Memories of Grange Dances
I wish I’d thought to spend more time talking to my late mother about the dances she attended at the local Grange Halls in the 1930s. The topic was a regular part of our ongoing discussions. The Grange was a place where people of all faiths could come together for socialization and a break from the rigors and monotony of life in rural Iowa, but I didn’t go much beyond that.
I did include one of her favorite stories about the Grange dances in Road to Resilience, the second book in my Quartet of books about Velma. It dealt with a dress she was making for an upcoming dance and the adventures that followed. Other discussions about the Grange didn’t get around to the environment in which these Grange danced occurred in my mother’s day.
I had neglected to ask mom such basic questions as who attended, what kind of bands played at such functions, and the music of the time. When friends and readers of my book would occasionally ask those questions, I had no answers.
Thanks to a wonderful interview with Leo Landis, Curator of the Iowa Historical Museum (video above!), I was able to gain a more in depth look into the subject. It proved to have an interesting history during the 1920s and 30s.
I had envisioned these dances like the ones I attended when younger. You would spend the night dancing to music of the day. Whether a waltz or rock and roll, close together or gyrating far apart, you’d be having a ball. The situation in the 1930s was very different, however. The strong moral movement, typified by Evangelist Billy Sunday, impacted dancing in the extreme.
I learned dances and the automobile had become a source of moral and religious ferver. There was a belief that dance and back seats were the devils workshop, leading youth to irresistible temptations and associated negative consequences. As new types of music swept the nation, communities across Iowa began to ban certain music and dance styles.
Though the bans varied, jazz was commonly not allowed. Dance steps with names like “spoon dance”, “bunny hug”, “Charleston”, and “Jitterbug” also were forbidden. Beyond that, dancing too close, “cheek to cheek”, was prohibited. Ironically, some newspapers printed photos of couples doing both acceptable dance moves and those considered too “naughty”.
My mother never mentioned such restrictions in our conversations. I’m sure she experienced them, however. The fact that she and so many others in the 1930s came in droves across Iowa to socialize and dance whenever possible would seem these bans didn’t dampen enthusiasm. Given the nature of youth, I expect they stretched these rules whenever they got the chance.
By the way, my mother did share some of her favorite songs of the era. Among them were Begin the Beguine, Deep Purple and Let’s Fall in Love. During that same decade, Velma met her dreamboat, Jack. And surprise of surprises, he had danced professionally with his older sister, Charlotte. The two spent the next 50 plus years tripping the light fantastic.