18th Annual Dane Dances Season
|Grupo Candela lead singer Mario Mendoza (l-r) and Alphonso
Cooper, the chair of Dane Dances
on the Monona Terrace Rooftop
When it began back then, MadiSalsa was one of the first groups to perform before a crowd of several hundred people, a crowd so small that
they led a contingent of the dancers around the perimeter of the Rooftop of Monona Terrace in a sort of impromptu parade. Things have changed
in the ensuing 18 years.
“Before there was a capacity set, I remember there would be 5,000-7,000 people up here,” Mendoza said. “Then back then in the band that I
was performing with, part of my act involved getting the crowd involved, getting them engaged by jumping. At a certain point in one particular
performance, I had the crowd start jumping, everyone in unison. I was told later that folks could feel the building heaving up and down as
2,000-3,000 of them were jumping at the same time. I heard a rumor, but I don’t know if it is true, but they actually had to commission a
structural integrity study to make sure that I hadn’t broken Monona Terrace. Thankfully, I didn’t. Subsequently, the capacity was limited. And I
have kept the audience jumping to a minimum.”
The large crowd draws not just from the greater Madison area, but from the state of Wisconsin and beyond.
“It’s a regional event and it actually is getting to be a national type of event and sometimes international because when people come here for
conventions and happen to stumble upon Dane Dances, they make it a planned part of their vacation for the next few years to come back to
participate in Dane Dances,” said Alphonso Cooper, the chair of the Dane Dances planning committee. “People who retire or move away plan
on coming back to the Madison area during August during the Dane Dances so that they can at least catch one of them. We have people from
all over the country and all over the state. I get calls from La Crosse, Green Bay, from all over asking when it is scheduled and if we have the
band schedule out yet. It’s really a state/national/community event where people make a commitment to come back and not just accidentally
It has also become a very magical and memorable moment for many.
“Often, I run into people in town,” Mendoza said. “They recognize me because I’m on stage. And they will tell me their Dane Dances story. I can’
t tell you how many people have approached me and told me, ‘You know what? Your band was playing on the rooftop at Dane Dances when I
proposed to the woman who is now my wife.’ I have heard that story several times. And I also hear people approaching me and saying, ‘It’s so
great that you continue to do this because there are people whom I don’t see any other time of the year, but I see them here, so it’s really cool.’
It does bring the community together in ways that the other things do. And as it turns out, it brings people together in ways that are life-long
Dane Dances is powered by a group of volunteers and by community financial support. And it’s not always easy making ends meet, especially
when there are five Friday evenings in August.
“It’s still free after all these years,” Cooper said. “That’s part of the challenge. It’s part of our by-laws to try to keep it free. People ask why we
don’t charge a couple of dollars. But the whole thing is once you start trying to charge a buck and you have a family of 5-6 children and the
parents, you’re still talking dollars and start eliminating people from having the opportunity to come to an event where the cost for them will be
Cooper also emphasized that Dane Dances is community-owned and therefore people in the community, as companies and as individuals,
need to continue to provide the kind of support that makes Dane Dances truly magical.
“We rely on individual support,” Cooper emphasized. “It is very important. We have Friends of Dane Dances or just people making any
donation that they are capable of making. There is no donation that is too small. It is important that we connect with everyone so that they have
ownership in Dane Dances. When people participate as a volunteer or by making a financial contribution or both, they have and feel more of an
ownership of the organization and what it is doing. The way that Dane Dances was created, anyone and everyone in the community can have a
voice in what we do and how we do it. It’s in our by-laws.”
Dane Dances kicks off on Friday, August 4th with Orquesta SalSoul del Mad and Kinfolk.
“Orquesta SalSoul del Mad, is Latin and soul combined,” Cooper said. “That will be a unique experience for the community to see, how music
blends across cultures. It gets the rhythm and the beat of two cultures blended together.”
Also performing this year are Primitive Culture and BBI on August 11, Grupo Candela and The Voices on August 18 and Charanga Agoza and
VO5 on August 25. DJ Pain 1 and DJ Ace will keep the crowd dancing in between sets.
“Every band on the schedule, if I have to say so myself, is excellent,” Cooper said. “A lot of the bands are very diverse in terms of what they
represent in the community. It speaks volumes of what Madison is, not just in the community, but also in its music scene as well.”
On tap to serve up some great food are Rib Master’s, La Taquara and Cuco’s Mexican Restaurant as well as Monona Terrace’s Lake Vista Café.
Become a part of something special when Dane Dances begins its 18th season on August 4th. Become a part of the magic.
By Jonathan Gramling
Who would have known that Dane Dances, founded in 1999, would be the
last of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Taskforce on Race Relations to
still be fulfilling its original purpose of bringing diverse crowds of Madison
area citizens together for music, dance and each other’s company.
“As a performer, you want to play in a place where you receive and feed off
of the energy of the crowd and of the venue,” said Mario Mendoza who has
performed during all 18 seasons as a member of either MadisSalsa or
Grupo Candela. “There really isn’t another place, an event, like Dane
Dances, in my opinion. The setting when the weather cooperates and the
Capitol is at the backdrop and we can all gather on the rooftop, there is
nothing like it. The crowds that come to Dane Dances come to enjoy
themselves, to have a good time, to do it in an environment devoid of
conflict. It’s just about the music and about the community. And when I’m
on stage and interacting with the crowd and singing and dancing, the crowd
just fuels some of the most
inspiring performances that I can remember in the few decades that I have
been doing this.”