Social dancing is alive and well in the St. Croix Valley with groups like La Danza, Cotillion Dance Club and instructors like Mark and Wanda Bierbrauer helping potential dancers find their feet.
Though the dance scene has decreased a bit in the area since the 1970s, dance instructor Wanda Bierbrauer and Sharon Wilson of the Cotillion Dance Club say they are seeing a resurgence in people’s interest in dancing. Venues such as Withrow Ballroom in Hugo, The Phipps in Hudson and The Dugout in Mahtomedi host dance nights for specific styles including swing and ballroom, and feature live bands and DJs that aim to get your toes tapping.
“I think some of it has to do with ‘Dancing with the Stars,’” Bierbrauer said. “I have a huge group of dancer friends and there are lots of places to dance in the area.”
Depending on where you go, the evening could be very different, according to Bierbrauer. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a Latin dance club in the St. Croix Valley, but the music can lend itself to merengue, mambo and cha-cha. Other popular styles include the foxtrot, waltz and various types of swing dancing. Though the atmosphere is different no matter where you go, it’s all about having fun.
“People should just expect to have fun and enjoy,” Bierbrauer said. “There’s great live music, and there’s usually no cover, and there’s tons of concerts you can go to, to get out and dance.”
Bierbrauer says that 20-30 dancing couples live in the Valley and there are clubs in the area that organize dances people can get involved in.
“Founded in the 1930s, the Cotillion Dance Club is part of a fine tradition of dance clubs that championed the Great Bands,” Club Marketing Manager Maggie Paynter said. “As a member, we gain incredible pleasure each time we step into this era dancing to music from Glen Miller, Benny Goodman, David Rose and many more. Our club, in particular, books four evenings a year at various Twin Cities venues. The social evening includes cocktails, good conversation and a great dinner. We might even nudge out of retirement a vintage piece of jewelry, an old fur, a double-breasted suit or a top hat. Then the night turns into illusion, and we dance.”
An annual membership costs $85 that goes toward paying for live bands.
“People who join up with us are expected to buy dinner where we’re dancing because the groups that allow us to be there give us the locations free of charge, and dinner and drinks are how they make their money,” Wilson said.
La Danza was first started as a nonprofit in 1972. Ballroom dance lessons were already conducted in the Valley, and it was an opportunity for these students to have a place to dance locally. An annual membership costs $75 and includes several theme dances through the year, including a couple of barn dances. A live band or DJ performs a variety of music, and the evening follows a dance program which is given to the dancers, allowing them to see the order of dances.
“It’s just a great place for people who are really interested in dancing to go to,” Jeneane Flipp of La Danza said. “La Danza’s a little more formal, but we always love having new people who want to learn too.”
For those who may be nervous about trying it out Bierbrauer, Wilson and Paynter suggest simply going for it and giving it a chance.
“Talk about nervous,” Flipp said. “My husband and I were so nervous about starting we were worried that people would think we weren’t that great, but really no one is talking to you about dance steps and what you did or didn’t do. We just go there to have fun. It’s a really non-judgmental environment.”
La Danza’s next event takes place on April 26 at the Stillwater Armory.
“We’re always so excited to see new people, and we need to get people in the younger community,” Bierbrauer said. “When people come in, we are so friendly and so happy to see someone new. They are made to feel welcome wherever they go.”
“For myself there’s just something about moving my body to music,” Wilson said. “It just gives me incredible joy.”
Both Bierbrauer and Wilson said that if you go dancing in the St. Croix Valley area, it’s strongly recommended that you have a partner, and Bierbrauer said she’s more than happy to help someone find a partner if they need one. She also recommends taking one lesson before going to the dancing events, just so you feel a little more comfortable. Lessons are offered privately and through the Stillwater School District’s community education classes.