Future Priests of the Third Millennium

A little insight into the life of seminarians from various dioceses preparing for ministry as Roman Catholic priests, including daily activities, personal interests, special events, the spiritual life, news from the seminary, and almost whatever comes to our minds!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Family Tradition II

Well over a year ago, I offered some remarks about some of the traditions of the ranch folk with whom I grew to adulthood, and for whom I will give my life as a priest. More recently, I commented that my paternal grandparents had been involved in a dance band in their younger years.  My father is a performer when time allows, and it should also be noted that I have a penchant for obscure tunes. So, it would seem that for me, at least, music is something of a family tradition. Allow me to trace its roots . . .

In 1914 my grandparents were born about a week apart. Circa 1937 they were wed. My grandfather Roy was a drummer, his bride, Dorothy, a pianist, and his brother, Harry, played the sax. Almost immediately after their wedding, my grandparents and great-uncle began traveling the country playing for a nearly forgotten staple of country life - the country dance.

Though it has nearly disappeared now, the country dance was still a popular event even into my early teenage years.
In their heyday, such dances would occur nearly every weekend. They weren't the sort of event that included loud microphones, tuneless rhythmic beats, and flashing lights. Rather, a group of live performers would play good old-fashioned dance music. And people danced - waltzes, two steps, fox trots, and jitterbugs, not to mention some of the more complicated dances such as the seven-step and the flying dutchman. People would attend from miles away to court future spouses, to fight with rivals, to see the neighbors, and to escape what could be otherwise lonely existence on the plains of Western South Dakota. Everyone came to the dance.

In my grandparents' time, the music was instrumental. There were no vocalists. There were, however, enough musicians in the crowd to spot the performing musicians. Local men would drum for a while so that my grandfather could take a few trips around the dance-floor, and other women would do the same for my grandmother. The dances were scheduled to run from 9:00 PM until 1:00 AM. More often than not, as 1:00 AM approached, the dancers would pass a hat and the band would play another forty-five minute set. The hat would be passed again and again until finally the band would have to refuse to play if they wanted to go home.

The repertoire of my grandparents mostly included dance music from the 20's, 30's, and 40's. This collection remained more or less unaltered even until the 1970's when they finally stopped playing dances for good. Many of those same songs, however, made their way into my memory when my grandmother would still play them on her old upright piano at home. My favorite is Darktown Strutter's Ball.

As I noted, the tradition of the country dance has nearly died. A few of the most popular dances still remain (the Elm Springs Halloween Dance still survives), but as often as not, they are as much an excuse for excessive drinking as anything else. Nonetheless, they are a part of our culture and heritage out here. So many stories find their setting at the dance. So many of us can trace our family tree back to a moment where boy and girl first laid eyes on one another at the dance. Perhaps I am looking at all this through the rosy colored lenses of nostalgia. But for sure, country dances bespeak a simpler time.  I suspect that all of us have a longing for that.


Anonymous said...


The Cathedral Young Adults held our first annual Barn Dance this last Fall. Around 100 came from all around to square dance (a little swing thrown in at the end) and had a heck of a time. No drinkin', just dancin!

We hoped to have it in a barn, but us being city folk, couldn't find one, so it was in Hayden Hall. But, there were real cornstalks, haybales, and pumpkins! The live band was too expensive... but we had a caller! Maybe next year.

Your grandparent's dance sounded like so much fun... l hope ours will continue to move in that direction!

J. Thorp said...

Beautiful, Tyler -- thanks for sharing...

Jinglebob said...

I have many memories of all those dances I went to as a young man. It is one of the things I hate the most about the change in this area where everyone now seems to thinks they have to drive to a town or city for entertainment. I miss those country dances!

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