MAYVILLE — Dancing is the main event, but plenty of eating, drinking and socializing can be found Saturday afternoons in Mayville this time of year.
The Mayville Lions Club hosts ten polka and variety dances between February and June, drawing visitors from miles around to take part in Wisconsin’s official state dance.
The dance series began nine years ago when Donna Gudex-Kamrath noticed that the Mayville Park Pavilion seemed to sit quiet during the winter months.
“It’s such a nice building in a great location and I wanted to see people getting out to do something fun,” she said.
She approached Jerry Moede, Mayville’s mayor at the time, about holding charity dances in the upper level of the pavilion which features an all hardwood floor and small stage. A longtime member of the Mayville Lions Club, Moede brought up the idea at a club meeting and was told “It’ll never work.”
“They were wrong. We never have less than 120 people here dancing and sometimes we’ve had up to 200. People come from all over,” he said.
Gudex-Kamrath said at the first dance this season folks from as far away as Monroe, Green Bay, Shawano, Madison, Sheboygan and Racine entered through the hall’s doors.
Area businesses sponsor the dances and the Lions work the event, with all proceeds going toward the club’s community projects.
Moede said some of those projects include building wheel chair ramps and stocking a fish pond outside of town for youth. The revenue from two of the dances is earmarked for the Theresa American Legion and the Friends of the Mayville Public Library. The Mayville High School athletic program also receives a donation in return for their help setting up and tearing down tables.
“It’s our main fundraiser and we’re lucky to have some Lions donate food. One guy provides all the brats and another makes desserts. We have popcorn at no charge,” said Moede.
Gudex-Kamrath promotes the dances and is in charge of booking the bands. Carol & The Keynotes entertained the enthusiastic crowd Feb. 8.
“Dances are as popular as ever.We keep a full schedule by playing three or four dates each month,” said lead singer and accordion player Carol Butt.
Gudex-Kamrath said she looks for bands that have a healthy following.
“People are willing to drive here to have a fun time,” she said. “They call this a party and thank us for inviting them to the party.”
Norman and Sharon McWilliam of Milton drove about an hour and 15 minutes to attend the dance Feb. 8.
“We like to dance and there aren’t many places around where we live to do that so we watch who’s playing where and then go,” said Sharon. “We didn’t start dancing until he sold the cows in the late ‘90s, then we could start going places.”
The couple said they started out going to see bluegrass groups and have learned to polka, fox trot and waltz.
“If you can walk you can dance. It’s just 1-2-3, 1-2-3. We’re not real fast, we basically just waltz to a polka and do it our way,” said Norman.
He recalled getting in front of a band at one dance and the band helped him by counting 1-2-3 out loud.
“You meet so many nice people when you go to all these dances and then end up seeing them at different places. It gets you away, it’s good exercise and a lot of fun,” Sharon said.
Tom Vollmer of Mayville said he’s been dancing since he was a kid and has come to every dance the Lions have held.
“What’s too bad is I don’t see enough people from Mayville here. If you don’t like to dance, you can still have a great time talking to people,” he said.
Gudex-Kamrath agreed with that thought and said, “It’s a nice place to socialize or play cards while supporting our community.”
Regular attendees Harry and Rae Ann Schroeder said they’ve gone dancing every weekend for the past 10 years. It all started when the couple took ballroom dancing lessons before their daughter’s wedding.
“My husband said if we’re taking lessons we’re going to go dancing. We found a polka hall and I was frightened because I didn’t know how to polka. We went and they were the nicest people and then we just went and went and went,” said Rae Ann. “It’s really inexpensive entertainment. My gosh, how can you not spend $10 for a wonderful afternoon? We come here from Sheboygan and try to bring as many people with us as we can, and then you keep meeting people and your circle grows. You develop friendships.”
Harry stressed the bands play much more than just polkas.
“There’s some line dancing, two-step, waltzes, rock and swing music. We like the cha-cha most,” he said.
Although the crowd on the dance floor is mainly from an older generation, Rae Ann said has seen people come with their grandchildren and finds that inspirational.
“It reminds me of wedding dances from the past. It’s happy music everyone can enjoy together,” she said.
Follow Kelly Simon on Twitter @KSchmidSimon or contact her at 920-356-6757.
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