June 13, 2001
Barn dancers kick up heels, dust

By Carol South

Herald contributing writer

Stomping back to their roots, area country dancers gathered Saturday night at an old barn to kick up their heels in style.

More than 75 members of the Bayside Travellers Country Dance society descended on a barn owned by the Marcantoni family of Garfield Township for the society's second annual barn dance and their last dance of this season. Swirling through the stripes of sun and launching dust motes with each stamp, the dancers reveled in the authentic surroundings.

"The barn is the roots of where this kind of dancing started," said Julie Collins of Maple City, president of the Bayside Travellers and a dancer for 15 years. "This kind of dancing started out as French contra dancing, court dancing, and then came to the colonies and became Americanized."

So how do you go about finding a barn for an old-fashioned barn dance? Members used a modern solution of placing an ad in the Traverse City Record-Eagle - wanted: barn for dance.

The family of Marco Marcantoni, who moved here from California nine years ago, took the bait. Their farmhouse and barn are their pride and joy and they were pleased to share it with others. As their lawn filled with playing children and the barn resonated with live music and dance steps, they knew it was the right decision.

"My wife has ties to the area, she graduated from school here," said Marcantoni, between greeting and directing dancers to parking spaces on his property. "We used the barn for a friend of mine's wedding the year before and when I saw the ad in the paper I called."

Area dance caller Pat Hoekje, who believed the atmosphere of an old barn would be perfect for a dance, spearheaded the concept. With two barn dances under the society's belt, it has proved to be a winning combination.

"For years, I'd been looking at all the barns and I knew I would love to have a barn dance," said Pat Hoekje, who helped call Saturday night's dance. "After the ad, when Marco called me he said they would try it one time, but his family had so much fun that I called him again this year and he agreed again."

Veteran dancer and dance teacher Mykl Werth of Lake Ann said country dancing is the root for other forms of dancing. Originating in an era of strict social mores, the informal square and contra dances provided a chance for early settlers to let down their hair a little, even mingle and talk to members of the opposite sex. They could socialize with their neighbors as a rest from the backbreaking work of being a homesteader.

"This is just a group of friendly people getting together to dance and switch partners," he said. "It is really modeled after what the settlers did as they came across the country."

An evening of traveling back to their roots is appropriated for the Bayside Travellers Country Dance Society. The society's name originated because the dances used to be held in different town halls every month. A steady home at the Opera House may come to an end this year so once again the dancers may return to being bayside travelers.

While the barn dance provided a slice of dancing history for the society, the night also provided a glimpse of its future.

"There are a lot of young people here," said Dave Goodwin of Traverse City, a member of the society's board of directors. "That has been a trend over the past few years, mainly high school and early teens."

"It is a good thing because it keeps the tradition alive."

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