The wonderful scenery brings a lot of people out to Dane Dances every summer – the sun setting behind the waterfall on the iconic Wisconsin State Capitol on one side and beautiful views of Lake Monona from high above on the other. But plenty of Madisonians also come to the annual event held every Friday in August on the Monona Terrace rooftop for the diversity … and the great music.
“There really is nothing like Dane Dances in Madison,” Dane Dances Board President Al Cooper tells Madison365. “We put a lot of thought into trying to make it all-inclusive and accessible to the whole community. So that’s one of the unique features that we actually work on from the selection of our hosts to the selection of the bands to the selection of our food vendors. We try to make sure that we provide diversity in everything.
“Dane Dances is a really incredible experience and we try to make people feel welcome with greeters to make sure that everybody feels like they are part of the event,” he continues. “There’s nothing worse than being at the event and you look around and you may have a question and nobody can answer it. We have people who are specifically there to answer those questions.”
Dozens and dozens of volunteers in green Dane Dances volunteer shirts make sure that nobody feels like a stranger at Dane Dances, which will kick off this Friday, Aug. 6, 5:30-11 p.m. The featured bands on Monona Terrace’s Rooftop will be Orquesta Mas Madison All-Stars and Sons of Chicago for Dane Dances, which, unfortunately, was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is going to be our 22nd season. We missed one last year because of the pandemic, so it’s 21 of 22, technically. It was a tough decision to cancel last year but it was the right one,” Cooper says.
Cooper has been a huge part of Dane Dances, which has been free and open to the public since it first started in 1999, for many, many years.
“I’ve gotten more and more involved with Dane Dances over the years and I ended up being the president. That was supposed to be a two-year term, but I am still doing it and I think it has helped us build some cohesion in how we do things and how we reach out to our sponsors, in particular,” Cooper says. “The individual connection makes a big difference in fundraising for this event, as well.”
“A lot of thought goes into the logistics of making people feel happy about being there and while they are there, we try to have music that is upbeat and danceable,” he adds. “It’s an environment that is created from scratch to be what it is and then the rest of the people come and build the rest. It’s like cooking — all of the ingredients mixed together make the meal.”
The theme for this year’s Dane Dances is “A Season of Love and Happiness” and they are still looking for volunteers for the thousands of people who will attend the event this summer. Dane Dances depends on volunteers and sponsors to help keep this free, live summer music series going.
“We’re always looking for volunteers. Hopefully, we get some more people to go to the website and sign up,” Cooper says.
Three different DJs will be performing at the Dane Dances events throughout the summer including DJ Pain 1, DJ Ace and DJ Ghamo. Many of the bands that were booked for 2020 but didn’t get a chance to perform will headline in 2021.
“This is a lot of people’s favorite event and we try to bring in new bands every year like Sons of Chicago and Public Announcement. Sounds of Slave R&B Band has been here before but that band is always changing a little bit in terms of the kind of acts that they bring with them,” Cooper says. “We have a taste of something new and different every year along with the Latin music and soul music everybody likes.”
Other bands that will be performing this year include Orquesta Mas – Madison All-Stars, VO5, Eddie Butts Band, Orquesta SalSoul Del Mad, and Antone’s Tribute To Barry White.
There is a diverse food selection available at every Dane Dances event including Kipp’s Kitchen, La Taguara, Lemongrass, and Lake Vista Cafe.
“We’re working on having a vaccination clinic right at Dane Dances this year,” Cooper says. “So we’re excited about that, too.”
For many people, Dane Dances is their one chance to see all of their old friends and community members in a year. In the case of Dane Dances 2021, it will be two years.
“I love how people really enjoy themselves at this event and how the community really comes together,” Cooper says. “To watch how the community comes together with the sponsors and community groups every year is cool to see. It’s also amazing to see the reach of people from all over the country who accidentally drop into Dane Dances and they start putting it on their calendars to try and come back because it has left such an impression on them. Those are the things that make a difference when you see the impact of people being able to find something they are excited about and that they enjoy.”
For more information about Dane Dances 2021, click here.