Having Fun Dancing
What does it take to start a dance party? It doesn't necessarily take money. People in the 1930s knew that the only things you needed were a few instruments, a dance floor sometimes permanent, sometimes temporary and a bunch of people who wanted to have a good time. The band could change. One night the band could be people playing violin, piano, and guitar. Another night the mix of instruments and people might be different. You never knew, and it didn't matter.
Neighbors hosted barn dances, especially in the spring before the barn's haymow (or loft) was filled with the season's hay. Local musicians usually played for these events. Communities organized a little more elaborate affairs. Around Overton, several churches and other organizations built portable dance floors that were transported from town to town.
Larger towns that were regional centers often had a ballroom. Schuyler's Oak Ballroom was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1936, at the height of the Depression. Lawrence Welk's band played on opening night. Its beautiful interior features local oak trees. The Pla Mor Ballroom in Lincoln opened in 1930, one of five ballrooms in the capital city. It is still open. Omaha featured the Music Box, Dreamland, and Peony Park. Omaha was a hot spot for cool jazz with national bands making appearances.
Romance, of course, was often the natural outcome of a local dance. Carla Due met her husband Bernard at a dance, even though it wasn't until years later that she forced him to learn to dance. She recalls, "I met him in McCool, [Nebraska] I think. They had a platform dance in McCool. You know, they lay down a platform. NO! McCool had a cement platform that we danced on. The other places laid a platform down. They had a cement platform and I went to a dance down there. I rode with our neighbors. The Lybolds were our neighbors. And we went to McCool, and that's where I met my husband. I remember he asked to take me home. I said, 'You could have asked me sooner. I already told another fellow he could take me home.' [Laughs.] So then he said, 'Well, would I go out with him such and such an evening?' 'Oh, yeah.' So then I went out with him, and stayed that way ever after."
And Millie Opitz says she will dance to all kinds of music and "would rather dance than eat."
Written by Claudia Reinhardt and Bill Ganzel, the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.