RURAL FREE DELIVERY - Ballroom Dancing, The Way It Was


By Mack Samples

Each year in July my wife and I ride out to Indianapolis, Indiana for three days of ballroom dancing. Actually, it's a pretty big deal. The dances are conducted in the famous Rooftop Ballroom in downtown Indianapolis. I say famous because during the days just before World War II and during the war itself, this ballroom was the hot spot for all of the big bands. Every big band that you have ever heard of played the Rooftop many times. I'm talking about the likes of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Russ Morgan, Benny Goodman, and let's not forget Bob Wills.

The annual event that we attend is sponsored by the Southern Rhapsody Dance Society. The Society brings in three different big bands. The big bands of 2009 are not quite as big as they were in the 30's and 40's. Most of the current ones feature four saxophones up front (the sax men double on clarinet), usually a couple of trumpets and trombones, a drummer, a piano player, and a stand-up bass. They play from the same charts that the above mentioned bands used. Many of them will feature a female vocalist. There is nothing quite like the full sound of the big bands.

But this column is not really about the bands or the music. It's about the people who participate. Attendees come from all over America. Just about all of them are 70 years old or older. The men dress in tuxedos and the women wear formal gowns. Everyone is civilized and well-mannered. And, my, how they can dance. It is such an absolute joy to watch those couples do the waltz and foxtrot. Many of them have been dancing together for fifty years or more. They nearly float around the floor. There are a few World War II survivors who still attend and they are the slickest of all.

But what strikes me the most about these people is that even at their advanced age; they are active and know how to have a good time. They have a wonderful attitude about life. I have never heard one of them whine about their station in life even though they might have had some tough years. Our tablemates this year were in their mid-70s and still operate a 700 acre horse farm in Mississippi. At first you conclude that they were from the pampered gentry of the old south. Then you learn that the male part of that couple flew 36 combat missions over Vietnam in a B-52. But he did not come home and cry about it. He got on with his life and kept on dancing.

We have gotten to know several of the dancers over the years and we always conclude that we have had it easier than most of them. They all have encountered some things in life that they could complain about. But they don't. They just put their chins forward and go about the business of enjoying life.

My wife and I are not great ballroom dancers. We might rate in the top half of those who take the dance floor. But we go, not to show off, but to enjoy the music and, most of all, to get that feeling of stepping back in time, back to a time when America really was the best place on earth to live, back to a time when Americans were truly the best people on the earth, back to a time when folks really did know how to dance.

Hur Herald from Sunny Cal
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