SWISHER — After more than an 80-year run, and almost four years out of operation, an Eastern Iowa dance landmark is set to open its doors once more.
The new owners of Dance-Mor Ballroom in Swisher plan to reopen the 86-year-old venue in midsummer.
Nick and Rebekah Neuendorf purchased the 8,612-square-foot building on March 1 from the LaVenia S. Davis Revocable Trust for $103,000, according to the Johnson County assessor’s office. The ballroom had closed in May 2014 after attracting hundreds of thousands of patrons during 82 years of continuous operation.
The Neuendorfs have formed a partnership with Joe and Meagan Ralston to operate the business at 77 Second St. SE.
“Dance-Mor has a lot of historical value,” Rebekah Neuendorf said. “Swisher is growing and changing. We foresaw Dance-Mor as something that needed to continue to be part of Swisher, given the history it has in the community and the great place it has in people’s hearts across Iowa and the region.”
For the last couple decades that it operated, Dance-Mor was open on Friday and Saturday evenings.
“Previously it had a mixture of local and regional talent,” Nick Neuendorf said. “We intend to continue with that, leaning more toward focusing on local, younger talent.
“We are not defining our days and hours of operation at this time.”
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The Neuendorfs are hoping to open the doors in 90 to 120 days, depending on what needs to be done to the historic interior with its spacious dance floor and wood booths.
“From our perspective, the public wants to see the old Dance-Mor that brought them in previously,” Neuendorf said. “We plan to retain the nostalgia while bringing it into 2018 with a fresh look.”
Dance-Mor will sell alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, but it will not offer food.
The Neuendorfs are co-owners of iBUS Road Tours, which provides winery and brewery tours in the Corridor. Nick said iBUS will be able to provide patrons from Cedar Rapids and Iowa City with transportation to and from Dance-Mor, alleviating the need for a lot of parking in Swisher.
Rebekah also is co-owner of the Black Squirrel Tap at 72 Second St. SE with Sonya La-Grange. Neuendorf and LaGrange bought the former Shooters on Second in August 2016 after finding they worked well together while running Swisher Fun Days.
Swisher Mayor Christopher Taylor said the purchase and eventual reopening of Dance-Mor is a positive development for the Johnson County community.
“We could not be happier that Dance-Mor is reopening after four years,” Taylor said. “It really was a fixture of the community for so long. When it closed, it was really a blow to the city’s economy and also residents’ sense of the community.”
Taylor said the 86-year-old ballroom will need some work to update the interior and bring some things up to code.
“I’ve worked with Rebekah on a number of different projects and I’m very confident in Rebekah and Nick’s ability to bring it back up to a community icon,” Taylor said.
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Starting with a circus tent
Dance-Mor Ballroom started its life in 1932 when Frank Stangler launched the open air Paramount Dance Pavilion. Stangler, who had a carnival, reportedly used a circus tent as a temporary roof for the maple dance floor until a permanent roof was constructed.
The side walls of the building were added in 1956. The name was changed to Dance-Mor Ballroom in the 1950s, according to information submitted to the Iowa Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Dance-Mor was inducted in 2005.
The Stangler family owned and operated Dance-Mor for 42 years. They sold the business in 1974 to Harold Davis, who had recently retired as superintendent of the Deep River-Millersburg School District.
Davis, who had a love and knowledge of music, was a mentor and manager of the Fourth Estate band when his son, Craig, discovered Dance-Mor while playing there and other bands during his college years.
Harold and LaVenia Davis operated Dance-Mor until Harold’s health left him unable to work the dances. Craig, who had a career that included real estate sales, took over the operation of Dance-Mor after Harold Davis died in 2009, and managed it full time from Labor Day to Memorial Day until he closed the ballroom in 2014.
Reflecting on 86 years of family ownership, Nick Neuendorf said he hopes Dance-Mor will attract future generations of Eastern Iowans who enjoy dancing and live music.
“If we are fortunate enough and with some hard work, we will be able to run Dance-Mor for the next 40-plus years,” he said.