By Tanner Kent
---- — If there were such a thing as square dancing royalty, Floyd and Judy Engelhardt would reign supreme in Minnesota.
In 2007, the Le Sueur couple became the third in the country to square dance in all 50 states and register the feat with the United Square Dancers of America. Since then, only four other couples in the nation have earned the distinction.
"When we started, we never really thought we'd do it," Judy said.
They not only accomplished that goal, but have forged even farther ahead. And now the couple that is 18 states into its second square dancing tour of the United States will serve as unofficial nobility during the Minnesota State Square and Round Dance Convention on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Verizon Wireless Center in Mankato.
The event is expected to attract more than 600 dancers from around the area and state, as well as Canada. Visitors are invited to watch the Grand March at 7 p.m. on Friday as well dancing activities on Saturday and Sunday. In the true democratic spirit of square dancing, there is no competition at the convention, only friendly dances.
As for Floyd and Judy, what began 41 years ago as a pleasant escape from the responsibilities of raising a family has now turned into a full-time pursuit.
They plan weekend trips and vacations around square dancing. When they drive to visit family, they stop along the route to join local square dancing clubs. They belong to a square-dancing camping club and maintain a fabric wall-hanging in their living room that details each of their dancing destinations.
Along the way, the couple who celebrates 50 years of marriage in February of 2014 said square dancing has not only afforded them countless friends across the country, but a stronger bond between themselves.
"When we started, we had young kids. We were busy and didn't do much together," Judy recalled.
Floyd added: "It became a way of getting an evening out for the two of us."
With four young children and little time to themselves, Floyd and Judy secured a babysitter every Sunday night to go out square dancing. They started with no lessons and little expertise.
"We jumped in and took off running," Floyd said.
After moving to Minnesota and getting heavily involved with the square dancing club in Le Sueur, Floyd and Judy took a hiatus when that club folded in 1988. With their children getting older, they had less time for square dancing and hung up their shoes for a decade.
But in 1998, they committed themselves once again to the activity that still remains popular, both for its social as well as physical benefits. Health experts say square dancing burns upward of 200 calories in 30 minutes. In addition, an oft-cited study that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003 showed that frequent dancing is as good or better than mental activities in warding off dementia.
"We are challenging ourselves to make sure we don't get too old, too soon," Judy said.
When the United Square Dancers of America announced a program challenging couples to dance in all 50 states in order to promote greater interaction between local clubs and dancers in 2002, Floyd and Judy began making their national tour official.
Whenever they took a road trip out of town -- to visit children in Colorado and Arizona, or a brother in Florida for instance -- they always chose a route that would carry them into a state they had yet to mark off their checklist.
In 2005, they danced in 12 states as part of a tour of the Northeast. When they visited Alaska, they contacted local square dancing clubs to set up a special dance just so they could cross the elusive state off their list. They crossed off Hawaii during a national convention a few years ago and have planned weekend trips just to dance in a new state. If that's not enough, Floyd and Judy have danced in Germany, Costa Rica and eight Canadian provinces.
And the couple has no plans of slowing down. They've already registered for the national convention through 2016.
"We're crazy folks," Judy said.
If You Go What "Do-Sah-Do in Mankato," the Minnesota State Square and Round Dance Convention Where Verizon Wireless Center Events - Grand March at 7 p.m. on Friday - Dancing from 9-11:15 a.m., 1:30-5 p.m. and 7-11 p.m. on Saturday - Dancing from 9:30 a.m. to noon on Sunday