In December of 1932, a group gathered at the Roosevelt Hotel in downtown Cedar Rapids for the inaugural meeting of the Congenial Hundred Dance Club. A notice in The Gazette at the time remarked on the room decorated in “holiday finery ... with garlands of Christmas greens, silver stars and bells” for the dance, planned to be the first of many.
Those plans have held true; 85 years later, members of the Congenial Hundred Dance Club are still dancing the night away.
Past club president John Moore said the group has maintained a continuous presence in Cedar Rapids, outlasting many dance clubs that faded over the years due to things like World War II and other social upheavals.
“It’s part of our social fabric,” he said. “It’s good exercise, and it’s good socialization.”
Club member Dixie Allen agreed.
“Good people dance. They care about each other, they help each other. When we had our 40th wedding anniversary, we had more dancers there than relatives,” she said.
At the end of October, the group held it’s Halloween dance, with members in costume. Each monthly meeting starts with a catered meal and socialization before a live band takes the stage.
They don’t offer dance lessons, though all skill levels are welcome.
“This is not a place to learn to dance, this is a place to dance,” Moore said. “But you don’t need to be great.”
Mostly, it’s a place to have fun.
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Ballroom, Latin and swing styles are all in their current repertoire. When the club first started, however, swing and Latin were definitely not on the agenda.
“We have minutes from the beginning,” current club president Steve Deines said. “They were dead set against swing. They did fox trots and waltzes.”
The group also used to employ dance cards, but stopped using them about 10 years ago.
One thing that hasn’t changed is a dedication to live music at all their dances. At their Halloween dance, Polyester Blend, fronted by singer D Vizecky, kept club members moving.
“She’s an essential part of the night,” Deines said.
Each month they choose a different theme. About 35 couples are currently members — the group has traditionally been capped at 50 couples, or 100 members — thus the name.
The age of dancers ranges greatly.
“When I first joined, the average age was older. We are getting younger, with several couples in their 30s or 40s,” Moore said.
The newest couple, Daniel and Ying Chen, had just joined at the Halloween dance.
“We have a passion for dance. I’ve been dancing since I was in college,” Ying Chen said. “We’re retirees now, and we’re free to pursue our passions.”
The current club members who have been involved the longest are Karen and Dennis Kral, who have been part of the group since 1994.
“We started dancing when our grandson was born. We started dating again. We started going to wine tastings and ballroom dancing,” Karen Kral said.
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They have been married for 55 years, and she credits dancing with helping keep their marriage strong.
“We dated the first time in the years when rock ‘n’ roll were coming in,” she said. “It’s the most fun thing we do together, as far as I’m concerned.”
Attending with a dance partner isn’t required, but most members do.
Kristi Barrowclough came to the Halloween dance with her mother Alice Wasson, who used to be a regular member but stopped attending after her husband John died about a year ago. For her 85th birthday, Wasson came back.
“It’s a dress up affair and a nice dinner and dancing to a band,” she said. “And all the people are so friendly. It’s something you look forward to. It was our favorite dance group.”
If you go
The Congenial Hundred Dance Club meets monthly, from September to April. For information about joining, contact Club President Steve Deines at (319) 373-0990 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The annual fee per couple is $85, plus a monthly fee for each dance attended of $50 per couple.
l Comments: (319) 398-8434; email@example.com