A Dance Evening in Bradford

The program of dances was the same for every dance evening, which was the way those crowds preferred it. The dance started at 8:00 with 3 waltz numbers (referred to as a "set"). Then there were 3 square dances, followed by 3 fox trot numbers, then 3 more squares, then 3 polkas or gallops. This pattern was repeated throughout the evening (some groups have had to cut down to 2 numbers in each set because the dancers were getting along in years and were unable to do 3 dances in a row). There was a 20 minute intermission at 10:30. Promptly at 10:50 a schottische was played, then the one contra dance of the evening. Sometimes a second contra was done, but that was rare, as these crowds came to square and round dance.

Rules of etiquette have changed since the 1940s. The single men stood in a line in front of the snack bar and the single ladies sat on the benches around the hall. When a dance started a man would walk over to the lady of his choice and ask her to dance. The ladies would hope that the man of her choice would arrive first as etiquette demanded her to dance with the first man who asked for the dance. If she refused anyone, she had to sit that dance out. The only exception was if the man was obviously intoxicated. (Boy, did we hate those rules, especially with our father up on the stage watching our every move.) Once in the evening there was a ladies' choice, usually a waltz. That was a mad scramble as the older ladies wanted to dance with the best dancers and the younger ladies wanted to dance with the best looking.

A Paul Jones Waltz was done almost every evening. Couples would start dancing with their original partner, then the caller would have everyone form a big circle around the hall. They would grand right and left until the caller announced for them to dance with the person they were facing at the time. They would dance with that person until the caller told them to change again. This continued until the last of the 3 waltzes in the set, then the caller would tell them to waltz with their original partner. There was much scrambling to be facing someone you wanted to dance with when the call came to start dancing, or to avoid someone who was not one of your favorites.

People of all ages came to the dances. The "elderly" couples stayed in their own sets, as they didn't dance as fast or hard as some of the others. And they preferred not to have strangers join their sets. When children came, their parents or friends would take the children onto the floor as a partner to teach them to dance. Our mother taught us to dance, as Daddy was always playing. Everyone was willing to teach newcomers the squares, often switching partners until they got the hang of it. If anyone made a mistake, no big deal, someone in the set would head him or her in the right direction.

The younger people liked to dance with more gusto. Their sets swung harder, the men sometimes swinging the girl off her feet, yet knowing he could catch her if she slipped. The women also knew how to make it harder for someone to swing them off their feet if they didn't want it, unless they were extremely light. If there happened to be a man who the girls felt wasn't strong enough to catch them or was being an unwanted showoff, they would enlist the help of "Erma", a rugged woman who could hold her own. She would swing the man off his feet, which hurt only his ego. Problem solved.

The young people still danced in time to the music, but put more energy into it. They knew to keep their set in place so as not to disrupt other dancers. It was so exhilarating to have a set with partners who could dance hard and fast. Some of the men would try to impress their partner by swinging her off her feet. The women also knew how to make it harder for the man to swing her unless she wanted to and she knew where to put her foot on the floor to trip him if he got too smart.

The last number of the last set of squares for the evening was "Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight". As the last couple started out Frank would motion for the Orchestra to pick up the pace and as the band continued to increase the tempo, everyone would be flying by the time the last note sounded. An evening of doing these dances would equal today's high intensity aerobic workout. We exercised off all the cholesterol consumed from the hamburgers off the grill and the sugar in the tonic.

One call, a favorite of many, was "cheat or swing". Frank called this at the end of a set of 3 squares. The fiddler would play a jig tune very fast and Frank would call out "cheat or swing, anybody in the hall". A dancer could go swing any person in the hall they wished, not just within their own set. After an appropriate length of time they would be called back to "swing your own partner" and the dance would end.

The round dances were just as popular as the squares. Waltzes were beautiful to watch, as most dancers would circle around the outside of the hall. Those who did not know how to waltz the old fashioned way, stayed in the middle and swayed, or as we often referred to it, treaded to the music. Polkas, or galops as they were referred to in the earlier days, were truly an aerobic workout. With a hall as large as Bradford Arena a good dancer could really strike out across the hall without having to worry about bumping another couple. People were courteous and watched out for the slower couples. A truly good dancer could stop on a dime if need be. There were very few collisions.

Other dances played were often the latest fad of the day, such as the Bunny Hop. Frank finally had to stop that dance, as the lines were so big and when the dancers hopped, the floor swayed and Frank worried about the foundation of the barn giving way. We also did the Hully Gully, the Mexican Hat Dance, the Rye Waltz, Bump Sa Daisy, and of course, the Schottische.

As these dancers came to square and round dance, there was traditionally only one contra dance per evening, right after intermission. It was usually Lady Washington's Reel or Haymaker's Jig. The hall would hold 3 or 4 lines and some nights the lines would extend all the way down the hall. What an awesome sight to see 300-400 dancers going "down the center four in line". The lines were so long that it was not always possible for the head couple to return back to the head. The fiddler, would signal Frank to quit when the orchestra could no longer keep playing.

The evening always ended with the "last waltz" which were very sentimental songs such as "I'll See You In My Dreams", "'Til We Meet Again" or "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You". The dance had to end at 11:50 because it was against the law to dance on Sunday in those days.

Written 2006/2007 by Janice Colby Boynton, with help from Myrna Colby Toutant