Truth Photo By J. Tyler Klassen
Jerry Hickman is caller
November 30, 2002
edition of the Elkhart Truth newspaper.

Old- time fun
Community dancing in Goshen is a good time -- no experience necessary

Sat, Nov 30, 2002
By Thomas V. Bona

Truth Staff

GOSHEN -- Some of the dances and tunes found in a Goshen gym once a month are centuries old. But you don't need years of experience to join in, you just need comfortable shoes.

Goshen Old-Time Dancing has been sponsoring community dances on the first Saturday of every month at the Goshen College Union Building for a year. They feature contra dances, as well as squares, circles and waltzes. And every session starts with easy lessons.

"It's something you can come to as a beginner and you can dance that evening. You don't have to take classes. You don't have to show up with a partner," said Barry Dupen, a member of the group's board of directors. "You can really only learn by doing it."

Contra dances, the main fare, put dancers in lines across the hall and have them dance in groups of four. Each dancer and his or her partner move down the line as the dance progresses, joining a new group every few minutes.

"The nature of the dance form is very community-based," said Phil Good-Elliott, president of the board of directors. "You dance with everyone in the line. You're dependent on each other to make the dance work, so you have to support each other."

Experienced dancers are glad to help newcomers, he said. The live musical groups -- which feature instruments such as guitar, fiddle and banjo -- can speed up or slow down based on the skills of the dancers.

And the caller -- the person directing the dance moves -- acts as a teacher, gradually increasing the complexities of the dances as the participants catch on. Before each dance, the caller walks people through the allemandes, swings, circles and do-si-dos.

"Basically, if you have any sense of right and left and you can walk and have any sense of beat, you can do this," Good-Elliott said.

The dances started in Goshen last November after Good-Elliott moved here and started meeting with local dance enthusiasts. The first dance had 50 participants. The third dance, during a December snowstorm, had 100.

Good-Elliott said the dances have drawn not just a range of experience, but of age as well. He said kids at least 7 or 8 years old can figure the dances out and "there's no upper age limit."

"It's low-tech, high fun, good exercise and socializing," he said.

The community aspect has continued to expand. Volunteers take money at the door, run the sound system, post fliers and bring snacks. Participants also have outside events, such as a regular, old-time music jam at the Mill Race Center Farmers Market.

Dupen, a Columbia City resident who's called contra dances for years, said the fact that this group is community-based will help it stay vibrant over time.

"It brings people together. If you have a community model rather than a consumer mode, people don't feel like they just come, they pay their money, they dance and they leave."

Goshen Old-Time Dancing recently gained status as a non-profit organization, so people can make tax-deductible contributions. That money, Good-Elliott said, will help bring in experienced callers and musicians to teach local folks how to lead dances.

The goal is to have workshops about calling, playing and dancing in the future. Good-Elliott said he's already gotten plenty of interest for those possibilities.

"There's a lot of talent in this region," he said.

You don't have to commit to workshops or complex dance moves if you want to come on a Saturday night, Good-Elliott said. Some people come just to hear the music.

But don't be surprised if a friendly face comes over and asks you to join in a dance.

Contact Thomas V. Bona at

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