Generations: Stepping out with the DL Cloggers
Dancing group has been a part of the local entertainment scene since 2004.
Editor's Note: The following originally appeared as the cover story of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's Women 360 magazine, which was included as a free insert in the March 27, 2022 issue of the Tribune. Read the magazine in its entirety HERE online.
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They get together every Tuesday afternoon to do a little socializing, catch up on all the latest gossip — and dance.
The DL Cloggers have been a part of the Detroit Lakes entertainment scene since 2004, with membership that has included cloggers of all ages and abilities.
“At most, there were 14 of us,” says the group’s historian, Darlene Paulson. “Now, we’re down to six.”
They’re always open to new members.
“Come and join us!” exclaimed the group’s newest member, Lil Lofgren, who joined in 2019.
“We give lessons,” added Paulson.
Ruby Kiihn, who founded the DL Cloggers, says she got the idea from watching another group perform at a craft show in Bismarck, N.D.
“I told my sister (Bev Berg, who was at the craft show with her), ‘They’re having too much fun; we have to learn how to do this,’” Kiihn recalled.
Her sister’s answer? “Don’t look at me, I’m not making a fool of myself!”
And now, 18 years later, “Bev almost never misses a rehearsal,” Kiihn says with a smile.
In the beginning, the erstwhile cloggers hired a teacher from Fargo, Dee Dee Hallada, to come in and teach them once a week.
“We brought some friends, who brought their friends, and we started learning to clog,” Kiihn says.
Gradually, they got good enough to perform in public — though their first “gig” was a bit of a surprise.
“Someone called from Judd, N.D., and asked if we could clog at their centennial,” Kiihn says. “I was baffled, to say the least. We’d never performed anywhere.”
When this person asked how much they would charge, Kiihn responded, “How much will you pay?”
When they responded, “$250,” Kiihn recalls, “That’s when I fell off the chair.”
That first large-scale performance, in front of an audience of about 600 people, took place right out on the street. “They put some boards out on the street, and we danced on them,” Kiihn says. In the years since, they’ve performed in three different states — Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota — at venues ranging from the local nursing home to the Fargo Theatre.
The latter performance took place in 2007.
“The Fargo Theatre put out a call for nominations of local ‘church basement ladies,’” Kiihn recalls — and one of her fellow parishioners at Grace Lutheran Church, Kathy Coyle, nominated her for the honor. Much to Kiihn’s astonishment, she was chosen.
“So I became ‘Church Basement Lady of the Year,’” Kiihn says — and her clogging group became the opening act for the Fargo Theatre’s production of the popular musical comedy, “Church Basement Ladies.”
Their services as clogging teachers have also been sought after; Kiihn recalls one such instance, in 2008, when Detroit Lakes High School student Justin Stanton asked them to teach him how to clog.
“I said, ‘Sure,’” Kiihn says — not realizing that Stanton expected to learn the basic steps in just three days, for a “Mr. DLHS” talent competition, which raised funds for the participants’ favorite charities.
In order to maximize his chances of winning, Stanton brought the ladies along to act as his “backup dancers.”
“That was a lot of fun,” Kiihn says — and best of all, he won.
Other performance venues have included the flatbed of a semi, as it traveled along the Parade of the Northwest route during Detroit Lakes’ Northwest Water Carnival — “we’ve done that four times,” Paulson says — and most recently, the stage of the Detroit Lakes Pavilion, as part of a Heritage Fest celebration held in September 2021.
“I wasn’t sure I was ready for that one, as we hadn’t performed in a while (due to COVID-19 safety restrictions),” Kiihn recalls, “but once I got up there, I felt like I was 18 again. We had a blast.”
While they have occasionally performed at conventions and summer festivals, the majority of the cloggers’ performances take place at area retirement communities and nursing homes, churches and veterans’ hospitals, she adds — though even those have slowed down considerably as a result of the ongoing pandemic.
“The most performances we’ve had in one year was 36,” Paulson says, adding, “That was a lot.”
“The most we’ve had in one day was in Fargo, where we performed at three different places and danced at least six times,” Kiihn adds.
In 2008, the DL Cloggers were featured in the international women’s magazine, Country Woman, after Kiihn, a longtime subscriber, saw an advertisement asking for readers to submit stories that “might be of interest” to other readers.
A few months later, the magazine’s editor called — and the rest was history. That article, “Keep on Clogging: Step right up and meet Minnesota’s dancing queens,” was featured in the magazine’s February/March 2008 issue, and the group was subsequently featured in the Detroit Lakes Tribune’s “Friends and Neighbors” column, as well.
Though they have occasionally garnered local fame, however, the group remains humble: “We’re not famous or perfect,” Kiihn was quoted as saying in that Country Woman article. “We’re simply rural women who have a blast dancing together for the enjoyment of others.”
“What’s our motto?” Kiihn asked her fellow cloggers at a recent rehearsal.
“We may not have it all together, but together we have it all,” the ladies responded, in unison.
“We take care of each other,” Paulson adds, noting that they try to get together for a pontooning session on the lake at least once every summer, and to have a holiday gathering every winter.
Currently, their members range in age from 70 to 87, though they have occasionally garnered younger dancers, too.
“Trina Bjorgan, DeAnn Gottsman’s granddaughter, started clogging with us when she was just eight years old,” Kiihn says — and just for fun, she joined the group at its performance during the fall 2021 Heritage Fest event at the DL Pavilion.
“She did pretty well,” Kiihn says. “It was such a fun thing to have her back performing with us.”
They also brought in about a half dozen cloggers from Fargo to help them fill out the Pavilion stage, Kiihn adds.
Anyone is welcome to join their group; no prior dance experience is necessary, and age is not a deterrent.
“It’s great exercise,” says Gottsman.
The group has about 14 different outfits that they dance in, and the music genres they choose for their performances range from country and polka to pop and rock.
“We take requests,” Paulson adds.Group rehearsals start at 1 p.m. every Tuesday in the basement of Detroit Lakes VFW Post 1676, which allows them to use the space for free, because the husbands of a couple of the group’s members are veterans.
“We love our veterans,” Kiihn says, adding that the cloggers perform regularly for area veterans’ groups.