Dancin’ the Summer Away

12 Sep

By Jared

Originally published in the Cook News Herald; September 10, 2014

DSC_0501Perhaps you heard the playful hum of the accordion tumbling across Head-O-Lakes Bay on a still summer evening, but couldn’t quite identify the noise. Maybe you caught someone out of the corner of your eye shuffling their feet in a polka step through the frozen foods aisle at Zup’s. Or maybe you saw the happy, candy-apple red sign at the entrance to White Eagle Resort announcing the “Barn Dance” on Thursday nights throughout the summer, but the mention of a “barn dance” summoned silly pictures of large, wooden farm buildings convening in a giant field for a waltz.

As fascinating as that would be, it’s certainly not what the red sign outside White Eagle Resort was advertising on summer evenings. Rather, a barn dance typically refers to a folk-style dance accompanied by live music and a “caller” who guides the participants through a variety of group and couples dances. On Lake Vermilion this summer, the rec hall at White Eagle was full of people trying their feet at traditional polkas, jigs, and marches as head musicians and callers Jim Ganahl and Carol Booth tutored the community in folk dancing.

The idea for these summer dances originated while the lake was still locked in 3 feet of ice and heavy snow caked the spruce trees at the resort. The Lantry family, owners of the White Eagle Resort, were inspired to begin folk dancing after being invited to a dance in the Twin Cities last year. Then, a chance encounter with Jim and Carol at the Cook Credit Union suddenly provided the perfect occasion to continue dancing here in the Northwoods. So, while the snow and ice piled higher and higher around the Lantry home last winter, they hosted several dances for friends and family in their beautiful log living room while Jim and Carol initiated the group into the steps and rhythms of the various dance forms. Even though those early dances were fraught with bumping, tripping, and flailing, the hope was that when summer arrived there would be a number of skilled dancers who could guide the guests of the resort while they hosted weekly dances for vacationers and community members.

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Those winter dances seem to have paid off. On any given Thursday night this summer, if you happened to take a right off County Rd. 24 at the candy apple “Barn Dance” sign, you would have stumbled upon a room filled with the laughs of people sliding and shuffling their way across the dance floor. Jim could be seen squeezing the accordion while calling out the commands, and Carol oscillated between her keyboard and the dance floor where she demonstrated steps or filled in for exhausted newcomers. Early in the evening, children as young as 3 would flutter in and out of the circle as they imagined themselves various species of birds in the famous “Bluebird” dance, or they’d tap their toes and clap with their partner in the clever “Patty-Cake Polka.”

As the sun sank into the western horizon of Vermilion, the dances intensified. Children cuddled on the couches that bordered the room while the adults tried to navigate the more complicated contra dances, which involve frequent transitions between partners with various combinations of steps and maneuvers. Depending on the number of musicians, a fiddle might harmonize while couples drifted across the floor in one of the many waltzes, and an Irish pennywhistle might animate the room while dancers high-stepped the Irish jig.

DSC_0485The Lantry siblings Tom, Anne, and Ranae, have worked hard to nurture a deeper sense of community and culture at their family-run lodge. They frequently provided homemade meals to their guests on Thursday evenings before the dances, and folks of any age and skill level were invited to participate. All of this, of course, was enabled by Jim and Carol’s experience with teaching these dances in the northland for almost two decades. After moving to the area in 1997, Jim and Carol soon formed the Home on the Range Community Dance Association; and by January of 1998 they were hosting folk dances in places stretching from Grand Rapids to Ely. Their folk band, FriendsOnTheRange, has seen musicians come and go, but the love of music and dance has never wavered.

They offer various styles including Scandinavian waltzes, New England marches, Appalachian fiddle tunes, and Irish jigs. The band this summer was often comprised of a pair of fiddlers, Lois Weeks and Susan Hoppe, and Joey Lee occasionally came up from southern Minnesota to play the flute and Irish pennywhistle. With the musicians happily flourishing their instruments and the dancers playfully stepping across the floor, the White Eagle Resort was a joyful place to be this summer.

The summer guests have all gone home and the leaves slowly collect in our lawns, but that doesn’t mean the dancing has to stop. The Lantry family, along with Jim and Carol, will continue to host dances for our community throughout the fall and winter. You can come try your feet at traditional folk dancing the first Saturday of the month through the end of the year (Oct. 4th, Nov. 1st, Dec. 6th). All dances begin at 7pm, and all are welcome at the White Eagle! Find out more at Whiteeagleresort.com.

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One Response to “Dancin’ the Summer Away”

  1. terrys529 September 12, 2014 at 10:44 am #

    What a great article, Jared! Your description of the dances makes me feel like I was there… and I wish I had been at some point tis summer! I’m not giving up hope for making it up to dance with you guys this fall.Looking forward to kicking up our heels with all of you!

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