Recreation & Destinations

Ostende Dance Club: More Than a Century of Ballroom Bliss

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Ballroom dancing can be a great way to exercise, make friends and grow closer with your partner. Discover a local dance club that’s leaping into its second century of formal fun.

(Paul Misik photos)

(Paul Misik photos)

Sue Holmes always wanted to learn how to dance, but for years she couldn’t seem to find the time. Once her children left for college, she and husband John decided to join Ostende Dance Club, a formal ballroom dance group that meets seven times a year at some of the finest dining venues in and around Rockford.

“I wished we hadn’t waited so long to join, because we really missed out on many years of fun,” Holmes says. “My husband and I enjoy the friends, food and dancing. Plus it’s nice to get fancy every once and a while.”

Established more than 100 years ago, Ostende was originally an exclusive club for Rockford’s elite. Now, couples of all ages and dance levels can gather in tuxedos and formal gowns for dining and dancing to live bands. Yearly memberships cost $125 per couple, with prorated rates for a partial year.

“I’m not very good, but it doesn’t really matter,” Holmes says. “It’s just fun to dance and meet new people for a very reasonable fee. It’s a good change from going to a bar or out to eat all the time.”

Nancy Whitlock, the president of Ostende, tries to choose fun themes and elegant venues for each of the seven events. Themes for the 2015-2016 season include Oktoberfest, A Tribute to Camp Grant, Frozen in Time, The Lady in Red, A Night At the Oscars, Singing and Dancing in the Rain, and Ocho di Mayo. Favorite venues for Ostende gatherings are Giovanni’s Restaurant & Convention Center in Rockford, Mauh-Nah-Tee-See Country Club in Rockford, Radisson Hotel and Conference Center in Rockford, and The Castle in Beloit.

“It’s like a little event,” Whitlock says. “It’s a night where you dress up and go out and enjoy a nice evening with your significant other.”

Most couples in Ostende take ballroom lessons once a week, Whitlock says. She recommends new members take a class or two before joining.

“Ballroom dancing is a lot of technique, so it’s good to know a couple of things,” Whitlock says. “We do have people in our group who are very serious dancers, some even put dance floors in their homes, so the nice thing about Ostende is that there’s room on the floor for them to shine.”

But Holmes assures that beginners are welcome.

“You don’t need a lot of experience to enjoy this,” Holmes says. “My husband and I were beginners when we first joined, and it was never a problem. Now this is our special date night.”

Whitlock even remembers an impressive older gentleman taking the floor, despite arriving to the event in a wheelchair.

“He was in Ostende right when I joined, before I became the president,” Whitlock says. “He would get up and dance for at least one or two songs with his wife. They’d always leave pretty early, but it just shows that dancing keeps people moving for a long time.”

Bands at ODC events must be able to play basic ballroom dance styles: foxtrots, waltzes, sambas, rumbas, tangos and, Whitlock’s favorite, swing.

“I love the fast pace,” Whitlock says. She also enjoys how there’s always something new to learn in ballroom dance.

“There are many styles and a ton of steps in each one,” Whitlock says. “It’s fun because there’s never an end to what you can do. You build up muscle memory and figure out where your hands and feet go, and then you start all over with a new step. It’s a continual learning process.”

And for Holmes, having a partner enhances that process.

“This is something fun for my husband and I to do together,” Holmes says. “It requires working together as a team, which is why we both like it. It’s very therapeutic for us.”

Ostende welcomes new members. Anyone interested in joining may attend an event as a guest, Whitlock says. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for a wide variety of people with a common interest to get together and have a good time.”

For more information, call (815) 494-6922.

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