The Riverside Dancing Club has been around for 68 years, but many people don’t know anything about it. The club hosts typically hosts three dances and a summer party each year. It’s a club for people who like to dance and party and it has an atmosphere of an earlier time.
“It’s sort of a secret society that nobody knows about,” joked longtime member Michael Heine, who joined the club with his wife, Gwen, in 1983.
The club was founded in 1949 in the aftermath of World War II, and membership is limited to married couples. New couples wanting to join must be sponsored by at least one member couple.
Fall and winter dances are formal events, requiring tuxedos for the men and long dresses for the women. The spring dance is somewhat less formal, with suits and cocktail dresses allowed.
You generally must live in Riverside or at least have ties to Riverside to be a member. Rules have been relaxed a bit recently and some couples who have moved away from Riverside have been allowed to stay on as members.
“Once you have been a member you can stay a member,” said Cathy Nie, who along with husband, Tony, used to lead the board of directors of the club and remains a member of the club.
Newer members of the club like being part of the tradition even as they try to update aspects of the club.
“It’s kind of a cool thing about Riverside that’s it’s been around forever,” said Tom Hufford, who joined with his wife, Ann, a little less than two years ago.
Music at the dances is provided by a live band and is diverse, but typically includes a heavy dose of big band music. Dances include the waltz, rumba, fox trot, polka and others.
“We all enjoy fun, throwback music,” said Ann Hufford.
But increasingly more modern music is being played at the dances. At last Saturday’s winter dance, held at the Edgewood Valley Country Club in LaGrange, some members danced the macarena when the Peter Oprisko Quintet took a break.
Dancing is only part of the appeal, members say.
“We tell our friends it’s like prom for grownups,” said Ann Hufford. “It’s nice to get out and get dressed up.”
An influx of younger members, most in their 40s, have revitalized the club in recent years. The three yearly dances are a nice escape from the day-to-day duties of parenting, younger members say.
“Sometimes it’s nice to just get dressed up, kind of leave the whole hustle of the family and the carpool, the getting the kids to school and that kind of thing,” said Jay Reyes.
And members like dressing up and seeing their spouses dressed up.
“The boys just look good in their tuxes,” said Kari Fish, who with her husband, Matt, serves on the club’s board of directors.
The Fishes are in their 40s, but say that they are both old souls. Matt Fish’s dad was a musician and Matt grew up listening to big band music.
“It’s just this great opportunity to be in this atmosphere that’s a little unusual for people our age,” said Kari Fish.
Some members, such as Sara Baker, are the third generation of their families to be part of the club.
Tom Zidlicky and his wife, Susan, have led the board for the past three years and Susan, especially, has stepped up recruiting. When the Zidlickys joined the club six years ago, membership had dropped to around 60 some couples. But now after an influx of new members, many in their 40s, membership stands at 86 couples. Traditionally, the club has tried to maintain membership at around 100 couples.
Annual dues are $125 per couple. Saturday’s dance cost $200 per couple which included dinner and an open bar. The open bar was new for the club, an experiment championed by younger members.
“Some are happy about it, some are not,” said Ann Hufford.
During the first few decades of the club, dinner was not included and the dances were always held at the Riverside Golf Club.
John and Judy Scully have been in the club since 1977, the longest of any current members. They remember the old days.
“Back then it was very different,” said Judy Scully. “They held cocktail parties at, I think, at three of the members’ homes and then at 9 p.m. everybody would go over to the golf club.”
Big boxes of liquor would be delivered to the homes of members hosting the pre-dance cocktail parties.
Newer members, like the Bakers and the Fishes, are maintaining the tradition of hosting pre-dance parties.
Dances have been held at various locations and have been held at the Chicago Stock Exchange room at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Wrigley Building, the Union League Club, the Chicago Yacht Club and the Drake Hotel.
“We get to see some pretty great rooms too throughout Chicagoland,” said Jeff Baker.
Some members are more serious about the dancing than others. Some have taken private dancing lessons or Triton College’s ballroom dancing class, which is held at Riverside-Brookfield High School at night.
“It really did bring up people’s game as far as dancing,” Cathy Nie said of the Triton class.
Occasionally the club has brought in a dance instructor for a lesson. But the emphasis is on fun.
“None of us are rock stars here,” said John Scully.
The social aspect seems just as important, if not more important, than the dancing to most of the members.
“It’s really just about being together, meeting people, and seeing friends,” said Larry Bruno, who was resplendent in his colorful tuxedo.
Anyone interested in finding out more about the club can visit the website at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a concession to younger members, dances have begun to include a wider variety of music, including some Motown and rock music, although the music at the Dec. 9 winter dance was fairly traditional.
On the things that hasn’t changed is the club’s rule limiting to married couples. If a couple divorces they are dropped from membership, according to the rules. And rules state the surviving spouse of a deceased club member can attend a dance only with an escort. The club currently has no black or gay members, but that is not a deliberate choice.
Susan Zidlicky said the aim is not to be exclusive, although new members still must be sponsored.
“I think in the past it was much more strict,” Zidlicky said of the membership rules. “It’s not as strict now. I don’t think we’ve ever really turned anyone down.”
This story has been changed to reflect that Tom and Susan Zidlicky are not third generation members of the Riverside Dancing Club. Tom ‘s grandmother was a amember of the club, but not his parents. Susan is a first generation member.