If you’re thinking of going to Johnson County Old Settlers Days in Olathe, you might consider asking somebody to the dance.
The festival, which is in its 116th year, runs Thursday through Saturday on the grounds of the Johnson County Courthouse in downtown Olathe.
And this year, it offers something it hasn’t for the past 15 years: Students from three local dance studios will give recitals starting at 8 p.m. Thursday on the stage in the downtown library parking lot.
The hoofing is in addition to the festival’s usual offerings of arts and crafts, an auto show, a carnival, concerts, food, horseshoe pitching, an ice cream social, a parade, a flower show and a historic slide show, according to the festival’s website, johnsoncountyoldsettlers.com.
Sheila Reitmeyer, the festival’s secretary and chairman of its entertainment and parade committees, studied dance in elementary school and performed in recitals at Old Settlers Days.
“We’ll have everybody from little kids to adults dancing,” Reitmeyer said.
Students from Denise’s Dance Academy in Stilwell, Top Performance in Gardner and Leigh’s School of Dance in Olathe will perform, she said.
Sarah Graham, studio director at Leigh’s, studied dance as a child at Leigh’s, which has been in business for 45 years. Each studio will perform for about 30 minutes, Graham said.
“My kids are competition dancers, so they get a lot of stage time, but it’s important for them to have diverse training,” Graham said. “Community-participation shows like this help them learn to adapt quickly to their environment — unfamiliar stage, weather, no judges. They just do what they love to do, which is perform in front of an audience. It adds to their education.”
Ken Roberts, the festival’s president, started going to the festival as a child in the 1960s.
“The dancing wasn’t what I was most interested in back then,” he said. “I was thinking more about the carnival.”
The festival — which started on Sept. 17, 1898 — gives people in the community a chance to come together, he said.
“I’ve lived in Olathe just about all my life,” Roberts said. “It used to be that everything centered around the courthouse. Now, most of what’s around there is related to courthouse business. The sidewalks roll up at 5 o’clock.”
Organizers expect the sidewalks to stay rolled out during the festival: About 200,000 attendees are expected for the three-day event. As many as 70,000 people will watch the parade, scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Saturday.
These numbers represent quite a change from the festival’s humble roots. The first official event was on Sept. 17, 1898, created by the then-county attorney and others.
Before then, the festival was held on several farms north of Olathe between Woodland and Strang Line Park. It was intended as an occasion for friends to gather and enjoy picnics.
6 p.m. Thursday: Olathe East and Olathe Northwest high school bands; 7 p.m. Sweet Six.
6:30 p.m. Friday: Crush – A Tribute to Bon Jovi; 8 p.m.: Shooting Star.
6:30 p.m. Saturday: Last Chance Flight; 8 p.m.: Will Hoge.
The festival runs from 10 a.m. 10 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday on the grounds of the Johnson County Courthouse in downtown Olathe. Entry to the festival and parking are free.
For more information, go to the website johnsoncountyoldsettlers.com.