NR native has a passion for dance, and not afraid to admit it
NEW PASSION — Mark Querna of rural New Richland with two of his trophies and pictures of he and Kirsten McCloskey dancing. Querna underwent weight reduction surgery in 2011 and started ballroom dancing as a way to keep the weight off and keep him busy during the winter. Dancing has since displaced baseball as Querna’s biggest passion. (Star Eagle photo by Kathy Paulsen)
By KATHY PAULSEN
We have all heard the phase, "I Hope You’ll Dance."
Mark Querna does.
Most people in the area know Mark, son of the late Pat (Doyle) and Paul Querna. The youngest of seven, Mark has three brothers and three sisters. Most of his siblings left the area after they graduated from high school and now live in the Twin Cities area and near LaCrosse, Wis. Mark’s brother Paul lives in Spokane, Wash. and his brother Rick lives in New Richland again. Mark's aunt, Marie Querna, has lived in New Richland all her life, and according to Mark, "She is the best aunt ever."
Querna graduated from New Richland-Hartland High School in 1983, and received Bachelor of Science degrees in Agronomy and Agricultural Economics from the University of Minnesota before returning to the family farm in 1988.
The farm, which has been certified "organic" since 2004, consists of 360 acres. The farm has been in the Querna family since 1872, and Mark is the fourth generation of Quernas to live there. He shares the farm with his Weimeraner dog, Buford T. Dufus.
Mark plays host for family get-togethers, as his family all like to “come home for the holidays.”
In addition to organic farming, Mark is the owner/manager of the Minnesota franchise F.I.R.S.T. (Farmer's Independent Research of Seed Technologies), which conducts unbiased yield testing of the best corn and soybean products in Minnesota. Mark plants and harvests more than 330 corn and 240 soybean varieties on 20 farms across southern and central Minnesota, managing these yield comparisons for 27 different seed companies. He truly enjoys working with, and learning from, the 20 farmers who host the F.I.R.S.T. plots.
Mark learned to love the game of baseball while playing for Jeff Reese in high school. He went on to manage the New Richland Reds town baseball team for 10 years. He also has enjoyed helping Reese at Legion Field, coaching area youth, and teaching them the sport he loves.
Querna still loves baseball, but ballroom dancing has become a passion for him that now takes much of his free time.
"If I had worked as hard perfecting the fundamentals of baseball as I have learning the fundamentals of dance,” laughed Querna, “I would have been a much better ball player!" He marvels at how much there is to learn in dancing, even just a few steps of a ballroom dance.
He underwent weight reduction surgery in March 2011, which he feels saved his life and made him feel 20 years younger. He started dancing as a way to help keep the weight off, and for something to keep him busy through the winter.
He liked to watch "Dancing With The Stars" and in December 2011 he decided to take a dance lesson. It was on his "bucket list" of things to try.
Querna began by taking one free lesson with a dance instructor at the Cinema Ballroom, near Macalester College in St. Paul. He enjoyed it. He decided to continue taking dancing lessons and purchased a pack of 10 lessons.
When he returned for his next lesson, he was told the instructor who had given him his first lesson had decided to quit teaching dance. He was then paired up with another teacher, Kirsten McCloskey. The change turned out to be fortuitous, and he has been taking lessons with McCloskey for nearly two years.
“Dancing is a lost art,” Querna said. "The average man doesn't know how to lead, and the average woman doesn't know how to follow (because she is used to leading in social dances).”
Dancing has gotten Querna away from his work, and introduced him to a new community of friends who all share a love of dance. Both students and staff at the Cinema Ballroom are, he says, amongst the nicest people he has ever met.
"While taking lessons I have learned to laugh at my mistakes,” Querna said. “I have always been a perfectionist, so I am easily frustrated when the dance steps don’t sink in for me, but I am learning to laugh and have fun. I work hard to look calm, because my entire body has to be engaged during each step.
“Kirsten is constantly chirping in my ear: 'Head left, chest out, pull your core in, smile, use your legs, lift higher, stay low' – and my favorite, ‘Lead confidently!’"
His biggest challenge is learning to dance with other students, sometimes worrying he may not lead correctly. McCloskey reminds him the proper way to lead each step.
There are five women instructors and seven gentlemen instructors at the Cinema Ballroom. They all chose this profession over other career possibilities. Their love of dance is contagious, and students all leave with a smile.
For most dance instructors, dancing is not just their job. They teach dance eight to 10 hours a day, five days a week. Mark said his instructor, Kirsten, has been dancing since she was 3 years old, and she has been teaching for about four years. He compares her level of skill with the professionals on 'Dancing With The Stars.'
Kirsten competes professionally in the rhythm style dances with her partner Dustin Donelan, who is also an instructor at the Cinema Ballroom. She and Dustin were Rising Star Champions at the Twin Cities Open this past July.
There is a wide range in the ages of students taking instruction at the Cinema. The youngest Querna knows is 7 years old and some are in their 70s. Both couples and singles take lessons.
Some students learn more quickly than others, especially the ladies who have tried other forms of dance prior to the ballroom style. Women often learn faster than men, as they are being led by a professional instructor, while amateur men have to learn how to lead their partner along with dancing their own steps properly.
Querna said there are a large number of dance studios in the Twin Cities area, but the Cinema Ballroom boasts the largest dance floor in the Twin Cities. It is so named because it originally was built as a movie theater. Mark makes the 90-mile drive to St Paul once or twice a week. A few people come from as far away as Duluth and Fargo for lessons.
Most generally Querna tries to take two or three lessons each trip he takes to the Twin Cities, and often joins a group class and attends a practice party to learn social dancing. This also allows him to find out if he is leading correctly or not. This he discovers when he leads a step, and the lady either follows him perfectly or goes in an entirely different direction.
"Laughter is key to happiness on the dance floor," he said.
Querna admits that dancing scared the daylights out of him when he first started, but whenever he has tried something out of his "comfort zone,’ it has helped him grow as a person. He never expected dancing to be such a challenge, but has found it to be a freeing exercise that puts him in a great mood.
He admits he is always trying to learn to lead more confidently. He continues to struggle perfecting "reverse turns" in the Tango, even after spending hours working on the body positions for three "simple" steps. Each step must be done correctly to properly indicate to your partner where you want her to go next. This challenge both frustrates and drives him.
Querna has learned the waltz, tango, fox trot and Viennese waltz in “American Smooth” style, as well as waltz, tango and quick step in the “International Standard” style.
His favorite dances are in the Rhythm Style, including the cha cha, rhumba, East Coast (triple) Swing, bolero and mambo (which is a particular challenge due to its timing), but he loves them all.
Querna is just beginning to learn the samba, which is a Latin style dance. Social dances such as Hustle and Night Club Two-step are in the mix too.
McCloskey convinced him to try competitive Pro-Am dancing, and a new competitive fire was lit. In competitive dancing, gentlemen always wear black clothing, and dance to showcase the ladies. The ladies wear amazing, one-of-a-kind dresses that are meant to draw one’s eyes to watch them. Querna enjoys the chivalry of this sport.
Mark has gone to some big competitions in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Milwaukee, Nashville, Kansas City and Las Vegas. He said there are dance competitions all over the country every month. Ballroom Dancing is a huge industry, but most people are not aware of it. Mark went to four competitions last year, and has attended five so far this year.
Querna proudly showed two trophies he earned. One was from a solo dance event at the Nevada Star Ball in Las Vegas, and the other was Triple Threat at the Twin Cities Open in Minneapolis. The Triple Threat is a judges’ choice award to the student showing the most improvement in at least three dance styles.
Querna also participated in a two-night event called "The Production," Sept. 20 and 21 at the Cinema Ballroom. He danced to three songs in the TV theme song event – "American Bandstand" by Barry Manilow, the theme to "The Three Stooges," and "Ghost Busters." About 200 people came to the Cinema Ballroom to watch each night.
He also danced a “Blues Brothers” solo last year.
"That was when I found out I could hold my breath for at least two minutes,” he said, “because I was concentrating so hard, listening to the music and trying to smile that I forgot to breathe."
Good dancers develop better posture, as well as exhibit more leg and core strength and flexibility. Querna says dancing has been shown to help prevent Alzheimer's. He joked that his difficulty in remembering his dance steps proves dancing can prevent Alzheimer’s, but not cure it!
Querna says a few of his long-time male friends think he is “just a little crazy.”
"At times it has been embarrassing to admit that I love dancing, but it has become a great hobby and the most fun I have had in my life," he said.
Though he is going to have to "back off for a while now" during the fall harvest, he said he will be back at the Cinema Ballroom once the crops are out of the field.
Said Querna, "Once I step inside the door of the Cinema Ballroom, the outside world ceases to exist."