Old-fashioned barn dances keep community traditions
dancers, young and old, gather in the hayloft of a barn near the Sullivan
County town of Winigan for an old fashion barn dance. Steve and Debbie
Young started holding barn dances on their familys farm several
years ago to have some fun and help foster a sense of community.
The days heat scarcely
retreats as a deep orange sun sinks below a Sullivan County horizon. Inside
the hayloft of a large barn on a farm north of Winigan, the heat is stifling
but a large fan provides relief for a gathering of people listening to
several musicians. Folks sitting around the outside of the loft visit
with each other while tapping their feet to the rhythm.
Steve Young stands up from
playing a mandolin with the other musicians and calls out, Anyone
want to dance? Several couples follow Steve and his wife, Debbie,
into the middle of the haylofts large wooden floor as another edition
of the Winigan barn dance gets underway.
A fiddle player launches into
a lively tune accompanied by guitar, mandolin and keyboard as Steve begins
organizing a square of dancers. The scene looks little different from
barn dances that were popular in the Midwest in the early 20th century.
The dance calls and tunes are the same, only the presence of electricity
in the barn loft, which powers mikes attached to the acoustic instruments
and the slow cookers for the potluck dinner, give the scene a modern touch.
hayloft of the Youngs barn is ablaze with light late into the
night during a dance.
dances not only encourge older musicians to play, they also encourage
the next generation.
The barn, originally built
by his grandfather, now belongs to Steves mother and sits on the
familys farm in north-central Missouri. Steve, who works for the
Missouri Conservation Department, lives in Harrisburg near Columbia but
spends a lot of time at the farm where his mother lives.
Twice a year, in the spring
and the fall, Steve and his wife, Debbie, host an old-fashioned dance
in the barn. Steve recalls his grandfather telling stories about dances
originally held in the loft of the barn soon after it was built sometime
One day a few years ago while
visiting the farm Steve was telling Debbie stories he recalled his grandfather
telling of the old dances. Debbie suggested they hold a dance there again
Steve agreed. But the old barn wasnt ready for a dance quite yet.
After more than 50 years of steady use on a busy farm, the barn needed
a little sprucing up. The couple cleaned out the loft of old hay, farm
equipment, tools and a few critters which had made the loft their home.
Though the barn was structurally
sound, the floor of the hayloft wobbled like waves in the ocean. Steve
braced the floor with posts and leveled it out making sure it would hold
the extra weight of a lot of people. When they were ready they invited
the community of Winigan to a dance and more than 100 people attended.
Since that first dance in 1996 the gathering at the Young farm has been
a twice annual event ever since.
Steve and Debbie believe that
in many small towns the sense of community has all but evaporated as people
go about busy lives. They believe their barn dance has helped spark that
sense of kinship once again. And dances encourage local musicians to keep
communities in Missouri have musicians who are keeping states
musical traditions alive. Steve believes by organizing dances, fiddle
contests and jam sessions in rural communities local fiddle players
and other traditional musicians are encourged to keep playing.
To help do just that Steve
and a several fellow Missouri fiddle players have organized a group called
the Missouri Traditional Fiddle and Dance Network which is working with
communities to organize traditional square dances, fiddle contests and
musician jam sessions.
We provide a core of
musicians and we encourage anybody, all styles of local fiddlers to play,
says Steve. They dont have to be old time or bluegrass. If
someone wants to play old-time country or rock and roll, we welcome them.
The idea, says Steve, is to
build community ties and create more interest in Missouris musical
heritage. Steve and Debbie have done just that despite a warm night, which
hasnt stopped anyone, young or old, from dancing away the evening.
For information about the
Winigan barn dance or the Missouri Traditional Fiddle and Dance Network
contact Steve Young at (573) 874-1052.