An important part of the planning for the first Clarkson Czech Festival in 1963 was the need to express the Czech culture in forms familiar to the Czech settlers of this area of Nebraska. Given the popularity of music and dancing among the Czech people, the original chairmen of the Clarkson Czech Festival, Dale Gentzler and Slavy Vodehnal, foresaw the value of performances of traditional, Czech folk dancing. And so, the Clarkson Beseda Dancers were organized in anticipation of the first Czech Festival.
The original 1963 dancers were Eldon and Darlene Hockameier, Frank and Alice Svik, Dave and Ruby Reininger (Linda Bukacek also danced in Ruby’s place), Oliver Johnson and Marge Hobza, Dale and Eldora Gentzler, Harlan and Shirley Hamernik, Bud and Marge Stonacek, and Ron and Jeanette Vavrina. Their dance instructor was Mrs. Alma (Hobza) Jelinek from Loma, Nebraska, who had been a Beseda dancer many years before when she lived in Clarkson. She provided the recorded music to the Česka Beseda (which is still used today for the Childrens Beseda Dancers). The Česka Beseda was the first dance learned, and the group practiced in the City Hall.
Because there were many regional variations in folk/Beseda dancing in the Old Country, the Clarkson dancers felt some leeway to develop new dance steps for their own group. In the following years, the group expanded their repertoire, learning a livelier version of the Beseda that they called the Wilber Beseda or the Moravian Beseda, which was a more athletic dance. After performing the two Beseda dances for a couple of years, the dancers decided they would like to develop new, livelier dances to polka and waltz tunes. They traveled to Norfolk and Shelby, Nebraska to take dance lessons from Mrs. King at the King’s Ballroom. She taught them more intricate steps of the polka and waltz. They then created and taught themselves the beautiful and lively routines performed to this day by combining polka and waltz steps and adding square and round dancing techniques to finish out the dances. Dale Gentzler choreographed the polka and waltz routines in his upstairs bedroom, using tapes and a tape recorder from Slavy Vodehnal. He jotted down the basic routines on paper, then took them to practice where the entire group (especially Ron and Jeanette Vavrina) had a part in perfecting them. Because of the expanded dance repertoire, the name Clarkson Beseda Dancers was changed to the Clarkson Czech Dancers.
In the beginning the dancers performed to recorded music and then the Clarkson Polka Band. Later, Mary Ann Psotta played the accordion for them; she was succeeded by Frankie Charipar on his button accordion accompanied by his wife Darlene on the bass drum.
Following on the success of the adult Czech Dancers (at Clarkson’s Czech Days and numerous other venues in 1963), two members of the Women’s Club organized a Junior Czech Dancer group to perform alongside the adults. Eldora Gentzler and Marge Stonacek organized and taught Beseda to 32 Clarkson-area youngsters, who ranged in age from 5 to 11 years. The children’s group first appeared at the second Clarkson Czech Festival in 1964. They performed their intricate dance, dressed in brightly colored Czech costumes, before large crowds on all three days of the festival. By 1973, eight children of the Clarkson Czech Dancers joined their parents in performing their own polka routines as well as dancing the routines of their parents.
In 1989 the original dancers recruited a new group of couples to take over for them. The two groups performed together for several years, and the second generation Czech Dancers are still dancing the same polka and waltz routines, with many of their children joining in to perform with the group.
The Clarkson Czech Dancers have always been happy to share the joy of Czech music and dancing. They have traveled across the Midwest wherever they are invited, performing at state fairs, ethnic festivals, and even two Nebraska Governor’s Inaugural Balls.
And now, more photos from the past….
Photo 10. Pictures from the January 1965 issue of Nebraskaland Magazine, showing the adult Czech Dancers in their second year. In the upper right picture, the couples, clockwise from the top, are Dave and Kay Reininger, Eldon and Darlene Hockameier, Frank and Alice Svik, and Harlen and Shirley Hamernik. (The children are not from Clarkson – perhaps this was a file photo of Wilber dancers)
Photo 11. Adult Clarkson Czech Dancers – 1986. L to R: Dick and Dorothy Urbanek, Bud and Lorraine Heitzman, Dave and Kay Reininger, Oliver and Marjorie Johnson, and Ron and Jeanette Vavrina.
Photo 12. Alumni of the Junior Maypole Dancers who returned to dance again for Clarkson’s Centennial Celebration in 1986. Holding the pole is Joe Toman. To the immediate left is Nancy Musil, and the two dancers to the immediate right of the maypole are Toni Konicek and Kaye Vrbicky.
Photo 13. More alumni maypole dancers from 1986 Centennial Celebration. From L to R: Joyce Chleboun, Toni Konicek, Joe Toman, and Kathy O’Neil.
Photo 14. Junior Czech Dancers - 1986 Clarkson Centennial celebration. From L to R: Casey Vavrina, Heather Uher, Danielle Nadrchal, Erin Schulze, and Eric Vavrina.
Photo 15. Junior Czech Dancers - 1986 Clarkson Centennial Celebration. From L to R: Danielle Nadrchal, Erin Schulze, Brent Novotny, and Kristi Vavrina.
Photo 16. Junior Czech Dancers - 1986. Matt Vavrina and unidentified girl.
Photo 17. Junior Czech Dancers - 1986 Clarkson Centennial celebration. In front: Danielle Nadrchal, Erin Schulze, Brent Novotny, and Kristin Vavrina.
Photo 18. Junior Czech Dancers - 1986. L to R: Erin Schulze, Eric Vavrina, Danielle Nadrchal, Heather Uher, and Brent Novotny.
Photo 19. Junior Czech Dancers - 1986. Woman on far right is Joyce Chleboun.
Photo 20. Adult Clarkson Czech Dancers – 1987. L to R: Frank and Darlene Charipar, Ron and Jeanette Vavrina, Oliver and Marjorie Johnson, Dave and Kay Reininger, Jean and Calvin Staeve, Dick and Dorothy Urbanek, and Lorraine and Bud Heitzman.
Photo 21. Adult Clarkson Czech Dancers – after 1990. Front row: Frank and Darlene Charipar, Kay Reininger, Jeanette Vavrina, and Ron Vavrina. 2nd row: Tom and Paula Hamernik, Dave Reininger, Dorothy and Dick Urbanek. 3rd row: Tammy Stonacek, Kathy Baumert, Marjorie Johnson, Mary Novak, Sue Brabec, and Lorraine Heitzman. Back row: Ken Stonacek, Dave Baumert, Oliver Johnson, Dale Novak, Rob Brabec, and Bud Heitzman.
Photo 22. Adult Clarkson Czech Dancers – after 1990. Front row: Sue Brabec, Lorraine Heitzman, Melissa Baumert, Mary Novak, Kay Reininger, Dorothy Urbanek, Darlene Charipar, Frank Charipar, Julie Fritch, Cathy Gall, Marjorie Johnson, and Paula Hamernik. Back row: Rob Brabec, Bud Heitzman, Steve Baumert, Dale Novak, Dave Reininger, Dick Urbanek, Allan Fritch, Darren Gall, Oliver Johnson, and Tom Hamernik.