The traditions surrounding the award-winning Mount Angel Oktoberfest are rooted in the area’s harvest celebrations from over a century ago, and yet they continue to draw record crowds of revelers who raise their glasses in the robust company of community.
Dancing is an integral a part of harvest celebrations all over the world where celebrants are welcome to join the circle and dance steps passed down for generations. Today it’s hard to keep traditional dances alive when young people have precious little free time outside of school, sports and numerous other 21st century activities. However, how often does a young man get the chance to don lederhosen and suspenders, and get the girl? Once a year, in September, if he can step lively.
Oktoberfest 2012 (September 13-16), in its 47th year, is a labor of love for the many volunteers that help bring it to life. Since 1990, Marilyn Hall, Nann Fleck, Bev Fleckenstein and Teresa Bryant (Marilyn’s sister) have volunteered each fall, teaching traditional dances such as the Webentanz (May Pole Dance) to Mount Angel-area middle school students for Oktoberfest. A couple of years ago, Marilyn sought to create an opportunity for past dancers who were now in high school and beyond.
In the summer of 2010, with encouragement from Oktoberfest organizers, Marilyn and some volunteers plunged in. It was a large undertaking for such a short timeframe. It proved to be much more difficult to find high school and college age dancers than she anticipated, so she reached out to other young adults and couples in the community.
After weeks of rounding up costumes and choreographing dances, they had a core group of eight dancers who committed to put in the time to learn and perform at Oktoberfest. At Oktoberfest 2010, the Fleckensteiners performed their debut dance and planted the seed for another group to follow. Of the Fleckensteiners who debuted that year, four of them — Matt Bauman, Nick Wavra, Nicole Wavra and Gina Martinez— had danced as middle school students back in 1990. After the success of the Fleckensteiners, another group, the Kleinstadtlers was born. Both Nick and Matt went on to dance with the Kleinstadtlers in 2011, and will dance with them again this year.
While the faces of the dancers may change from year to year, all of them share a love of dancing and of the Oktoberfest tradition. Alex Morrissey, a sophomore at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, says “I have always enjoyed dancing and began taking hip hop dance at an early age, but it wasn’t until middle school that I had the opportunity to dance for Oktoberfest.”
Current Fleckensteiner dancers Colleen and Andrew Beyer joined the group looking for a hobby to participate in as a couple. Colleen says, “I can’t play sports so we were a bit limited! We also both enjoy dancing and I had always wanted to perform the May Pole Dance as a little girl but never got the opportunity, so the Fleckensteiners was a natural fit.” Marilyn’s parents danced for fun rather than performance, but the joy of dancing is a part of her heritage. Marilyn quips, “In our family, we really do dance polkas around the dining room table!”
The dancers’ enthusiasm at Oktoberfest 2011 was so contagious, it inspired this year’s Oktoberfest theme, “Come Join the Harvest Dance.” Alex adds, “I love being able to dance at Oktoberfest … As a dancer, you have the ability to give back some of that joy that you have been given from Oktoberfest.” What goes around, comes around, and also dances a round or two.