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The Antelope

Student-led dances in full swing at Joe’s Honky Tonk

Three years ago, two high school friends jumpstarted a group called Sunday Night Loper Swing Dancing. Since then, the UNK students have boot-scootin-boogied off campus to Joe’s Honky Tonk bar at 7 p.m. on Tuesday nights.

It started when Josh Roh’s senior prom date inspired him to learn how to swing dance, and he decided to continue the pastime in college. 

“After that I just kind of started to fall in love with it, and it’s one of my favorite things to do,” said Roh, the group’s leader. “So I watched YouTube videos and kept honing my skills as a swing dancer.”

Roh joined forces with his high school classmate and fellow Loper, Jonathan Drozda, a philosophy major who also enjoys swing dancing.   

“There wasn’t really any consistent swing dancing happening in Kearney, so I was pretty much like, ‘What can we try and do?’” Drozda said. 

Through the Catholic Newman Center, the two UNK freshman reserved rooms on campus once a week to teach others how to swing dance. For up to three hours, students learned in the Cushing Coliseum hyper-gym on Sunday nights.  

“There were a few girls that were coming for a while that were hardly comfortable with doing a dip, but then — say like a few weeks later — they were willing to do a flip,” Drozda laughed. “It was just fun to watch that progression all the time.”

To encourage more participation, the duo recruited Clarissa Fitzgerald, a sophomore who “learned how to dance on (her) dad’s toes.” 

“It was hard for two guys to get girls to come and feel comfortable, especially if they never swung dance before, and just to explain it’s not a romantic thing,” said Fitzgerald, a UNK graduate. “I think people have a weird misconception about dancing a lot of the time and that it’s always a couple’s pastime. It was a lot easier to teach guys when they had a girl helping them out.”

In spring of 2020, the pandemic brought their boots to a halt, and the instructors searched for venues off campus for when school started. 

Joe’s Honky Tonk, at 2023 1st Avenue, provided the lighting, the speakers and the dance floor.

“Being a country bar, I felt that it was just something we needed to offer, and it’s not just for college students,” said Heath Smallcomb, the owner of Joe’s Honkytonk. “We have a pretty fun group on Tuesday nights now.”

Community members are also welcome to country dance, as the group is no longer a student organization.  

“We came to learn how to dance for our wedding,” said Cristin Richter with her husband by her side. “Neither one of us knew how to dance, really.”

As a senior studying biology, Roh leads as few as five or as many as 45 dancers with varying abilities each Tuesday night. 

He hopes other students will step up as country dancing leaders after he graduates to become a dental hygienist.

“There’s definitely regulars that come every single week, and they also know how to swing dance and they help teach people, but what I want to do is keep it going in this building,” Roh said. “If that doesn’t happen, it’d be great to move it on campus if conditions allow. Hopefully, it can just keep growing — that would be the plan.”

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