Get out the fiddle, strike up the bow. For those of you old enough to recall the days in rural America after World War II and young enough to remember your parents in those times, the memories may set your foot to tapping.
Since about forever I’d say, dancing in the country has been a social culture that brought levity to times of hard work and hard living. History documents both in word and sketch, the moments of cowboy dancing around the campfire. Some cowboy dances a jig with the aproned camp cookie while a lively tune is belted out of a harmonica or strummed from a guitar.
After the war, those country boys came home changed by what they lived and what they had seen. Country dances helped give them a way to reconnect to the people and lives they had left behind.
The cities moved into the bobby sox, loafer and jukebox era that was fueled by the music from Broadway musicals like Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun and South Pacific. In the backwoods, hills and the plains of the West, the music culture was full of fiddle tunes that formed an important base for the contemporary versions of bluegrass, Western swing and country.
I remember the community dances at the old Grange Hall. The neighbors would come, those that could play a musical instrument would and those that could sing, did so. Kids ran in and out the door while parents danced. Babies slept on pallets in the corner, or as my siblings and I did later in the night, bedded down in the back of a Studebaker station wagon.
There was a fiddle, a couple of guitars, piano, harmonica and occasionally an accordion to round out the music source. My dad didn’t always know the words to the songs, but he could yodel, so that was his contribution. As the night wore on, and there was no closing time, the fun would kick up a notch as silly songs were created on the spot.
My parents courted going to country dances in a dance hall converted from an old one-room schoolhouse. In later years, they rarely missed the dances that were held in the school gymnasium sponsored by the town firemen or the saddle club.
I grew up with the sounds of the Hanks (Snow, Locklin, Thompson and Williams) twanging in my head and feeding my love of the music. Jimmie Rodgers of “Honeycomb” and “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine” fame, Ernest Tubb, Faron Young, Marty Robbins, Jim Reeves, Ferlin Husky, Ray Price, Sonny James, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman … you get the idea.
The cowboys of that era tell about riding 10-12 miles to a dance, dancing all night, and then riding back to the ranch to work. Some of them were the musical talent for the dance, some of them went to find the pretty girls, but they all went for the fun. It was the social uplifting their hard working lives needed.
When the trend moved the “party” to the honky tonks and bars, the dances held in halls, schools and barns dwindled and changed, except in the country where the families were held together by hard work, family values and simple lives.
I’m fortunate enough to still live in a place in the West where a country dance isn’t all that foreign and yes, it is still a family affair.
The recipe for fun is still just as good today as it was then. Everything goes better with a country dance. “Pick up your fiddle and rosin your bow. An’ twist ’em up a tune called Turkey in the Straw.”
Julie, toe-tapping every day, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.