We all have our special places in life, those spots where special memories were made. We carry a little something of those places with us, something that helps define us, if just a little bit.  For some it was Grandpa’s farm, for others the summer place at the lake, a roller rink, an athletic field or maybe somewhere in the military. But for many of us it was a ballroom. Yes, the local dance hall. And I’ll bet most readers were there, many quite often. I know, because I was there too, and the place was always packed.
The local dance hall was the place to be in the 1930’s through 1960’s. The big bands, the polka bands, the country bands, and later, the rock and show bands filled the halls every weekend. The Palms in Renville, the Blue Moon in Marshall, the Fiesta in Montevideo, the Playmor in Pipestone, The Gibbon Ballroom in Gibbon, The Log Cabin in Sioux Valley, the Coliseum in Worthington, The Lake Marion Ballroom at Brownton or the Showboat at Lake Benton, these were the places where many of us found ourselves on Saturday night. The music was great  (mostly), the girls were friendly (usually), the cops were decent (sometimes), and in those days, we young folks didn’t get into much trouble there (or at least our mothers thought so). I grew up in the 1960’s just a short distance from the Roof Garden Ballroom in Arnolds Park Iowa. The “Roof” was the place to be, and we went there a lot. We saw some of the best rock and show bands in the country. The Flippers, Spider and the Crabs, the Roarin’ Reddogs, I can still hear them in my mind today. I didn’t go so much to chase the girls as to watch the bands and dream of playing myself someday. And I did, and have been playing in bands ever since. Without the “Roof” I may never have been inspired to be a musician. But other things also happened there. I managed to conquer nerves and sweaty palms and ask a strange girl to dance. She wasn’t actually strange, but I assumed she would think I was. The real panic set in when she actually said yes. (Oh shoot, now what? I don’t know how.) But I pulled it off, and she stayed on the floor and chatted with me, and danced again. Wow. She was actually nice. My first teenage crush. But I never saw her again. I took my second ever date to the Roof. But dates were rare, usually it was a car load of guys. We all figured we were cool, but probably weren’t really fooling anybody.  But while the music played, and if the girls at least smiled at us, we were doin’ just fine. I had my first run in with the “law” at a ballroom. I had met a gal from Minneapolis when I lived in Marshall. I wanted to impress her that there was some hot action out on the prairie too, so I took her to the Showboat at Lake Benton. We ended the night with her in the back seat of a Lincoln County Deputy’s squad car, while I waited patiently in my car for her release. They thought she was selling marijuana. Neither of us were, but I still feel a little put off that they thought she could, but that I wasn’t capable. I can’t recall her name today, but I remember the band was The Apostles. I guess I was more impressed with the band. I also had my heart crushed in a ballroom. I happened to be at the Blue Moon in Marshall when my girlfriend showed up as the date of another guy. Talk about an awkward moment! She ended up marrying him. I’m okay though. They divorced two years later and I’m still married to the gal I met the next year. So many of us have great memories of those ballroom days. Unfortunately, the memories are all that are left. Most ballrooms are gone today. Those that remain are mostly special event centers, without a regular dance schedule anymore. Whether you were a fan of the Flippers, the Little Joe Dance Band, The Jolly Woodchoppers or the Woody Herman Orchestra, there isn’t much left other than some old LP records, and old photos of good times. But maybe you are just a little bit who you are today, because of the music, the friends, the experiences, and the relationships that were forged in those old ballrooms. Perhaps all is not lost. I just read on the internet that dancing is coming back.