Dane Dances Returns to the Monona Terrace Rooftop Fridays in August: Dane Dances Returns

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Al Cooper, the chair of Dane Dances (c) with Julia Hay (l) and Alfredo Rodriguez and the other Dane Dances volunteers have been planning for memorable evenings on the Monona Terrace Rooftop

By Jonathan Gramling

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit so many aspects of our community pretty hard. Of course, the most egregious was all of the families, particularly marginalized families, whose very existence was threatened at the beginning of the pandemic. And major institutions like our schools, from elementary to college were severely impacted.

And while some restaurants were able to survive — and some prosper — during the pandemic, the entertainment and tourism industries took major hits. While they may appear to be expendable in the short run, they are indispensable in the long run to the health and identity of a community.

Alfredo Rodriguez and Orquesta SalSoul were really hitting full stride when the pandemic hit.

“We actually had 17 outdoor events that we were scheduled to do,” Rodriguez, a member of Dane Dances’ board, said. “And every last one of them fell through including Summerfest and Dane Dances. It was a heartache for us. All of the events were local as far as Milwaukee and Appleton. During the shutdown, what we all did was continually started rehearsing on our own. I would send out music for everyone and everyone would just keep doing their homework to keep sharp because literally, we weren’t playing at all, not one thing. It was just a matter of trying to keep sharp.”

The band got together for one performance.

“We did one virtual video for the MAMA Awards,” Rodriguez said. “We weren’t even aware that we were MAMA Award winners. They asked us to perform something for them for the end of the show. And of course everything was virtual. And so we did a virtual video and we did that at the Brink Lounge. And it is posted all over YouTube. It didn’t have the same feel as live. But actually our virtual one we did all together, but we were all masked and we were all socially distanced. However, we did get to see each other. It was hard not to hug someone or get emotionally wrapped up with one another. We’ve been together for close to nine years now. It was a hardship for all of us to be apart.”

One of those gigs that Orquesta SalSoul had lined up was Dane Dances that is held on the Monona Terrace Rooftop every Friday in August. And even though it’s held outside, Al Cooper, the chair of the Dane Dances and his fellow members had to make a tough decision.

“It was a hard decision,” Cooper said. “But again, if you follow the signs, it became the right decision. We waited for the last minute to make sure there wasn’t any hope or possibility of getting it in. In the end, the healthy thing and reasonable decision for the good of the community was to not have it even though it was a hard decision. It wouldn’t be Dane Dances if we had to socially distance ourselves by six feet. When we looked at the latest guidelines before they removed the restrictions, we would have only been able to get 264 people up there with social distancing and no dance floor. That would not have been Dane Dances at all.”

Dane Dances also took a hit financially. Many of its sponsors switched gears during the pandemic and gave their funds to more immediate, pressing needs during the height of the pandemic. Cooper is working hard to bring those sponsors back to the fold.

“We were severely impacted by COVID-19 financially and going into this season we’re still severely affected,” Cooper said. “We recovered from that loss and reaching out to sponsors and corporate sponsors as well as other businesses and individual donations. We’re dependent more on individual donations this year than in past years. We’re hoping that the community continues to step up and support Dane Dances because it is owned by the community and is for the community.”

And it also impacted the volunteers whose Augusts revolved around Dane Dances. Julia Hay, who had retired from SSM Health, was the lead face painter for almost a decade, in part because she had some formal art training. As her grandchildren grew up, she enjoyed working with the young children who came to get their faces painted.

“I love the kids,” Hay said. “They’re always so eager to get their faces painted. I don’t understand why it makes them so happy. But it is the easiest way to make them happy in the world. I generally have a bunch of pictures of characters and animals that if they can’t think of something that they want to be, that helps to jog their memories. We often have lines of 30-40 kids and have to cut them off at some point because it gets dark. That’s hard because kids get very disappointed. We’ve had volunteers, lots of people who don’t have any experience, but can pick up doing this or if they are a little intimidated about painting, they can give out temporary tattoos to kids.”

Unfortunately, as Dane Dances returns, face painting will not be offered this summer due to the young children not being vaccinated. Hay has switched to being a volunteer coordinator. Yet she will still miss the face painting.

Rodriguez and Orquesta SalSoul will return once again.

“One of the highlights for any band, if you ask around town, is to play a venue like Dane Dances,” Rodriguez said. “I can speak for everyone in my band and everyone who has played or wants to play, Dane Dances sets the tone for a lot of things. It sets the tone for a wonderful, beautiful, connecting event where you see families, friends and people from other parts of our state. They come together to hear local music. And that’s what makes it even better, local music. The local musicians get to put out their best and we’ve always been received well by each and every one of the individuals who are out there at Dane Dances. Everyone just wants to be a part of that. Who doesn’t? It’s like the flamboyant part of being a musician. We get to really show off. And the setting is the most beautiful setting in town.”

On some levels, Dane Dances was frozen in time. With the exception of some musicians from New York and Philadelphia, it’s the same line-up they had planned for 2020.

“We were able to reach into the Chicago market to get some great replacements for that night,” Cooper said. “We think our lineup is just as strong and will be very inviting for the community. We have a new band coming in the first week, a group of musicians who have played with a lot of top performing artists throughout the country and the world. That band should be able to bring something different to Madison that we haven’t experienced lately. They are a very diverse band. They play a variety of music. They are the Sons of Chicago. But also that whole night should be fantastic. We also have Orquesta MAS – Madison All Stars, which is one of the top Latin groups in the area. We start out with a great lineup and hopefully, people will be able to get out and enjoy the entertainment.”

Three different DJs will be holding down the event as people walk in at the beginning of the night and getting the line dances going in between sets. And a great line-up of food vendors are set to provide some excellent evening cuisine including Kipps Kitchen, La Taguara, Lemongrass and the Lake Vista Café.

Now more than ever, Dane Dances needs the community’s support to keep it the largest, free, multicultural social event in Dane County. To donate and become a Friend of Dane Dances, visit https://danedances.org/donate.php.

“We think it will lift people’s spirits and bring people back together to have a happy, joyous occasion every Friday night in August on the Rooftop of Monona Terrace, one of the most beautiful venues in the state,” Cooper emphasized.

There’s no better way to come out from under COVID-19 than to celebrate every Friday night in August on the Monona Terrace Rooftop. See you there.