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Line dancing offers night of fun and social connection at Volga Opera House

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Between 15 and 30 people regularly gather for line dancing at the Volga City Opera House. Lessons provide exercise as well as social interaction, all in a fun setting. (Submitted photos)

McKenna Jaster and Molly Anderson have taught line dancing at the Volga City Opera House on the first and third Fridays of the month since last winter. Lessons this year will run through March.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register

 

It started with a recollection of her time in California, when Bethany Klingman would head to a place called The Saddlerack for some weekend line dancing and maybe even a ride on the mechanical bull—if the adventurous side took over. It was an excuse to go out with friends, enjoy a drink or two and learn new dance moves in a setting surrounded by other enthusiasts kicking up their heels.

 

It only felt natural that, when she came home to Volga and became co-CEO/COO of the VCTC which oversees the opera house, that she looked to add line dancing to a growing list of events at the historic building. The opera house has a beautiful floor made for boots doing heel spreads, steps and turns, and with no local place to partake in the activity, bringing it to town just felt right.

 

“If you want to see change, you have to actively make it happen,” Klingman said, quoting a former teacher. 

 

Momentum behind the idea picked up in early fall, during Sunday Brunch at the opera house. Klingman and McKenna Jaster, a newly settled Volga resident who graduated from Central in 2021 and also enjoys boot scootin’ on the dance floor, spoke about the lack of a place to dance on Friday nights. Jaster expressed interest in bringing the idea to life while helping the opera house try something new. She eventually reached out to her friend Molly Anderson, a Guttenberg native who has ties to Volga through family, friends and social activities, and moved to Elkader in the past year.

 

The two friends share a passion for dancing, which started when Anderson participated in ballet and jazz lessons. It followed her into FFA, where dancing was one of many activities she participated in during conventions, using it as a way to meet people from all over the United States. More recently, Anderson was learning dance moves and routines among friends and attending barn dances in Waukon, which is “highly based around line dancing,” she said.

 

Similarly, Jaster has been dancing for years, though it was only last year she started learning more and going to line dancing events. While they don’t have formal training or teaching certificates, when Jaster was asked by Klingman to volunteer her time to run line dancing classes, she wholeheartedly accepted, as did Anderson.

 

“We were asked if we would want to volunteer to teach as a fun way to bring people to Volga. We don’t have any special qualifications to be able to teach, but we just want to share something we love with our community,” Jaster said.

 

Anderson added, “We have a passion for the art of dancing and want to share it with others, in hopes to grow line dancing in our area. One of the biggest/most important ‘qualifications also is just understanding that everyone learns differently and you may need to adapt from what makes sense to you.”

 

With volunteers willing to serve as instructors and committed to bringing line dancing to the opera house, the new event started during the winter months last year. Sessions were held the first and third Fridays of each month, before taking a brief break for the holidays. They started once again in January.

 

Each lesson starts around 6 p.m. Jaster and Anderson started teaching two to three dances a night to a crowd of lively boots, typically numbering between 15 to 30 people. The pair alternates instruction, teaching the dances in parts, always taking into account that people learn at different rates and have differing levels of experience. For Jaster, this is both a challenge and an enjoyable aspect about the lessons.

 

“The hardest part of teaching and learning new dances is that everyone has different skill levels. That’s also what’s so fun about it. We like to encourage those who attend our lessons to ‘fake it till you make it,’ because we never had actual lessons to teach us the dances. We just went to barn dances and messed up over and over again on the dance floor until we finally caught on,” she said. 

 

During the “fake it till you make it” phase, classes repeat each section of the dance until attendees are confident enough to move onto the next. During that time, they will also learn steps by counts and the names of steps, such as heel tap or grapevine. Eventually, they’ll transition and turning.

 

This process usually leads to an instructor making their way into the crowd, to assist and provide another viewpoint from which to see the dance performed. It all takes place with the music off, but as the lesson goes on, participants start to get it. That happens to be one of Anderson’s favorite things about teaching.

 

“I enjoy seeing new faces at our events who are excited to learn. It is always a good feeling watching a dance come together and click for our participants and the joy they have when they finally get it with hard moves or dances,” she said.

 

That’s when the music comes on, and attendees perform routines to well-known songs such as Cotton Eyed Joe, Fishin’ in the Dark, Any Man of Mine and Good Time. The lesson lasts until about 8 p.m., and comes with no cost associated, just a free will donation.

 

The idea behind line dancing, while a fun, enjoyable activity, is also a beneficial one for several reasons. In Klingman’s view, line dancing is a sort of “universal language” that bonds humans, who are social creatures. This fills a void that might exist. 

 

People who attend lessons are genuinely supportive and encouraging throughout the learning process. When it comes time to dance, a room full of friends and sometimes strangers are socially connected for a brief moment. For Klingman, that is simply “magic.”

 

As a physical therapist assistant, Anderson sees “big value” in other areas, such as the exercise and body movement dancing provides. It’s also a good activity for every age group, because it helps improve balance and mobility.

 

She also noted the positive impact dancing has on social interaction. 

 

“It is awesome to be able to offer something like this in the area so that people do not have to travel so far to participate in something like this,” Anderson said.

 

Line dancing lessons are tentatively scheduled to conclude at the end of March, but no final decision has been made.  That leaves three more sessions for anyone who has yet to dust off their cowboy boots and hat. The reason behind ending lessons in March is simply tied to how busy life gets in spring and summer months. 

 

Everyone involved hopes dancing returns towards the end of summer or early fall. There may even be some weekend line dancing nights throughout the coming months, so everyone can show off what they’ve learned before lessons pick up again.

 

“We hope to see as many people as possible for our remaining classes. There is no expectation for previous experience. We want anyone to feel welcome to come learn with us. We welcome all ages and love to see the variety each session. It truly is a great time and an awesome opportunity for anyone looking to try something new,” Anderson said.

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