The old dairy cow lot at my husband’s family’s farm was the perfect spot for a square dance. And square dancing was the perfect way to cap off our annual summertime family reunion. As the planner for this year’s event, I wasn’t 100 percent sure how our mix of kids and adults would react. Some had never square danced. Others had not done it since 4-H camp or fourth grade gym class many years ago. But gung-ho they were. And everyone seemed to have fun at our family reunion hoedown what wasn’t difficult to put together.
A few months ago I searched online for Quad City square dance callers and found Tommy Russell from Eldridge, IA. Tommy, who’s been calling at square dances for 53 years, brought everything needed, including a sound system and know-how to get the crowd dancing in no time. He told us he teaches and hosts dances six nights a week. It’s not hard to find a reputable caller like Tommy through the International Association of Square Dance Callers website CallerLab.
Our group was split into three squares with four couples each (couples were all ages and, in many cases, two females because we have more young girl cousins in our family than boys). We learned the basic moves like circle left, circle right, allemande left, right hand star, promenade and, of course, do-si-do. Most everyone participated in the partner-swinging, except my 91 year old mother-in-law, who we couldn’t quite convince we wouldn’t let take a tumble, and a brother-in-law who broke his leg three weeks ago. They seemed to enjoy watching the rest of us learn to bust a do-si-do. Our daughter loved spinning with her cousins in her wheelchair which was great to see.
We danced for two hours on the concrete cow lot, spilling into the adjacent free stall barn which is like a bedroom for cattle. These spaces and a nearby pasture are where for about 50 years the family’s Holsteins were turned out every morning and every afternoon after milking. My in-laws started the purebred dairy herd in the 1940s and my husband, Dan, owned it for about ten years.
Milking stopped in the late 1990s but the farm remains in the family. A few years ago our family reunion even took us to the Iowa State Fair where my mother- and father-in-law collected a Century Farms’ plaque from the Iowa Department of Agriculture. It was a proud moment for our family to be recognized for having the farm for 100 years. Our summer weekends there are a special family tradition for young and old and square dancing on the cow lot will be memorable I think.
A few extras added to the festive spirit at our family’s hoedown:
- Wardrobe. Let’s face it, having the right outfit moves things up a notch. My sister-in-law from Wisconsin sparked the right mood when she emerged for the evening in a pretty pink frilly skirt, boots, and a cowboy hat. Our young nieces happily sorted through a basket of plaid snap shirts, belts, and skirts I’d found earlier in the week at Goodwill, to find an outfit. I ordered fake mustaches from Amazon (think Fester from Gun Smoke) which were a hit for the men and boys.
- Party lights. I’m with Erin Napier. Party lights make me happy. They also cast the prettiest light for dancing after dark without mishap. We strung up four 24-foot strands, plus two shorter ones. After things proved a little wonky with the electrical system, my brother-in-law John and nephew Daniel came through with some last-minute outlet modifications to make the lights work in the old barn. I’m so glad they did – it was beautiful.
- Straw bales. We borrowed 15 of them from our friends Keith and Karol who farm nearby. The bales make for great seating and give a barn a nice homespun trim. Note: Straw is what’s used for bedding livestock and hay is used for feed. Either work but most people use straw bales for parties. Just FYI for the city slickers.
- Ice cream sundae bar. We closed out the evening with ice cream sundaes served from a hay wagon. My sister-in-law Kris scooped vanilla ice cream into red Solo cups and my husband’s cousin Leann, who took many of the pictures for this post, brought fresh berries and chocolate and caramel toppings. It was a refreshing and yummy way to end the evening.
Enjoy the photos!
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