A publication to engage the dance community. Learn. Discuss. Contribute. Enjoy.

Generation of Dance Lovers

By Christine Trask

A black-and-white photo of people dancing
My parents' gift to family members for the holiday season was to get us all together in one place to eat, give thanks, and seek guidance for the new year. The family gathering was on my mother’s birthday, December 26th, and was held at a rustic Wisconsin restaurant surrounded by a serene forest of snow-covered pines trees. Stepping inside, I sighed, gazing at the tongue-and-groove pine adorning the walls from floor to cathedral ceiling, the blazing, orange-yellow flames emanating from a giant fieldstone fireplace. The Christmas tree stood proud at fifteen feet, decorated with huge, shiny red and gold ornaments and topped off with a white owl. I caught my brother's eye and winked, and embraced each of my thirty-two family members before sitting beside my parents for dinner. I started talking about my favorite subject--dance--and discovered that my parents started a generation of dance lovers.

At fifteen years old, a slender woman with midnight-black, curly hair and emerald-green eyes--my mother--was accompanied by two of her brothers to the Nightingale Ballroom in the small town of Kaukauna, Wisconsin. The ballroom featured big bands like Tommy Dorsey, Harry James, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo, and many others.

My mother said, smiling, "When your father was fourteen, he drove the family’s 1938 International pickup truck from his dad’s implement business. When he was sixteen, he received his driver's license, about which the police commented, 'It’s about time.' He picked me up in the truck, which had no heater. We sat close. He wore a black leather jacket and a wave-set hair cream which he greased back to perfection, Fonzie-style, and gazed at me with his mysterious, dark brown eyes. Television was not invented yet, so dancing was the best means of entertainment. We had a lot of fun dancing the jitterbug, polka, waltz, and two-step square dance. In those days, your father could kick his leg above my head. Our favorite dance song was "Tennessee Waltz."

The same year my parents were married, 1952, my father was drafted and fought two years in the Korean War, which meant that he could not come home during the holidays. When the war ended, my father returned home, and my parents spent holidays together again. After a few children, my parents joined a square-dancing club. My mother, being a talented seamstress, created a mid-length swing skirt with layered petticoats and a matching shirt for my father. Square dancing provided a fun social outing for my parents. When the twins were born, my parents took some time off from dancing and soon realized that they needed dance in their lives, so within a year’s time, they found themselves getting back into dancing. More children were born, but they still kept dance in their lives and ours. On Sunday evenings, our family would watch The Lawrence Welk Show, and at ages three and up, we all danced to the program. My sisters and I also danced to Dick Clark's American Bandstand as well.

When my father and mother retired, they danced on Sunday afternoons at the Cecil ballroom to a twelve-piece orchestra that played songs like “In the Mood,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree with Anyone Else but Me,” "Glow Worm,” and many more. They liked the Eddie Larsen Orchestra so much that they hired them for their fiftieth wedding anniversary. We all danced until we dropped.

I decided to ask the rest of my family about their dance experiences and, surprisingly, learned a lot.

My sister Becky was part of the modern dance club in high school, and her daughter, Kate, danced with the Appleton Ballet as the Mouse in The Nutcracker. I encouraged Becky's son, Thomas, to take private dance lessons last year, with me as his partner, in order to get him ready for a wedding he was attending with a girlfriend who was a ballroom dancer.

My sister Linda and her husband, Rich, took up ballroom dancing when they started dating, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they returned to it after retirement. Linda was on the pom and dance team throughout her high-school years.

My brother David was in a high school talent show, White Christmas. He dressed up, danced, and lip-synched with his friend Darin as one of the Haynes sisters in Sister Act. Our parents had no idea that David was going to partake in the show, and they didn't recognize him. When my mother commented to my sister Diane, “They are fantastic!” Diane laughed and replied, “Mom, one of those dressed-up Haynes sisters is my twin brother.”

Diane was a high school dance cheerleader, and her daughter, Elizabeth--mother of the new great grandbaby, Lucy--did ballet and tap for five years, was a member of the Kaukauna dance team in high school, and competed in pom, jazz, kick, and funk. Bets are on that Lucy might be the champion ballroom dancer of the family.

My brother Larry and his wife, Brenda, took ballroom dancing lessons. Larry was always performing dance steps on his skateboard. Their daughter Natalie has been with the Manitowoc Ballet for four years and has performed in The Nutcracker each year. Their son, Bret, and daughters Britney and Natalie performed a dance routine that they choreographed for our family one holiday. They were awesome!

My daughter, Joanna, took tap dance when she was five. On a family vacation with my children two years ago in Spain, my son, Jason, surprised us by dancing with a professional flamenco dancer. I started taking ballroom dance lessons nearly four years ago and have done various performances and some competitions.

Since my father’s knee replacements and my mother’s knee problems, my parents have stopped their dancing. Now they enjoy attending their grandchildren's dance performances, and sharing their own fond memories of dancing.

Interview your own family and share with Sheer Dance what you discover. Create your own generation of dance lovers. Invite your family to join you in a dance class, performance, social dance event, or competition, and create many new memories to cherish.