“This is our 19th year for Dane Dances,” says Dane Dances Board of Directors President Alphonso Cooper, “and we’re going strong.”

For the past 6 years, Cooper has been the board president for Dane Dances, one of Madison’s trademark summer events that takes place on the beautiful Monona Terrace rooftop every Friday evening in August. Dane Dances was conceived in the late ‘90s out of the recommendations of the Mayor’s Taskforce on Race Relations by Madisonians who wanted to break down ethnic and racial divides and allow people the space to have fun and enjoy themselves outside of the social issues surrounding the community.

Dane Dances Board of Directors President Alphonso Cooper

“Dane Dances was founded back in 1999. We started out with about 400 people and we’ve grown to about 5,000 people [per event],” Cooper tells Madison365. “Originally, we started out with one band. Now we do two bands and a deejay. We’ve really grown over the years.”

Dane Dances’ mission is to provide a joyous social experience, through music, dance, and the gathering of community to help facilitate improved race relations in Dane County and surrounding areas.

“Dane Dances was founded as we were trying to deal with race relations in the Madison area with positivity by bringing the community together,” Cooper remembers. “Our program, in all aspects from marketing to the music to the food, is all about diversity.

Cooper says that this year Dane Dances will feature food from Cambodia and Venezuela along with southern cuisine and American food.

The music is as diverse as the food. Here is the 2018 schedule:

Aug. 3: DJ Stacktrace, The Associates, Kinfolk
Aug. 10: DJ Pain 1, BBI, Nabori
Aug. 17: DJ Ace, Fantasy Band (Ft. Lady Patice), Motown Reflections and Sweet Harmony, Orquesta Salsoul del Mad

Grupo Candela

Aug. 24: DJ Ace, Grupo Candela, VO5
Aug. 31: DJ Pain 1, Clyde Stubblefield All-Stars, The Voices

“We try to have very diverse music with a mix in the areas,” Cooper says. “We have local bands as well as some bands that Madisonians probably won’t see in other festivals during the summer. We reach out to the Milwaukee area and the Chicago area to try and bring some bands in that will be something new for the community.”

You don’t need tickets for Dane Dances.

“Everything is free. We want to make it accessible to the whole community,” Cooper says. “We really cater to our families and make sure that we are family friendly so it’s fun for children all the way up to people who are 80 or 90 years old people who attend the event. We’re very conscious of our audience to make sure we are providing something for everybody in attendance.”

It’s a big deal to pull all this huge event together four times every in August. Actually, five times this year.

“It can be very challenging. We’re a 100-percent volunteer-based organization so we depend on people stepping out to help us,” Cooper says. “We can always use volunteers in the area of greeters. Our whole organization is volunteers from our board – so we can always use more board members and committee members that work on different committees. We have a publicity committee, a band committee, a logistics committee.

“There’s a vast array of volunteers that are needed,” he adds. “The whole aspect is to have a community event where the whole community has a stake in what is taking place. One of the ways that we are able to keep it free to the community is having great sponsors and being able to get money from foundations to grants to corporations to individual donations, as well.”

Dane Dances kicks off on Aug. 3 on the beautiful Monona Terrace rooftop overlooking Lake Monona and the Wisconsin State Capitol. Free to bring a blanket, chair and picnic basket to the rooftop.

“Dane Dances is all about the people. It’s all about getting the community together and having fun,” Cooper says. “It’s a moment we can share together no matter where we come from, no matter what our background is. We can all come together and have fun and enjoy the music, scenery, the food, and the atmosphere up on the rooftop. It all comes down to the people enjoying themselves and being able to interact with each other.

“It gets to be a reunion, of sorts,” Cooper adds. “People come and they see people they haven’t seen in a while and that they may not see the rest of the year.”