Moving to the music of "Howard and Sonja," Harley Blumke and Corrine Fenske show off some fancy footwork during a Monday night dance at the Brookings Activity Center. Photo by John Kubal/Register
Yes, every Monday at the Brookings Activity Center
BROOKINGS "Why don't you love me like you used to do, how come you treat me like a wornout shoe
Your cheatin' heart will tell on you
Hey, good lookin'
Move it on over
It's 7 p.m. Monday at the Brookings Activity Center and "Howard and Sonja" get the gang up and onto the dance floor with some old Hank Williams Sr. songs. Following Hank come some Irish and Norwegian waltzes. And so it goes nearly non-stop until 10:30, with a break for refreshments "lunch" at 8:30. One dancer called it "everybody's lifeline."
What's the big draw that brings out this over-50 crowd, a few in their 90s, of 60 to 70 men and women from all over the Brookings area and beyond Howard, Madison, Elkton and Minnesota every Monday?
"The dance, that's all it takes. Fun people," says a smiling Sharon Morrison, a Brookings resident and regular dancer whose regular "dancing partner" won't be making it tonight. "He's combining," she said.
Morrison is diplomatic in fielding such questions as, "Is this a good place for guys and gals to meet, get together?"
Her reply: "We have dancing partners and once in awhile they end up married, but there's very few married ones here." Many of the women are widows, the men widowers.
She added, "And a lot of us, as we get older, don't want to remarry anyhow. We just have fun."
Morrison said polkas and waltzes are the most popular dances.
Asked if the Monday gatherings were akin to "traditional ballroom dancing," she replied, with a hearty laugh, "No, no. We're peppier than that. We've got more energy than that."
'Just like family'
When it comes to picking dancing partners, the odds favor the guys, 2:1. And Morrison noted that some men are looking to meet women, "but not like at a singles dance. It's just a fun time."
Harley Blumke and Corrine Fenske said they are "pretty much" regular dance partners. But, he added, with a laugh, "There are a few other ladies that have time to dance, too."
Harley said, "I started dancing when I lost my wife in the fall of '08. In the summer of '09 I started looking for something to do. After two or three years, it's just like family." He goes to other dances, but he considers the BAC dances the best.
"We enjoy it very much and need the exercise," he added, with a smile and laugh.
Corrine said, "I started about four years ago, when I retired from up at the college (South Dakota State University) and was looking for something to do, to get out. You don't want to just sit home and get old.
"You meet so many nice people here. The dance floor here is wonderful."
John Freese comes in from Pipestone and has been coming to the dances for the past two years. He has no steady dancing partner "but one preferred." And changing partners is perfectly acceptable.
Love at first sight almost
Two people who did meet at a BAC dance and become partners, got to know each other over eight to nine months and then married are Doris Kjellsen and Lowell Thomsen. Her husband died in 2002, his wife in 2008. Both had been married more than 50 years. They were wed on July 9, 2011.
She lives near Lake Poinsett; he lives near Tyler, Minn. Doris explained, "We still live both places, because we both have farms. We just go back and forth."
They keep coming back to the dances, because they like to dance, they like the people they get to meet and they like the exercise. Neither initially came looking for a mate.
Doris said, "My neighbor ladies just talked me into coming dancing. I put it off for awhile; finally I said, 'OK, I'll go.' It'll be two years now next spring."
And was it love at first sight? "Almost," said Doris, with a smile.
One of the big draws to the BAC dances is the always live music. One of the more popular bands is the Hansons, Howard and Sonja. In a word of the ultimate praise, more likely to be used by their grandchildren, one of the dancers described the duo as "awesome."
The Hansons have been regulars at the BAC since about 1995, performing on average once a month. Howard, 77, plays guitar; Sonja, 63, plays keyboard; they both do vocals. The have an extensive repertoire.
"Basically, we like all kinds of music," Howard said. "I love everything from jazz to big band. We like swing music and the old time and cajun, just a variety of music. Some of the folks like the '50s." And Howard knows the '50s. Back in those days he was in a band that played on radio station KBRK here in Brookings.
Howard and Sonja are both Minnesota natives but have spent much of their lives in South Dakota. They met in 1976 and married in 1979. They've been playing together for close to 30 years. Since 1980 they have lived and farmed in the Fish Lake area, between Astoria and Lake Hendricks, Minn.
They had some health issues in 2008 that led to both of them having by-pass heart surgery.
Sonja said, "It was really a shock to both of us, because Howard is so active out here. We didn't have heart attacks, thank goodness."
With those issues behind them, the couple pursues a vigorous lifestyle with their music and farming operations. And they're impressed with the energy and vigor of the older people who attend the dances at the BAC.
Howard said, "It's energy and attitude. These folks work together so well. They love to dance, and they think a lot of each other.
"I've seen so much fellowship there; in fact, you'll see more fellowship there than you will in some churches. It's more like a ministry." That's coming from a man whose greatest joy is gospel music; and he's played for churches of all denominations.
Howard added, "They're very concerned about one another; it's a very close-knit group."
And the Hansons can relate to the dancers for whom they provide the music: "We're all senior citizens," Howard said.
He added, "We've all been around the block. Nobody tries to impress the other person; we're just there to have some fun, have a good time. We know how to live."
The dancing, the fun, the good times, the tripping the light fantastic are available to all those men and women over 50.
The ground rules are pretty basic: Admission is $5. Membership in the BAC is not required. There's no smoking and no drinking.
Contact John Kubal at jkubal@-brookingsregister.com.