Flying V Ballroom
[Researcher's Note: We visited the Flying V Ballroom in March 2015. The building is still standing, abandoned. The restaurant area contains only the chandeliers and wall sconces. The ballroom is in shambles and the wood dance floor has been removed.]
Dance at the Flying-V-Ballroom
Dance under Air Conditioning and on Floating Floor
Located 2 miles south of Utica, Nebraska
2½ miles north of I-80 on Utica Interchange
Your Hosts Kenneth and Estella Volzke
Dine early and Dance 9 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Members and Guests
Membership per year - $3.00 per couple
Guests admitted with members
No Reservation will be taken
[Source: Columbus Telegram (Columbus, Nebraska), dated March 30, 1972]
Dancin’ Out Toes of Shoes To Utica Flying-V’s Blues
Utica – From Lawrence, Kan., to the Flying-V in Utica is a long way to travel for a dance, but Ken and Estella Volzke’s customers have driven that far to trip the Saturday night light fantastic to the sounds of Paul Moorhead, Ernie Kucera, Dick Wickman or Eddie Skeets.
Others have alighted from private planes for dinner, spotted a dance bill, and decided to stay for the fun. Nebraska football fans on their way home from a game via I-80 often stop for food and end up hoofing away their Saturday night before returning home.
Of course, most of the terpsichorean travelers are from towns neighboring Utica, and communities up and down the I-80 corridor. In an area not overflowing with recreational resources, the Flying-V is an oasis of entertainment. The Volzkes are the Sol Hurok impresarios of the region: “Everybody knows us,” Estella Volzke says.
Dances have traditionally been central to the social life of rural towns, and in Mrs. Volzke’s view, ballroom dancing has enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the last couple of years.
Utica never had a ballroom of its own until the Flying-V, Volzke adds, other than a small auditorium in town which used to hold occasional dances.
Uticans – including the Volzkes, who “went to dances whenever we could” – had to drive to Milligan, Shelby, York or Lincoln to go dancing. Consequently, the local folks “give us good support,” says Mrs. Volzke.
In return, the Volzkes “try to make it an all-around accommodating place,” she says. Among the accommodations are an airplane landing strip; a restaurant featuring Sunday fly-in buffet dinners; a party room for meetings, banquets and receptions; a public bar and lounge; and the ballroom.
Dancers rarely arrive by plane, Volzke says. Might the Flying-V ever become a roadhouse of the airlanes? Probably not, he says – the cost of landing lights stands in the way of promoting fly-in nighttime dances. The Volzkes however, have promoted daylight Sunday fly-in buffets.
The Volzkes are hesitant to talk numbers, but the Flying-V represents a substantial investment, housed as it is in a 40,000-square-foot metal building.
The railing around the dance floor alone cost thousands, Volzke intimates. And the floor itself – all maple, cushioned underneath with rubber for softness and silence, and covering an area one-sixth the size of a football field – cost a lot more. “You don’t hear any foot-shuffling on this floor,” Volzke says proudly.
Booking dance bands every Saturday night year round, including a big-name touring band every month or so, is big business. Volzke declines to say what the bands are paid, although he says it’s often based on a percentage of the receipts and varies among bands as much as $2,000.
Most of the bands play “modern” music, says Mrs. Volzke, by which she means “the music of the Forties.” Some play polka music; others are country-western bands. Although there is no rock music on the agenda and no jeans are allowed, Mrs. Volzke says, “we’re getting more of the young crowd” – especially when country bands play.
“It’s not doing too badly,” Volzke says of the ballroom. “Of course, the economy doesn’t help. We think the talk of hard times has slowed the longer travelers down – they don’t come as far as they did.”
Gate totals have declined a little from crowds which hit 1,500 and even 1,800 a few years ago – but not enough to shake the Volzke’s faith in the Flying-V as a permanent enterprise.
Running the ballroom is enjoyable work, Mrs. Volzke says, because “you meet a lot of lovely people, including your customers as well as the bands. You gain a lot of friends.”
“After they’re here a few times, you get to know the bandleaders especially,” she says. “They’re all very fine people, bandleaders and musicians alike.”
A typical Saturday night finds the Volzkes at the ballroom, overseeing their 20-plus employees, visiting with customers, paying the band, keeping the air conditioning or heating adjusted to everyone’s liking.
Sooner or later, of course, the Volzkes – enthusiastic dancers from way back – take to the floor themselves. Concludes Volzke: “Good old dance music ain’t changed much.”
By Joel Thorson, Outstate Nebraska Bureau
[Source: Lincoln Star (Lincoln, Nebraska), dated February 9, 1975]
Ballroom Business Foxtrots Into It’s ‘Up’ Stage
Ballroom dancing dead? No siree! “There wasn’t a time when the dance business got up that it didn’t go back down. And it doesn’t go down by what it comes back up,” said Harry Taylor, manager of the Music Box at 118 North Nineteenth Street in Omaha, where ballroom dancing has been held since the 1940s and public dances still are offered on Thursdays and Saturdays. Chicago ballrooms that have been closed for years are reopening, Taylor noted.
Joe Malec, Peony Park owner, said there is a national trend toward ballroom dancing and he attributes it to a melding of older two-beat music with the newer dance music. “Some of the older dancers didn’t like the acid rock music of the past,” he said, “but they like the new blend with disco music.” Malec said 500 to 900 people attend Peony’s Tuesday night dances and the trend encouraged him to invest in the new warehouse ballroom to replace the old Carter Lake Club which was destroyed by fire.
Other major ballrooms which draw Midwest dancers include the Cobblestone in Storm Lake, Ia., the Play-Mor in Lincoln and King’s Ballroom in Norfolk, Neb.
Subby Anzaldo, once a dance band musician and now an entertainment booking agent in Omaha, said that a number of the ballrooms of yesteryear now are attracting large crowds. Among them he listed the Val Air in Des Moines, the Lakeview, Ia., ballroom, the Oaks in Schuyler, Neb., the Arkota in Sioux Falls, S.D., the Frog Hop in St. Joseph, Mo., the Armar in Cedar Rapids, Ia., and ballrooms in Syracuse, Milligan, Arcadia, Hartington and Humphrey, Neb. Among the names on the bandstands at the larger ballrooms are those of Paul Moorhead, Norman Lee directing the Eddy Howard Orchestra, Al Pierson, Don Glasser, Dick Wickman, Bud Comte, Play Boys, Chuck Foster, Bobby Layne and Mal Dunn.
Moorhead said, “I don’t’ have a Saturday night free all year.” The demand for certain dance tunes hasn’t changed in years, he added, and he plays them over and over. “I have 2,100 arrangements and I hate very one of them.”
Apparently the dancers don’t – and Jane Palmer, with World-Herald photographer Jim Burnett, recently visited the Flying-V in Utica, Neb., to take a look at the ballroom boom.
A Nice Atmosphere
Ballroom Dances Crowd-Pleasers
Utica, Neb. – Some Saturday night, take Interstate 80 and drive to the Utica exit west of Lincoln. Head north for 2½ miles until you see the large parking lot that forms a break amid the acres of corn.
If it’s about 9 p.m., hundreds of cars will fill the lot and couples will be walking arm and arm into the low concrete block building.
The women’s long dresses - flowery prints, black chiffons and vivid pastels – their hairdos, glittering evening purses and an abundance of jewelry convey the message that this is a special night.
And the men, in their leisure suits, evening jackets or spirited synthetic shirts, are almost as colorful.
As you pull into the parking lot, you’ll also notice that the building seems to extend forever, merging into a grass landing strip and airplane hangar almost hidden in the tall stands of Nebraska corn.
It’s the Flying-V-Ballroom, a combination restaurant-airport-dance hall – and a Midlands oasis for devotees of ballroom dancing.
“We’re so lucky to have this place close by,” says Mrs. Bernard Due of Exeter, Neb., pausing between dances. She comments that her visiting relatives are surprised by the well-dressed men attending the dance. But that’s not unusual, she says. The men are irrigating their fields “and go around like mud balls all week, so they like to clean up and put on nice clothes.”
The dance floor alone is 70 feet by 120 feet. Along three sides of the hug ballroom expanse are tables and chairs, plus refreshment centers set up by the bartenders.
On the fourth wall, Bobby Mills has assembled almost two dozen musicians and announced to the crowd that “if you have any favorite songs, let us know and we’ll play them.”
With the first few bars of music, the tables are deserted as hundreds of couples take to the floor. Only the slight “shushing” sound of shoes on wood is heard, along with the strains of “When You Wore A Tulip . . .” and “Tiny Bubbles . . .”
The couples whirl and glide with space to spare. It’s touch dancing – the swing, the foxtrot, the two-step.
A few schoolchildren on hand for the celebration of a relative’s wedding anniversary giggle on the sidelines as their teenage sister dances with her date. But 90 percent of the couples appear to be over 35.
“We come here every Saturday,” says Mrs. Rex Simonsen, who farms with her husband at Beaver Crossing, five miles away. She says the Flying-V “caters to older people. We need places to go to. When we were young, the teenagers would go dancing with their parents. Now it’s changed.”
Several residents from York, Neb., sharing a table, had a variety of comments: “It’s nice because the floor is so quiet.”
“Never any trouble and that’s good in this day and age.”
“People grew up with Saturday night dances, and they just like them.”
“If you want good, smooth music . . .”
Said Don Votava, one of the York group, “The people around here are those who went to dances when the big bands were around.”
Roger Bader added, “The music has a soft, textured tone. It makes a nice atmosphere for socializing.”
Lewis Andrews, an electrician in Cordova, Neb., said, “You can’t go any place and have a more enjoyable evening. Normally I dance every one (of the dances) except the polkas. Those are my drinkin’ dances.”
Andrews, who is semi-retired, and his wife credit much of their pleasure with the ballroom to the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Kenneth Volzke.
When the Volzkes celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary, admission was free and every guest received two free drink tickets, Andrews said, and on the ballroom’s fifth anniversary, there was another free dance.
With an admission charge of $2 per person and drinks at 60 cents each, an evening of dancing is inexpensive entertainment, Andrews said.
The Volzkes respond to their customers more as host and hostess than as owners and managers. They switch partners and dances sets with other couples. And they’re almost reluctant to discuss their ballroom. They began with the landing strip for planes, added the restaurant, and then the ballroom five years ago.
The crowd comes from 200 miles around, Volzke said, and a typical night brings 800 dancers. A special band might attract as many as 2,000.
“Some come in campers and stay overnight. We’ve had as many as a dozen campers overnight,” Mrs. Volzke said.
She said that since there are no lights on the landing strip, “we don’t have many people who fly in to dance. Most fly in to eat and then go on.”
With high fees for dance bands, the ballroom is not a money-maker, according to Volzke. He and his wife operated an irrigation well drilling company in Utica and manufacture centrifugal pumps and trailers.
The ballroom was “a dream of ours,” Mrs. Volzke said. “It just took time to build.”
By Jane Palmer
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), September 5, 1976]
Getting Acquainted With the Flying V
We ventured into the dance hall, and what a pleasant surprise! Hundreds of couples – many women in long gowns and men anointed with Aqua Velva – were gliding to the tune of “Walkin’ My Baby Back home,” a hit of 1930. It was arm-around-the-waist dancing. The Don Hoy big band (which plays tonight at Peony Park) was providing the music.
Never again can it be said that I don’t know about the Flying V. The layout a short hop south of Utica is not a ranch and not a roadhouse, as I suggested here last week. It is, in fact, the dad-gummedest place I have visited in years.
Picture a single building containing a restaurant, a 300-capacity party room, airplane hangar space (there is an adjoining airstrip) and the Midwest’s largest ballroom (with seating for 1,500). The builders and owners are Kenneth and Estella Volzke, who are in the irrigation business.
Saturday night dance crowds of 500 are fairly ho hum for the hall which lured around 1,700 for each of two appearances by Lawrence Welk. The Paul Moorhead, Eddy Haddad and Orville Von Seggern bands are among the Flying V regulars.
The draw area for dancers ranges from Des Moines and Sioux City in Iowa to North Platte and from as far south as Salina, Kan., Paul Moorhead tells me. However the No. 1 attraction for us was the annual Nebraska Semipro Baseball Hall of Fame banquet.
By Wally Provost
[Source: Omaha World-Herald (Omaha, Nebraska), dated March 25, 1980]