Posts Tagged With: Hoosier Recruits

Joining the Dance: the Joys of Community Life

Yesterday the Hoosier Recruits provided old-time music for another Plank Road Summer book event, this one at the Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso, Indiana.  My table was placed so that when I wasn’t signing books, I could turn my chair around and play the piano, thus spending the afternoon as both writer and musician.

“I’m going to be a writer and a musician”–That’s what I told a reporter back when I was a senior in high school.   Back then I imagined myself living in my Wisconsin hometown writing articles for the Westine Report and playing the organ at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church.

I planned to write novels, too, of course, but I never imagined anything like the rejoicing of the Yorkville community in the publication of Plank Road Summer.  I never imagined hundreds of people–everybody from my first-grade teacher to my high school principal, from elementary school classmates to old college friends–standing in line for a book signing at Yorkville School.  I never imagined my own contra dance band traveling all the way from Indiana to celebrate a book launch.

I first learned about contra dancing as a member of the Hoosier Recruits, the house band of the Valparaiso Oldtime Dance Society.  Soon afterward, Emily and I rewrote passages of our manuscript to reflect our new understanding of old-time dance traditions, such as the practice of choosing a new partner for each dance or the freedom of women to ask men to dance.

Like the dancers at the Racine County Fair in the closing chapter of Plank Road Summer, the dancers at the Yorkville book launch included “young and old, native and foreign-born, townspeople and country folk.”   Although my chair at the signing table was far from the stage where my band was playing, I rejoiced in my good fortune, not only as a writer and a musician but as a member of the warm and welcoming community of Yorkville, Wisconsin.

Categories: Plank Road Summer book, Yorkville, Wisconsin | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Old-Time Dance in Yorkville, Wisconsin

This morning Patricia Lynch, Civil War dance instructor in Milwaukee and president of the West Side Soldiers Aid Society, emailed me a wonderful treasure–a PDF of a page from a dance tunebook used by Yorkville settlers in the plank road days.

According to the file description listed for this example of “Pioneer Dance Music” in the Racine Heritage Museum, the handwritten notebook of tunes and dance notations was “brought from the east by Rubin Waite in 1837 and used by three generations of the Waite family:  Rubin Sr., his son Lorenzo,  and his grandson Menzo, who donated the book to the Racine Co. Historical Room.”

The page is marked “3d Sett” and contains a reel and two jigs.   Neatly-inked quarter- and eighth-notes caper above a swirling script:

First 4  R & L/ Bal – 4  Swing/ Ladies chain/ All promenade //

These figures are familiar to square dancers and contra dancers today.  Old-time dance communities still flourish in the Midwest, following in the footsteps of the Yorkville settlers who promenaded in the Waite’s Corners schoolhouse or the ballroom of the Mather Inn.

Click here to see the 3rd Sett

If you attend the Plank Road Summer book launch at Yorkville Elementary School (see the Events page), you can join in old-time dancing with caller Dot Kent and the Hoosier Recruits, a contra dance band.  The Recruits may well be playing a dance or two out of the Waite family tunebook.

Categories: Racine County | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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