I'm not sure what other people in the world do for fun, but out here in Wisconsin we square danced. In the year 1979 Wisconsin had about 89 square dance clubs all over the state. They each had a name, like the Pistols ’n Petticoats in La Crosse to the Romeos ’n Calicos in Appleton. I’m going to talk most about the Bells and the Beaux in Downing.
It all started in Menomonie. My husband had heard they were giving square dance lessons at the high school and he wanted to go. We had three weeks to sign up. Well, I was dragging my feet. I had children and didn’t like leaving them with others. After the three weeks he said, “Either go with me or I will go alone.” So, of course I went. It was the beginning of the most fun I ever had in my life.
This wasn’t something that was just good for you. It was heart-thumping, foot-stomping music that got you up and going. Menomonie started a club called the Pairs and Squares and we joined in. I seem to remember the name of Ron Husby and Jim Sessions as two of the early callers. We had a lot of fun and made a lot of new friends.
In 1971 Victor Diller formed a club in the Downing Civic Hall. Don and Junalee Hogenson were the first presidents of what became the Belles and Beaux Square Dance Club. In 1974 we celebrated our fourth year of fun and fellowship in the school gym at Glenwood City. Guests from Fall Creek, New Richmond, Menomonie, Chippewa Falls and Amery were treated to special fun when John Yamriska of Boyceville and Nellie Middendorp of Prairie Farm gave a demonstration on the different styles of swinging. Ray Middendorp and Larry Johnson of Knapp gave a skit on how to swing the No. 3 girl. It was all fun and brought a lot of laughter.
Harold Aanerud of Strum called some of the tips. Vic and Margaret Diller were the hosts for the dance. For a mix-up, one half of a flower was given to the men and they had to find the lady with the other half to dance a tip with.
An outstanding caller for the next dance was Bud Cote of Chippewa Falls. Bud Cote called for years and was a favorite. He even came back for the Fords’ 50th anniversary dance along with Ike Joles, Luck, and George Pulju of St. Paul.
In 1975-76 the Belles and Beaux had 41 adult members. We also had 11 young members under the age of 10 initiated into the club on Feb. 16. They had completed the first 50 basics of square dancing. These young folks made a name for themselves. They danced at the Hudson House in Hudson, the Dunn County Health Center and at the Prairie Rest Home.
In 1976 the Belles and Beaux were invited to be in the parade at New Richmond. Gilbert and Ardys Mounce were voted King and Queen. We even had our own decorated vehicle. It had a red skirt and a white board fence about 3 feet high. This trailer was even loaned out to other square dancers that needed it.
The big highlight of the fall was a trip to Duluth to tape a dance on the Chmielew’ke Fun Show. We received some fan mail from that one.
Our caller Victor Diller called at the Minnesota Winter Carnival in St. Paul. We all showed up in our white and red. We didn’t get home until time to milk the cows in the morning.
Along with summer came barn dancing. This included picnics and late summer evenings. We danced in the Gene and Rose Larson haymow, where we also celebrated a couple of anniversaries with cake, and later at the Ringsted barn, that had been scrubbed clean, and had a big party there. We had a lot of fun at North Branch and the Shell Lake Red Barn was a special treat.
Many a summer we would have a week at Whispering Pines at Spirit Lake. In the cool of the evening we had campfires and popcorn by the light of the full moon. The weather was hot and the jokes were rare. Ike Joles and Bud Wakefield were a special pair. They would do their own dance to their own calls. Sometimes we would be watching them and get all mixed up and would even wind up in the wrong square. We had our last dance there in 1982. This included folks from all over Minnesota and Wisconsin, and even Arizona.
For many years we would drive over to Elmwood City Hall and dance to a wonderful caller named Grant King. Another regular trip was to Durand where Bud Cote called.
In 1976, Menomonie held the 18th state convention with close to 3,000 dancers attending. They had 70-plus callers using several rooms at the college. People stayed in the college dorms. Bud Wheeler of Elk Mound was the chairman for that big fling.
Square dancing is the same all over the world. We danced in beautiful Switzerland, and in Hawaii, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, Milwaukee and Minnesota. We danced in the great halls, church basements, under street lights and in high school gyms. We danced in the water at Spirit Lake, in the elevator in Austria and at the All Star Festival in Las Vegas. We even danced one year at the great Minnesota State Fair.
One thing that made it so fun was the western flavor. Men in western shirts and bolo ties and the ladies in crinolines and full-skirted dresses made for a beautiful dance. You not only looked beautiful, you felt beautiful, and your partner looked just as handsome.
If square dancing comes your way, jump on track. I hear square dancing is coming back.
This story was put together by Alice Ford of Woodville with the help of Gilbert and Ardys Mounce of Downing.