Members of Red Brothers Dance Club have been circling the dance floor at monthly balls since 1933.
Along with live big band music, the group still has two dances on the schedule this spring – Friday, April 1, dancing to music from the John Morgan Big Band, and Friday, May 6, featuring the High Society Big Band. Dances are from 7:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. at Moose Lodge, 644 W. 190th St., Ames.
It’s a private dance club, but new members and guests are enthusiastically welcomed, said Alta Byg, a longtime active member of the club.
The Red Friars started out as a dance club at Iowa State University and at one point more than 200 couples danced, Byg said.
“It was a very big event then. Most of the members were college professors and graduate students,” she said. of members has decreased.”
This drop in membership caused the dance club to move its dances about 15 years ago.
“We were very lucky when we did some research and found that Moose Lodge had a really nice dance floor,” Byg said. “They also have a stage, so the band is on stage and the dancers are on the dance floor.”
The Moose Lodge refurbished its wooden dance floor last fall, and now it shines with a dazzling luster, she said.
“It’s beautiful. We started dancing on the new surface in December and it works wonderfully,” said Byg.
Alta and her husband, Jerry Byg, started taking lessons around 1990 when the band Red Friars was still based in Iowa State. At first they were dancing around because they thought they weren’t good enough.
“Then we realized that people don’t watch couples who can’t dance. They are looking for dancers who really know how to dance,” she said. “So you can go out there and do whatever you want. It’s when you get really good that people are going to look at you.
New dancers do not need an invitation to attend a dance, although current members often invite new people.
“We opened this up to people interested in seeing a dance,” Byg said. “If you just want to learn more about the Red Brothers, you can attend for free. Just call or email and we’ll send you an invite.
“We love bringing in new people. It helps if you have a dance partner to bring, but everyone is welcome.
After the first dance, non-members can attend for $40 per dance or can join the group at different membership levels. The Red Friars Club hosts monthly dances from October through May and hosts special events on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day.
For couples who want a night of dinner and dancing, Moose Lodge members offer a meal before each dance for an additional fee.
Usually, Red Friars dances feature four different dance styles in each set – a waltz, a swing, a latin dance, and a foxtrot. And then there’s a little break where people can visit between sets.
“It’s more of a social event than just a dance event,” Byg said.
Although the Red Friars club has required formal attire at its dances in the past, the group has relaxed this dress code.
“People just aren’t as formal in general as they used to be,” Byg said. “Most guys wear suits and ties or sport jackets, but it’s warm enough on the dance floor that those jackets usually come off at some point. Women usually wear dresses or pants.
If you don’t know the dance steps, there’s usually a member willing to teach you, Byg said. There are also a variety of dance lessons available locally. Iowa State offers free dance lessons from 7-8 p.m. every Wednesday during class. They take place in Forker 0184 and no partner is required. Held by the ISU Ballroom Dance Club, the free classes are available to non-members and non-students.
Learn more about these courses here.
“If you want to be more competitive, the Ballroom Dance Club offers competitive dance lessons on Monday nights, which are taught by a professional,” Byg said. “Jerry and I probably wouldn’t do that. Even after dancing for over 30 years, I don’t think we would ever be competitive dancers.
Dancing is a hobby people can enjoy for a lifetime, she said.
The Bygs and several other members of the Red Friars often dance at the Lake Robbins Ballroom in Woodward, which recently celebrated its 90th anniversary.
“We have ladies and gentlemen there who have celebrated their 60th or 70th birthdays, and they dance every Sunday night,” Byg said.