café orchestras knew how to arrange a Strauss waltz so that six or seven accomplished musicians could enthrall a crowd of listeners and simultaneously inspire dancers – staying all the while true to the original aesthetic of the larger-than-life compositions in their repertoires. These affordable ensembles made it possible for all strata of society to enjoy the music of Strauss, Josef Lanner, Émile Waldteufel and the other pop masters of their day.

In the early 20th Century, the café orchestras of Europe evolved into larger dance orchestras, which ultimately led to the big bands of the 1930s and 1940s.

About the Valse Café Orchestra:

Seattle’s Valse Café Orchestra coalesced in 1999 with a singular goal: to win the hearts of good dancers with post-modern renditions of dance hall classics. As the ensemble evolved and its popularity grew, it delved into realms of musical theater and performance art, and today performs in concert as well. Size of the ensemble varies from three to eleven musicians, depending on the scope of performance and budget.

The orchestra’s eclectic repertoire celebrates a romantic mélange of bygone eras and cultures: Paris in the thirties. Hapsburg Vienna. Yiddish melancholy. Gypsy romance. Ragtime Manhattan. And dual genres of swing – the sophisticated urbane variety as well as a few Bob Wills barn-burners.

Disparate worlds indeed – all connected by the mesmerizing cadence of waltz and the exuberant syncopation of swing.

As its name implies, the orchestra typically plays a preponderance of waltzes, but the group’s programs usually feature a mix of swing tunes, Foxtrots, one steps, polkas, two steps and tangos. With more than 400 arrangements in a repertoire that extends from about 1840 to 1950, the ensemble can usually create a program to suit any client’s vision. And every listener’s passion.

“We don’t just play great music exceptionally well,” said our late Artistic Director Susan Balshor. “Our goal always is to create romantic evenings of fantasy and pleasure.”

Valse Café Orchestra               

  For Dancers and Other Romantics.

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Contact Us: 206•323-1263                                                           dgpaton@mac.com

You can visit our achieves of previous Masquerades by clicking on the text below.


House Concert with the six-piece VCO and Lucia Neare, Sunday, October 13, 7 p.m.

Variety Dance at the Leif Erikson Ballroom, Saturday, November 16, 7 p.m. till 11

Folklife Benefit Swing Dance, Century Ballroom, Friday, November 22, 3 p.m. till 6 Gala for Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital, on Saturday, December 7, 6:30 p.m.

Private Holiday Party on Friday, December 20, 7 p.m.

The Waltz Café at the Century Ballroom, Sunday, December 22, 12:30 p.m.

Century Ballroom Masquerade XII with the Cabaret d’Artiste, January 31, 2020

The Waltz Café at the Century Ballroom, Sunday, February 23,  12:30 p.m.

The Waltz Café at the Century Ballroom, Sunday, April 26,  12:30 p.m.

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Dan Lamont Photograph

You’re invited to a magical evening of live music,

mystery, hijinks, and passionate partner dancing:

The Century Ballroom and Valse Café Orchestra present

Masquerade XII

Featuring the 10-piece Valse Cafe Orchestra, soprano Lucia Neare,

chanteuse Dina Blade, and the surprises of Cabaret d’Artiste

Friday, January 31, 2020

Show begins 8:30 • Dance 9 to 12:30

In the iconic Century Ballroom

on Seattle’s Capitol Hill

The Valse Cafe Orchestra is supported by 4Culture,

King County’s Arts Advocacy Agency.

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See costuming 
resources here.2012_costume.html
History of Masquerade:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masquerade_ball

Sample three songs from our concert at the Florence Events Center in Florence, Oregon, where the program featured a mix of classical masterpieces, swing standards, Viennese waltzes, Latin dance tunes, iconic arias, and Argentine tangos.  

Everything from Johann Strauss to Duke Ellington, and from Puccini to Piazzolla.

Presented by Seacoast Entertainment and its Coastal Concert Series on April 24, 2019.

Click the photo below to see the Valse Café Orchestra in performance: