Judy Kropp has been hooked on all different types of dancing for over 50 years now.
“I was at Cal and they had a grassy hill that went from the cafeteria to the gym. These young students filed out of the gym and this beautiful Scandinavian music came on and I saw them doing beautiful dancing – it didn’t even occur to me that I could learn,” Kropp shared.
While her story started off on Berkley’s campus, it really took off when she met a man at a German Oktoberfest in San Francisco in 1962. From there, they were soon married and kept dancing through the years.
“We started dancing together all over the place, wherever we could,” Kropp reminisced. But she confessed that when her mom and dad started folk dancing, she thought “that was so square.”
Today, she and her husband have been teaching a local dance group every Friday night for about 20 years. Moreover, they received an award from the Stanislaus Arts Council for ‘Excellence in Dance.’
So, the question is: what brought her from thinking dancing was just too old fashioned to today? One of the many reasons is a camp traditionally held at Stockton’s University of the Pacific in the summers.
“The camp is a week of lessons by five to seven world class folk dance teachers who are trained and have performed professionally in their own countries,” Kropp relayed.
It isn’t just American folk dancing either; she noted that Greek, Swedish, Irish, Albanian, Japanese, Russian, Brazilian, and Canadian folk dances are a few that have been taught through the years.
“At the camp we can dance from 8 a.m. until 2 the next morning, if we want,” she continued. “There are lectures, costumes, parties, talent shows – it’s a full week that’s repeated the following week for some hardy individuals.”
Due to COVID-19, the camp had to go virtual this past summer and was instead taught for only five hours in the evening, Pacific Standard Time. However, there were instructors from all over the globe that woke up to teach together and then continue on with a sort of “after party” late into the night.
The dancers and teachers are all good friends; one of the couples ended up planning their wedding around the camp 10 years ago to hold their reception with their dancer friends, and another teacher took Judy and her husband on a tour in Romania.
“The wonderful thing about dance is that it brings the world to me,” Kropp continued. “We attend the Greek festival in Stockton and can dance all night. We dance with the Chinese and Cambodians during their New Year celebrations. We’ve performed for the Assyrian, Scandinavian festivals, for the Scottish games and Oktoberfests. When we travel abroad, we look up dance groups where we meet locals. They ask, ‘Where did you learn to do our dances?’ We answer, ‘Stockton, California.’”
Of course, Stockton is where they originally learned the dances. For the past few years, they’ve been trying to bring their expertise to a more local scene. In fact, even as COVID continues on and social distancing is in place, Kropp has taught folk dancing lessons over Zoom. Most of the time when she’s at dance classes, there’s a committee of people helping to teach.
“We all mentored each other,” she explained. “And there’s something about when you teach, you want to learn ... and you’re willing to learn.”
She attributes a lot of her dancing skills to this desire and willingness of a teacher. Judy Kropp has lived in Oakdale since 1971 and was a resource specialist in Riverbank, while her husband Don taught elementary school in Oakdale. Even though they’re now both retired, they’ve never stopped trying to learn.
“The main reason I dance, though, is the connections created through movements to music,” she shared. “When I hold hands in a circle dance, I’m aware of all the people in the dance ... dancing can also be playful and social and laughter is so good for us.”
If any of this sounds appealing, Kropp exhorts everyone to try dancing; everybody is welcome to try, and any skill level. To be part of her Zoom folk dancing class, email her at JudyKropp40@gmail.com and get acquainted.