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Charles Todd at the recording machine

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Primary Source Set B: Dancing as a Form of Recreation, 1890s to 1930s

Mrs. Charley Huyck

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NOTE: This is an excerpt. The full text version of Mrs. Charley Huyck is in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.

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FORM B Personal History of Informant

NAME OF WORKER Harold J. Moss ADDRESS 6934 Francis, Lincoln

DATE January 24, 1939 SUBJECT American Folklore Stuff

NAME AND ADDRESS OF INFORMANT Mrs. Charley Huyck, Route 1, Lincoln

1. Ancestry English-German

2. Place and date of birth Delmar, Iowa, Oct. 20, 1875

3. Family Fathers name, "[W. G.?] Seidell. No children, mother living, father dead. Two brothers, one sister, husband living, 1 adopted boy at home.

4. Places lived with dates

Delmar, Iowa-1875 to 1880. Rokeby, Nebr.-1880 to 1900 {Begin deleted text}????{End deleted text} Lincoln, Nebr.-1900 to date.

5. Education, with dates

Rokeby, Nebraska, 1881 to 1889.

6. Occupations and accomplishments, with dates Farm work in field,1888 to 1900; musician, 1885 to date; home work, 1885 to date; plays piano, mandolin and guitar. Dance caller. Played with her father for dances, public affairs, parties, etc. for 50 years.

7. Special skills and interests

Music, entertainment, farm field and home work, a great home lover.

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8. Community and religious activities Christian church, Lincoln (east) Sunday school, very active member. Played for years for community affairs, church, schools, etc.

9. Description of informant Energetic, spontaneous, outdoor girl type, almost suggestive of "tom boy" girlhood.

10. Other points gained in interview Fine regular features, white hair, youthful pink complexion, seems in action and appearance to be twenty years younger then her age. Average height, good body proportions, congenial and has good personlity. Seems to fairly radiate health. Has helped raise several children though none of her own and the mother instinct is very marked.

... For 50 years and more, I have played at dances all around .... I started playing when I was so young I used to play with dolls at home. This was about 1888.

We played in many a fine home in Lincoln for their private dances. These were held in the attic or on the third floor of those big houses. Square dances, polka waltzes, schottisches and lancers were the popular dances. We used to haul a parlor organ in the spring wagon as most places had no organ or piano at that time.

... It was the custom to have a big dance in the hayloft whenever a new barn was built. This was a way of dedicating a new barn and they were big affairs. The hayloft would be lighted with ... lanterns ... or hanging lamps and these were pretty gay occasions.

Everybody would climb up the loft ladder, even if they had to crawl over a few horses or cows to get to it. The crowd was always full of life and they sure could dance. There was no snobbery and everyone was friendly, no 'cliquety' people who would keep to themselves.

The square dance was a very democratic gathering and people dancing in sets were accustomed to mingle with the others rather than just pair off.

Men and boys came dressed in overalls, swallow tail coats, peg-top pants, or tight fitting pants, derby hats; caps, and some wore an assortment which was a sight in itself. The women and girls, wore bustles, some hoop skirts, tight fitting basques and hair ornaments.

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... The young folks and the old folks mingled freely together. There wasn't the distinction there is today. They were'nt cliquety at all. I think the older people are responsible for the way they do now. These young people wouldn't keep to themselves so much if they were encouraged by the older ones to all mix in the same crowd.

Often when the sets were on the floor dancing both young and old, even some of the granddaddies who were not in any of the sets would get out to the side and dance a lively 'hoe down' or clog.

I have played at dances where five or six small children would be sleeping on a pile of the dancers' coats and wraps in a corner of the hall.

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Questions:

  • What are some of the dance traditions that Mrs. Huyck described? Can you think of similar dance traditions thatare practiced today?
  • What do you think Mrs. Huyck meant when she said "the square dance was a very democratic gathering"? Is dancing today a democratic event? Why or why not?
  • Describe how old and young alike took part in square dances. Did Mrs. Huyck indicate that dancing changed from the 1890s to the 1939? What did Mrs. Huyck mean when she said that young people "wouldn't keep to themselves" if they were encouraged by adults to "mix in the same crowd"? Do you agree?

Go to the complete interview from which this excerpt was taken.

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