The Square Dancing Craze in Big D — Late 1940s
by Paula Bosse
by Paula Bosse
The photo above appeared in a show-biz trade publication showing part of the festivities which swirled around the world premiere of the movie “Calamity Jane and Sam Bass” starring Yvonne DeCarlo and Howard Duff at the Majestic Theatre on June 8, 1949. Several of the film’s stars made personal appearances and were made honorary deputies by Sheriff Bill Decker, sworn in by Judge Lew Sterrett (yes, Lily Munster was an honorary Dallas deputy sheriff!). There was a parade, a live show performed by the actors on the Majestic’s stage before the movie, a block party, and square dancing in Elm Street, with music provided by the Big D Jamboree band.
In 1949, as unlikely as it seems, square dancing was a HUGE fad which swept the country (or at least the Southwest). The peak years of the retro craze were probably 1948 to 1950, and its impact was pretty big locally, not only on the dance floor, but also in the fashion pages. When you see every major Dallas department store — even Neiman’s — selling calico and gingham square dance fashions … well, it’s big.
Not only were there lessons available everywhere, but there were clubs and weekly events all over town — every Wednesday in the summer of 1949, there was a big outdoor square dance held at the Fair Park Midway, with music courtesy of local celeb Jim Boyd.
I’m not sure when it stopped (…I’m assuming it has…), but for decades, a lot of us participated in square dancing as part of gym class in elementary school. This interesting throw-back take on physical fitness seems to have begun around 1950 or ’51. Not everyone was thrilled about this odd-but-charming grade-school rite of passage — some ultra-conservative communities complained, but the wholesome and old-timey dancing won out and became a standard part of Texas schools’ physical education curriculum. Forget young people’s cotillions — most Texas children had their first experience dancing with a partner to the strain of a cowboy fiddle and a voice telling us to “allemande left” and “do-si-do.” And I’m sure we’re all better for it.
Here are a bunch of ads and things (click pictures to see larger images):
Above, a photo of the Promenaders, a group of SMU students whose purpose is described in the 1951 yearbook as being “to promote the appreciation of square and folk dancing on this campus.” (Think you recognize any of those faces? See who’s in the photo here.)
Sources & Notes
Premiere of “Calamity Jane and Sam Bass” was held at the Majestic Theatre on June 8, 1949, and it seems to have been a pretty big deal. There was newsreel footage filmed that night — wonder if it’s floating around anywhere?
Photo of the square dance taken at La Reunion Place is by Squire Haskins and is from the Dallas Municipal Archives; is can be seen on UNT’s Portal to Texas History site, here.
Photo of the SMU Promenaders square- and folk-dancing group is from the 1951 Rotunda, the yearbook of Southern Methodist University.
Jim Boyd was a country-western singer who appeared in a few Hollywood films and was a Dallas disc jockey for many years. He also appeared around town often as a performer and personality. Dallas filmmaker Hugh V. Jamieson, Jr. and director Milton M. Agins made a short film called “Saturday Night Square Dance” (made in either 1949 or 1950); it features Boyd and his Men of the West band, plus square dance groups Silver Spur Square Set and Thompson Square Dance Club. I can find nothing on the two groups, but it seems likely that this film was made in Dallas. The quality of the film uploaded to YouTube is not very good, but, who knows — you might see your parents or grandparents in there if they were big square dancers! You can watch it here.
All images larger when clicked.
Copyright © 2017 Paula Bosse. All Rights Reserved.