2013-01-24 / Columns

News & Reviews

By Edward F. Keller, D.D.S.
1732 Golf Drive Bismarck, ND 58503

Old Time Dances

In the 1930s a major social recreation for my Germans from Russia people in Strasburg, North Dakota, was dancing to old time accordion music in the famous Blue Room Dance Hall in Strasburg. Dances were a regular Friday night event. The only time dances were scheduled on any other night of the week was on Easter Monday. People abstained from dancing during the four weeks of Lent, making the Easter Monday dance very special.

Local accordion players, John Schwab, Mike Dosch and the Mastel brothers, along with traveling musicians Charlie Richter,Tom Gutengurg, The Six Fat Dutchmen, The Royal Kings, Whoopee John and Sam and his City Fellers were some music providers for the Blue Room dancers. The music was played in sets. A set consisted of three or four waltzes, then three or four polkas and then a piece in the modern vein,like “Blue Hawaii” and “South of the Border.”

The old time waltz came in three beats to a measure, like 1-2-3. The accordionist played the beats with his left hand, the base hand. The right hand played the melody. Each waltz had three parts… a stanza, a trio and a bridge. The stanza was played and repeated, then the trio was played and repeated and then the bridge was played and repeated. This process was repeated about three times. Couples gliding around the dance floor, their left feet down on the first of the three beats, forming a gracefully moving group, talking and smiling.

Polkas had only two beats to a measure, like 1-2 and a much swifter rhythm. Polkas too had the three parts to them, stanzas, trios and bridges and were repeated the same as the waltzes. Couples dancing a polka appeared almost furious with their up and down, perspiring, keeping up with the beat of the music. A dance floor full of people doing an old time polka was awesome, floor vibrating experience… and everyone was smiling. The Third portion of the set, the “modern vein” had four beats to a measure, like 1-2- 3-4 and was much slower and breath-catching.

After a set was completed, the ladies retreated to the benches along the walls of the dance floor and the men stood in groups on the floor… all awaiting the next set. In a few restful minutes the music started again and the men chose partners. Everybody danced… if there were any women left they danced with each other.

A short break at midnight emptied the dance floor to the Blue Room Lounge or to the Bowling Alley cafe or to the Ternes’s Saloon, for refreshing moments.

The dancing resumed for a while until the musicians played “Home Sweet Home” around 1 a.m. The entertainment presented relief to the prairie isolation of the 1930s and blossomed many a blooming romance and marriage… admission was 25ยข for men and women were free.

Till next time.

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