Community gathers around dance and music


Kristen Carrie

Dance instructor Molly Breitlow gives tips on how to properly spin during a salsa lesson at Rhythm @ the River on Sunday, Sept. 15.

Kelly Johnson, News Reporter

For over half a decade, Molly and Stan Breitlow have been hosting small summer dance events around downtown Winona.

This year however, they went bigger than what they are used to.

“We started doing summer dances about five or six years ago and at that point they were very small and lowkey. Little events in parks, like ‘Swinging in Sinclair Park,’” Molly Breitlow said.

In 2018, the Breitlow’s partnered with Shut Down Third Street to put on an event called “Swinging in the Streets” in front of Blooming Grounds, when Lee Gundersheimer, the Arts and Culture Coordinator of Winona saw the event, he knew that he wanted to bring it back in 2019.

Several years before the full remodel of the Levee, the Breitlow’s had hosted “Latin on the Levee” and knew that for 2019 they wanted to take advantage of the remodel and bring the event back to the Levee, but bigger and better than before.

Hosting these events becomes costly when posters are made and vendors and bands are hired to be at the event.

Previously, the Breitlow’s had applied for and received a grant from the Minnesota Arts Alliance, but this time, funding needed to come straight from the city. This is where Gundersheimer came in.

It was Gundersheimer’s job, as he said, “to raise the money and make it happen.”

Enough funding was raised to pay for two live bands, something that the events had never featured before. The actual dancing time was also expanded by several hours compared to past years.

The event was broken down into sessions including lessons on both salsa and swing dancing for all ability level dancers.

Participants were able to dance with their new skills to music by the Golpe Tierra Afro Jazz Salsa Band from Madison, Wisconsin and the LaCrosse Jazz Orchestra.

Members of the community came down to the levee to participate in the event for various different reasons.

Winona Senior High student Skye Schultz said she had one of the best nights when she went with her friend to Swinging in the Streets last year. The two loved dancing so much they decided to come back.

“We saw [Rhythm @ the River] posters and we were just so excited,” Schultz said.

Other members of the community like Leone Mauszycki came to the event with lawn chairs to just enjoy the views.

“It’s nice weather, we wanted to support our community, and enjoy the music,” Mauszycki said.

There were also vendors and booths representing the co-partners of the event.

Breitlow identified the co-partners as the City of Winona, WINONArts, Project FINE, The Boathouse and The River City Ballroom Dancers.

Executive Director of Project FINE said Project FINE is a nonprofit that provides refugees and immigrants the help needed to create a better life.w

Project FINE began as a partnership with the organization Welcoming America, whose goals align similarly with Project FINE, to put on events throughout the week of Sept. 13 – 22 for Welcoming Week.

Rhythm @ the River was the major kickoff event for the week.

Fatima Said, executive director of Project FINE, explained Winona’s history with the organization.

“The city of Winona was the first city in Minnesota that joined with the Welcoming America National organization [to promote] inclusiveness and welcoming in communities and recognition of refugees and immigrants in our region,” Said said.

To further display the diversity of the Southeastern Minnesota region, Rhythm @ the River showcased performances from both Hmong and African dance troupes, as well as music from an Afro Jazz band.

According to Said the purpose of this diversity in performances Said said is to help make sure that everyone from around the world feels welcome.

All of the vendors and co-partners of Rhythm @ the River made a point to mention that the event could not have been put on or have succeeded without the help and partnership of each other.

“Nothing happens by itself,” Said said. “A lot of people pulled a lot of resources and time into this, so tonight we celebrate this beautiful community with our neighbors, and we are so grateful.”

Kristen Carrie
Golpe Tierra, an Afro-Peruvian band from Madison, Wisconsin, encourage the crowd to clap along to the music during Rhythm @ the River on Sunday, Sept. 15. Golpe Tierra performed along with the La Crosse Orchestra during the event at Levee Park.