‘It’s the Odd Fellows up there again, dancing,’ said the clerk at Hampden Park Co-op, explaining the thunderous pounding coming from the ceiling.
St. Anthony Park resident Teresa Neby Lind might not consider herself an odd fellow, but she’s happy to be one of many musicians and dancers who use the upstairs hall at the corner of Raymond and Hampden avenues.
“We have a nice relationship with the co-op,” said Neby Lind, “even though the noise can be a bit much. They’re good sports.”
The building that houses the co-op and Parkview Cafe is owned by the Grand Lodge of Minnesota–Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization similar to Kiwanis, Lions or the Masons.
One purpose of the Odd Fellows is education, which the Hampden and Raymond lodge meets through folk dance instruction. The second floor of the building has offices, meeting space and a large room with a maple floor, perfect for dancing.
The Odd Fellows began in England in the 1700s as a labor group. Christened the “Odd Fellows” by some of its detractors, the group decided to embrace the moniker rather than fight it.
The organization was brought to the United States in the 1800s, and lodges sprouted up throughout the country. The Minnesota Odd Fellows started in Stillwater in 1849, and there are several lodges throughout the state, including the one on Hampden and Raymond.
The Twin Cities is known as a haven for folk music and dancing. “There are a lot of folk aficionados in town,” said Neby Lind, a former member of the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers. She said the Odd Fellows have been making their space available to dancers for at least 25 years.
Neby Lind, a fiddler, started the Old Time Toe Jam on Tuesday nights at Odd Fellows. “It’s mostly fiddles and guitars,” she said, “but there’s some clogging as well. I would encourage anyone to attend. One thing about clogging is you don’t need a partner. Lots of single people show up since this is a good alternative to the bar scene, plus it’s great exercise.”
Another regular at the Odd Fellows hall is Jim Brooks, who has been involved in folk dancing since the 1970s.
According to Brooks, “Clogging comes from the English. The heavy nail boots that factory workers wore in the 1800s were called ‘clogs,’ and the workers would beat out rhythms that were akin to the machines that they were working on. When they settled in the U.S., they brought that style with them and incorporated what they’d seen from Native-American ceremonial dancing and African-American dancing.”
Brooks joined the Wild Goose Chase Cloggers (www.wildgoosechasecloggers.org) in 1984, first as a dancer and now as the leader.
“I like folk arts and old-time music,” he said. “I love the movement, the rhythm involved with clogging, and I also like to perform.”
The group has been on the Prairie Home Companion radio show and recently performed in Eau Claire at an international folk dance festival.
Brooks is also the organizer of a contra dance held the first Saturday of each month at the Odd Fellows. He’s helped by Adam Granger and Annie Spring, musicians who live in St. Anthony Park.
The contra dance session draws 50 to 80 people each month. Instruction starts at 7:30 p.m. and dancing at 8 p.m., though as Brooks says, “We teach each dance as we go, so there’s actually teaching going on all night.”
Brooks is also president of the Oak Floor Folk Music and Dance Association (OFFMDA), a coalition of groups that use the Odd Fellows hall. A common thread among these dance organizations is education.
“By the Odd Fellows charter, this second floor has to be used for teaching as well as social purposes,” said Brooks.
Another member of OFFMDA is Scoil na dTrí (pronounced skull-na-dree), an Irish dance academy that holds classes and dances for all ages at the Odd Fellows. The name means “school of the three,” since it was founded by three teachers: Brenda Buckley, Joe Richter, and Gillian Osborn. According to Buckley, the school focuses on competition and performance.
“I came into Irish dancing as an adult,” said Buckley. “My brother went to the Winnipeg Folk Festival and came back with a tape of Irish music. My feet started moving and it called me like a pied piper.”
A dance teacher encouraged Buckley to get into competition, and eventually she became certified to teach Irish dancing by the Dublin-based Irish Dance Commission.
Scoil na dTrí has five championship-level dancers who appear at a variety of venues, including the Minnesota Irish Fair, the Festival of Nations and various St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. They have also performed at Orchestra Hall, the Minnesota Folk Festival, schools, weddings, corporate events and even powwows.
“It’s hard to categorize our students,” said Buckley. “They come for a variety of reasons: fun, exercise, love of Irish dance or whatever calls them.” Scoil na dTrí holds adult lessons for beginners at Odd Fellows on Sundays from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Other classes are listed on their Web site: www.scoilnadtri.com/ classes.php.
The newest addition to dance instruction at Odd Fellows is an Argentine tango group (www.mntango.org). Tango started in the slums of Buenos Aires, caught on in Europe — especially Paris in the 1920s — and remains popular throughout the world.
Organizer Lindsay Orr said a group of 8 to 10 people has been meeting at the Odd Fellows from 8 to 10 p.m. on Monday nights for about a year.
“Tango takes a lot of practice,” she said. “We hold introductory lessons where you learn to lead and to follow. It’s not about learning basic steps, but is heavily into improvisation.”
She said visitors are always welcome.