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Some tips on
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Dancing the Night Away

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By Pat Mestern
March 19, 2004

Looking back makes me realize what a privilege it was to have been born in the 1940's. While growing up, exposure to music and dance encompassed at least three distinct eras - Old Time Country, Big Band and Rock n’ Roll. One thing for sure, when raised around so many different types of music, dancing gets into your blood. My feet were made for dancin’.

Some of my earliest dance memories are of several country events, probably held after the Second World War. These were wonderful occasions for neighbours to get together on a Saturday night for some good old-fashioned step and square dancing. Local fellows provided music on fiddle, banjo and piano, if the school at which the dance was held was fortunate enough to have a piano. The evening began after farm chores. Ladies provided lunch.

My earliest memories include one dance at Shands School, now a private residence on County Road #18, and another at a school near Orton. Decorations for both were red, white and blue crepe paper and Union Jack flags indicating the dances were either for Queen Victoria’s birthday or July lst. Musicians sat on chairs at the front where the teacher’s desk had been. Desks were put outside for the evening. Chairs and benches were set around the inner walls. The wooden floor was sprinkled with a white powder, soap someone said, that made it slippery for good dancing. The band played old-tyme jigs, reels, polkas, waltzes and the Schottische. At least three times during the evening, the floor was cleared for square dancing. Old and young had a wonderful time doing the Texas Star and Birdie in the Cage.

Around 11:00 p.m., lunch was served. There were thick ham, roast beef and egg salad sandwiches, chocolate and spice cake, pies of all varieties. Adults drank strong coffee that had been made in a copper wash boiler, placed on a two burner hot-plate. Who knows, or asked, what was being consumed outside around the cars and waggon.

4H groups held dances in various places in Wellington County, including Belwood Hall, Aberfoyle Hall, the Hall in Elora’s Lover’s Leap Park, the Drill Shed in both Fergus and Elora and any number of one-room school houses. Music at these dances still held to more traditional venues. When a caller was in attendance, everyone enjoyed square dancing. Sometimes a disc jockey with a variety of the latest records was the entertainment. James Leybourne kept square dancing alive in the area by holding square dance classes in a barn on his property just south of Fergus.

Big bands and orchestras were popular, especially at Fergus High School’s formal “At-Home”. The “At-Home” took place in the High School Auditorium, usually in February. Also, at the annual November graduation, a formal dance was also held after the official ceremony. How many of your remember Athletic, Cadet, Rugby, Sadie Hawkins and Christmas Dances, and the ever popular Halloween Hop. Attendees danced to orchestras such as those Harvey Smith’s, Howie’s Al Kuhns, Watson’s and Merv Woods.

Each “At Home” was planned months in advance. My first invitation sent my parents into a tailspin. Formal gowns didn’t come cheap and Grandmother wasn’t available to perform her magic on button, bows and lace. I wore a pretty gown through the kindness of Ruth Roszell Leybourne, Ruth’s parents were in charge of Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge, now Wellington County Museum. This building held an odd fascination for me as the Catholic Choir used to sing Christmas Carols for the inmates, and from a very early age, I used to accompany Grandmother when she visited several very elderly residents. Ruth’s gowns were stored in a trunk in the big attic of the main building. To be in one of its attics, looking through an old trunk of colourful lace, satin and net gowns was like icing on a cake.

Just to give you a glimpse into a formal “At Home”, I’ve taken a quote from the 1955-56 Vox Scholae which also provided the information that $170.90 was raised through ticketed admission and $157.95 was spent to hold the event. To quote:

“On Friday evening, February 17, 1955, Fergus High School held it annual formal dance with a large attendance. The hall and auditorium were gaily decorated in a pleasing array of colours of red, gold and yellow. To enter the auditorium, the young couples crossed a delightful bridge and passed along the receiving line which was composed of Carol Maedel, Matt Raymond, Mr. And Mrs. Stewart, Mr. And Mrs. McDermott, Mr. and Mrs. Hammond and Mr. and Mrs. Pratt.

Then the ladies in their evening dresses glided along the dance floor in the arms of their escorts to the music of Harvey Smith’s Orchestra. Soon the couples were jotting down the names of friends who had asked them for following dances. The dance cards were red suede with black printing. The walls of the auditorium were decorated with Chinese murals which the students on the decorating committee had drawn. In one corner there was a miniature garden.

While the supper dances were being played, the couples went to the basement for light refreshments. The gymnasium was decorated in colours of black and gold. The tables were quite attractively set. Four young ladies poured coffee, namely Anne Craig, Shirley Hammond, Marian MacQuarrie and Judy Ransom.

The Girls Triple Trio favoured all present by singing “In the Still of the Night” and “Falling in Love with Love” and the Boys Triple Trio sang “The Way You Look Tonight.” The latter part of the evening seemed to go altogether too quickly and as “The Queen” was being played, many young couples wished that the evening was just beginning as an enjoyable time had been had by all at Fergus High School At Home.
High School Teen Town dances were well attended. They provided the opportunity to try all those dance steps seen on Dick Clark’s popular T.V. show. Teen Town Council was far-sighed enough to hire disc jockeys from the Guelph Radio Station who would bring the latest 45 rpm records, and even knew the latest dance steps, including the Twist.

I’m not sure what some of the older teachers thought of our gyrating around the floor but we sure had fun. When Miss Craig chaperoned, she stayed in the Teacher’s Room, with the door open, to avoid having to see us go through our various athletic maneuvers on the dance floor. A group of us once caught her tapping her foot to “Let’s Twist Again” and she admitted at least that sort of no-touch dancing meant that there was no need to worry about bodily contact.

Dance refreshments included donuts, hot from the downtown bakery, chocolate milk in small glass bottles and soft drinks, just to keep energy levels up for the second half of the evening. Long tables were set out in the hall and boxes of those heavenly bread donuts were laid out, along with bottles of Orange Crush, Coca Cola and Ginger Ale on ice. Twenty-five cents would buy two donuts and one soft drink.

Dance attire, 1950's style was interesting, compared with today’s teen fashions. For most dances, girls wore a party dress or skirt with blouse or sweater set. Boys always wore a suit and tie. The tie came off during some of the more rambunctious dances. Girls and boys wore uniforms for the Cadet dance - army uniforms for the boys, a black skirt, white blouse and blue blazer for the girls. Of course formal gowns were necessary for the “At Home”. Boys wore their best suits. Sadie Hawkins dance and the Halloween Hop, called for outlandish costumes. You don’t know what Sadie Hawkins Dances are? Check it out ladies. Leap year comes again in Y2004!



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