Westside’s Polka Club changes name, outlook

       The International Dance Club has its new name. Now all it needs is a few new dancers.
       The large two-level hall is in the Midland area of the Westside, at 2422 W. Busch Ave. For years it was known as the International Polka Club (the sign outside still says that), reflecting the local German and Slavic heritage that was behind its founding nearly 40 years ago.
       “Almost all of us danced when we were kids,” recalled Frank Kadinger, born of German parents in Minnesota. He was among the original 25 that came together in 1969 through a series of polka shows by the Alexander Film Company, leading to the formation of a club that grew to 500 members at its peak 10 years ago.
       But Kadinger's staying power - he also belongs to polka clubs in Pueblo and Golden - is a rare thing these days. He is one of just a couple of the founders left.
       “We've lost a lot of the members who put the place together,” said Roger Cormier, who himself joined 32 years ago. He helped the huge volunteer effort through which the club membership raised money - largely through bingo games - to buy the Busch Avenue property in 1978 (and eventually pay it off), then worked to fix up its unfinished church building and turn it into their home base.
       Judy Nelson, the current club president, led the name change, which took effect last spring after a vote of the membership. Although some people were not happy with the change, she believes it was needed - both symbolically and functionally - to bolster the club's membership (now down to about 300) in changing times.
       “People hear the word polka, and it's like a brick wall goes up instantly,” Nelson said. “We need new faces, and people aren't beating down the door to go to polka anymore.”
       She and her husband Gary own an auto repair shop in northeast Colorado Springs. He used to work on race cars, but once he had more free time he and Judy got into ballroom dancing 15 years ago, and joined the club about 5 years later.
       “I think this is the nicest dance floor in town,” Judy said of the polished, 400-square-foot space. Tables and chairs line the sides, and the band plays on a stage that would have been the church's vestry.
       The name change has “opened up venues,” Nelson explained, noting that nowadays the club offers “all kinds of events,” Some are carryovers from the old days, such as Mardi Gras, where members dress in traditional garb while newer ones, such as the annual Sock Hop - this year's is scheduled Saturday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m. - bring out the poodle skirts. Other special events include a luau, an ugly tie night, Halloween, Oktoberfest, a Thanksgiving potluck and an appreciation night for contributing members.
       It's not as if polka has gone away completely. The regular Saturday dances always begin with a polka, and songs of that style are mixed in occasionally with ballroom numbers throughout the night.
       Live bands play and liquor is allowed for members, but “we're not a nightclub or bar scene,” Nelson explained.
       Membership is $25 the first year ($20 after that). Members are eligible for free dance lessons (from the Nelsons) and pay reduced prices for Saturday nights and special events. They are also encouraged to help take care of the club property, with leadership provided by the elected board. A recent group project, for example, was sprucing up the downstairs ballroom. It's a slightly smaller space that the Dance Club rents out for weddings and other functions to help cover costs.
       Even if the name has changed, it's clear that much of the club's original convivial spirit remains. Members smile when they see each other and give out full hugs. And humor seems to play a big part. This was evident when member Bob Brown heard Judy Nelson comment that “people come here to dance. They don't all know the classic steps, but they just enjoy moving to the music.”
       At this, Brown grinned broadly. “I've been coming here 25 years and I still don't know how to dance,” he said. “My wife goes home with bloody toes every night.”

Westside Pioneer article