It’s that time already. One of Madison’s favorite summertime events is Dane Dances!, the multicultural summer concert series that attracts more than 3,000 attendees on the Monona Terrace Rooftop every Friday evening in the month of August.
Now, in its 13th season, Dane Dances! is only nine years younger than its new director, 22-year-old Tierra Terrell.
“Everybody makes a big deal about that,” Terrell says about her youth. “But the biggest thing is just providing new, fresh ideas. There will be a few things that we’ll be changing soon. We will be bringing technology and that whole aspect of getting things done that way. The younger generation is very big on the technologies and the Internet, so there will be plenty of new things we will be doing with that.”
Dane Dances! is a community event created to help breakdown racial barriers and bring people of diverse backgrounds together for a night of free entertainment. The bands that perform at Dane Dances! are popular, high-energy, local and regional bands. The music is danceable and as diverse as the people who come to enjoy the events. Funk, Latin, R&B, Jazz, Hip Hop and Reggae are all in the mix. This year, because of a quirk in the calendar, there will be five Dane Dances! instead of the usual four.
“We’re excited to have the fifth event because the more events you have the more people you get to see and interact with,” Terrell says. “The only concern with the fifth event is covering the costs [for the extra event]. But we’re really excited about having five.”
One of the longtime mainstays of Dane Dances! and one of its most popular participants was Laurie B. Mlatawou (DJ Laurie), who passed away in May of this year. Terrell is well aware of DJ Laurie’s contributions to the event.
“That was another reason I joined Dane Dances! The love that they showed for Laurie was amazing,” Terrell says. “I’ve never seen action like that from a volunteer group and wanting to raise money in her honor. It was like family. I knew right then and there that this was an organization I wanted to be in.”
Since Dane Dances! is a small non-profit organization, it relies on the support of volunteers, corporate sponsors, foundations, and individual contributors to provide for its events. Although the events are free to the public, they are not without costs. Dane Dances! must cover the costs of free admission to 3,000-4,000 attendees per night, the bands, DJ, Monona Terrace staff, and other essential expenses.
“One of the great things is that you don’t have to push that hard for individuals to donate because they’ve already been there and know what the history is about Dane Dances!,” Terrell says. “A lot of people have had great times there. Mention some of the bands — you say ‘Eddie Butts’ or ‘Madisalsa’ — and people get really riled up. And that’s kinda cool.”
Dane Dances! has developed some fund-raisers to keep it afloat. “The Friends of Dane Dances! is basically a commitment to the individual contributors — $25 or more,” Terrell says. “That marks you as a friend of Dane Dances! It is a tax-deductible donation. That’s an awesome thing about it. But you’re really showing your support in a small way to help out the Dances.
Dane Dances! events would not be possible without committed volunteers and Dane Dances! is always looking for more volunteers.
“Georgie Vavra is our volunteer coordinator and she is awesome. She helps get people in from all ages to help with greetings, dance set-ups, surveys, all types of things,” Terrell says. “We definitely want to see the Dane Dances! family grow. And if you volunteer twice you get a cool T-shirt.”
The specific objective of Dane Dances! is to provide a diverse environment and grow relationships between people of different backgrounds in Dane County. On top of the music and dancing, there are ethnically varied food available at establishments like Blowing Smoke, Francisco's, Kipps Cuisine, and Lake Vista Cafe
“I actually didn’t know much about Dane Dances! at first but I attended a meeting and when I went to that meeting I saw how fired up the volunteers were and it got me really interested,” says Terrell. “And that just got me more and more interested.”
By day, Terrell serves as an administrative coordinator for the Business Procurement Assistance Center at Madison College. She is also working on her master’s of business administration (MBA) with a concentration in human resource management.
“I’ve had previous experience with event planning, but it’s a whole new situation when you’re working in this capacity for a nonprofit,” Terrell says. “I’ve learned how to reach out to people and I’ve learned a lot about fund-raising. I’ve learned how to really communicate and to get sponsors and individuals to really value what it is you’re trying to put on in terms of these dances.”
Terrell is also a proud executive board member for Kappa Psi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
“Alpha Kappa Alpha has really conditioned me to be very strict when it comes to organization, strategic planning, management —all of that,” Terrell says. “It really helps to get in there and get focused on managing all of the different parts of Dane Dances! As director, I have to oversee all of the smaller committees but I try to make sure everybody’s voice is heard and everybody’s thoughts are included. I’ve gotten a lot of leadership skills from my time with the AKAs.”
Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) President Frances Huntley-Cooper has always been an avid supporter and volunteer for Dane Dances! and she’s been a great help to Terrell.
“Frances is my number-one supporter — she is great!,” Terrell exclaims. “She definitely has set up a date for all of the AKAs to come out in their pink and green and will be dancing. They are not only supporting me, but they are supporting the event and making sure it happens.”
Dane Dances! is truly one of those events that is for all ages —from little children to elderly people. With Terrell as director, there should be some more college-aged students in attendance, too.
“One of my goals is to get more of the students from the university to come because we do reach that [age] range. But a lot of students don’t even know that Dane Dances! exists,” Terrell says. “One of the things is to get more of the college-aged students into this so we can get the group even bigger and bigger so we can reach an even broader audience.”
And why wouldn’t college-aged students come? There’s food, fun, dancing, and socializing. It’s a chance to network — something young people soon to be looking for jobs should be doing.
“You have the heavy hitters in Madison at Dane Dances! in a relaxed setting laughing and enjoying themselves. That’s the perfect time to go up to them and say, ‘Hi. My name is Tierra, a student graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison,’ Terrell says. “It’s a nice time. You’re not in that enclosed, stressful setting. You get to meet people for who they are and let them see you and let your personality shine.”
Terrell is expecting big attendance this month.
“This is the lucky 13th season and our sponsors have really stepped up and helped us out,” she says. “We’re still continuing to look for funding and whatnot.
“My main goal is to have all five dances and for them to be successes,” she adds. “It doesn’t happen often to have five Fridays in August.”
The law of averages might hint that after two months of drought-like weather that Madison is due for a rainy August.
“One of my goals is to not have rain, but I don’t have much control over that,” Terrell laughs. “But we’re ready for that, too. We will bring it inside. It will be fun no matter where we have it.”
You can become a 'Friend' of Dane Dances by visiting www.danedances.org, submitting a donation via PayPal, or by sending a check/money order to: Dane Dances, Inc., P.O. Box 1672, Madison, WI 53701. Your generous donation of at least $25 or more will be publicly acknowledged on the website and is tax deductable.
To volunteer or sponsor call: (608) 719-8846 or visit: www.danedances.org.