South Dakota

Dancin' Man

Bachelor farmer danced his way through life.

“The only thing I like more than dancing is more dancing!” This was the refrain that Clyde Raines repeated to hundreds of female dancing partners in eastern South Dakota during the 40s, 50s, and early 60s.

Clyde was unmarried and farmed near the town of Raymond in eastern South Dakota. He was fortunate to have been a young man when local dance bands and local dances were a predominate feature of local entertainment throughout the Midwest. With the exception of a Sunday, it was possible to find a dance to go to almost any night during the summer months.

Polka dances and square dances were sometimes held, but the preferred styles were the foxtrot and the jitterbug, and an occasional waltz. The music was performed by local bands which, at a minimum, were composed of a piano, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, and drums.

The music was an imitation of the “Big Band” sound, and elements of Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo and others could be heard. There were alot of these bands and alot of dances.

The dances were held everywhere. Every small town contrived some facility to serve as a dance floor: a church basement, the second story of a hardware store or a garage, back rooms of bars, empty wooden buildings— any sizable room with a hard floor would do. Some dances were organized for fund-raising purposes, others were straight forward private commercial ventures such as the resort-like dance halls built at lakesides and on river banks. (Ah, the famed “Sunrise” dances held at Tacoma Park on the Jim River—the music started at midnight and continued until dawn.)

Clyde attended all these venues. He was a rather large man and typically wore long-sleeved white shirts. He kept extra shirts in his car to change into during those long, hot, steamy Dakota nights. He danced nearly every dance; it would be difficult to find a woman who attended dances in eastern South Dakota the 40s, 50s, and 60s who had not danced with Clyde, at least once. And they would admit that they were pleased to be asked.

He was an exceptionally smooth and deliberate dance partner; Clyde was always a gentleman and his partners need not worry that they would be subjected to unwelcome flirtations or off-color jokes that were often the tactic of many other young men raoming around these dance floors. Dancing with Clyde was about dancing.

As the 60s emerged the dancing culture began to change. Dances were still held, but less and less were they events where the entire community attended, where one would find three generations of one family at the same event. With the advent of various forms of rock and roll, teenage dances or youth dances became more popular. The six or eight piece local bands began to fold and the Big Band sound became less and less fashionable throughout the country.

Clyde’s story is a great example of using one’s talents to find joy in life. By all accounts, Clyde Raines had a talent for dancing and he was lucky to live at a time when he could find all that he needed to do what he truly loved. While spending the long working days on his farm, one suspects that Clyde spent hours planning his next dance—remembering which band he preferred, selecting which location offered the best choice of partners, and imagining the his next glorious evening on a dance floor.Author: EVM STAFF on 03/12 2008
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