The History of Square Dancing in the Billings Area
Pres, YSDC 1958-1959
This article was being written by John Bernier but never completed because of his sudden passing away on July 28, 1960 at the age of 48.
1952 to 1960
Square dancing and folk dancing came to Billings with the pioneers but as the town grew and social activities became more complex, square dancing declined until along in the 1920's and 1930's it almost vanished from the scene. During the late 1940's someone discovered the clean fun and sociability of square dancing and under the leadership of the late Harvey Close, people flocked to learn what is called Modern Western Square Dancing.
The pioneers would recognize little of the present calls and patter for the pace has quickened and the variety of dance patterns has multiplied many times.
Square dancing is composed of a series of basic steps or maneuvers which must be learned. These may then be combined in various sequences to form the pattern for the almost infinite number of different square dances.
By 1952 dancers and clubs had become so numerous in Billings that coordination and organization were needed and the Yellowstone Square Dance Council for formed. The Council is a non-profit organization composed of delegates from the seventeen area square dance clubs, the callers and their wives. It clears dates for public square dances, encourages clubs to sponsor benefit dances for worthy charities such as the March of Dimes and the Billings Receiving Home. The council establishes policy in the Billings area, promotes publicity, encourages all worth while square dance activities, and sponsors the Magic City Hoedown. This annual celebration features a nationally known caller who calls dances for the two day session and also conducts the instructional workshop for square and round, or couple dances. The 1960 Magic City Hoedown attracted more than a thousand square dancers from Montana, The Dakotas, Wyoming, Idaho, Washington and Canada. Council President Rod StClair reports a total of almost 2000 square dancers in the Billings area.
A monthly magazine, "The Square Dancers Grapevine", edited by Jack Lang is published by the Yellowstone Square Dance Council. This little magazine covering all area square dance activities, but no advertising, has started in 1959 and now boasts a circulation of 450 copies monthly.
In 1958 the Yellowstone Square Dance Caller's Association was formed to coordinate the activities of callers, promote uniform dance styling, standardize basic maneuvers and improve dancing in the area. Al Slater was recently elected chairman of the association which includes 14 callers.
The growth of square dancing in Billings, a lack of halls with good floors, proper ventilation, adequate kitchen facilities and a western atmosphere prompted Ray and Faith Koch in 1959 to build "Rays Barn" at 2045 Foster Lane.
Billings is fortunate to claim the only building exclusively designed for square dancing in the state of Montana. Dancing is done in the "hayloft" on a superb hardwood floor while the ground floor is reserved for a lounge area, restrooms, dining area and complete kitchen facilities. The "Barn" has become square dance headquarters in Billings and fairly hums with activity during the square dance season. There are club classes, public dances, beginner's classes, council meetings, caller's association meetings and classes for callers. Visitors from several states have acclaimed the "Barn" as the finest square dance facility they have ever seen.
1960 to 1990
by Bob Hindley, Pres YSCD 2008-2009
Since 1960, a lot of changes have been seen with square dancing in the Billings area and also across the country. In covering the history from 1960 to 1990 I decided to give the reader a photo essay of the various events and people that made up the Square Dance Community in the Billings area. All of the photos and articles were taken from the council scrapbooks. This history is presented in the Council Archives which can be accessed by pressing the link at the top of the page.