Bemidji Pioneer: Dancing through the Decades: The Funtastic Dance Follies continue on at BSU

BEMIDJI—The gym in BSU’s John Glas Fieldhouse has seen a flurry of activity over the past few days—some of it coordinated, some of it sporadic—as dozens of dancers prepare for the 72nd annual Funtastic Dance Follies.

In one area, a group of men try to sync their steps to the same rhythm. In the far corner, a BSU alum twirls in circles by herself, looking at a piece of paper in her hand with earbuds tucked in place. In yet another corner, a white-haired man oversees the steps of a couple trying to master their routine.

The annual event essentially showcases a wide variety of dance routines from college students, alumni, and area dance schools. And while the event doesn’t go back quite as far as the school itself—which just recently kicked off its centennial celebration—it’s one of the school’s longest running traditions, one which binds dancers together for years afterward.

“It’s the one thing people remember from college,” said Hondo Langhout, one of the Dance Follies directors. “They’ll tell us over and over again: ‘it’s the best thing I did in college.'”

Sylvia Borash dances on Thursday as part of the '50s-80s Dance Montage during BSU's Centennial Celebration.

Sylvia Borash dances on Thursday as part of the ’50s-80s Dance Montage during BSU’s Centennial Celebration.

The Follies will be held at 7 p.m. April 19-21, with an additional show at 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 21. Admittance is free for children 2 and under, $5 for youth general admission, $10 for adult general admission, free for BSU and NTC students, and $5 for alumni and senior citizens.

In addition to the actual upcoming Dance Follies performance, the tradition was also highlighted in the university’s Centennial Celebration on Thursday. In between videos highlighting the school’s history, students performed a “’50s-80s Dance Montage” of the Follies. Suzy and Hondo Langhout, directors of the Dance Follies, danced to “Yessir, That’s My Baby.”

According to Suzy Langhout, the Dance Follies is the third longest-running program at the university, beat only by the football and basketball teams. It started as a recital for the Modern Dance class before turning into the Funtastic Dance Follies in the 1970s. In spite of its longevity, it essentially has seen only three directors, one of which was Suzy Langhout’s mother, Marion Christianson.

“It’s always contemporary. What’s big on the scene today is what’s in the show,” Christianson told Dance Follies performer Katie Wilson during an interview in 2011.

Because of that, the dance numbers have changed throughout the years, encapsulating everything from tap to hip hop, as well as a variety of ethnic dances. Some years, they performed musicals, including “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “The Sound of Music.”

Within the Dance Follies, though, there have been two lasting traditions. One is “Beep-Beep,” in which two dancers chase each other around the stage in imaginary cars. The second is “Colors,” which is a sign language-based dance.

“It just stuck. We’ve just never been able to get rid of it,” Suzy Langhout said of “Beep-Beep.” “One year we didn’t do it, and it was a revolt; the public wasn’t impressed.”

Because of the centennial celebration, the event is returning to a few additional numbers that have been performed throughout the decades.

“We’re adding a couple numbers we’ve done before just because it’s a centennial year,” Suzy Langhout said. “We have a Charleston number that’s from the ’20s; we’re bringing back the Rhumba that’s from the ’40s. So, we’re trying to kind of hit the decades a little bit.”

Many of the performances have been undertaken without problem. Throughout the decades, though, a few unexpected surprises have popped up. One year during a performance of Grease Lightning, the power circuits overloaded, and everything went dark in the middle of the show. Another year, there was a wedding proposal during the event.

“I didn’t know what was going on,” Suzy Langhout told Wilson in 2011. “I’m backstage and I hear somebody else’s voice on the microphone, and I’m like, ‘wait a minute.'”

The group practicing in the gym is a mixed bag. Some dancers are alumni who have been performing in the Follies for years. Others are in their first year. One of them is Tia Langhout, daughter of Suzy and Hondo, who grew up with the Follies, including during her years at BSU.

“I’ve been in many different dance groups, and I’ve found there’s nothing quite like Dance Follies,” Tia Langhout said. “There’s something about the camaraderie that happens backstage. The relationships that you make are just unbeatable.”

IF YOU GO:

What: The Funtastic Dance Follies

When: April 7 p.m., April 19-21; 2 p.m. April 21.

Where: BSU’s John Glas Fieldhouse

Cost: Free ages 2 and younger and BSU and NTC students, $5 general youth admission, $10 general adult admission, $5 for alumni and senior citizens.

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