In 1989 Gerry and I attended a Square Dance weekend (The Big D) with my mother Helen Hardy. My parents had attended many of the 20 Big D weekends regularly until 1984. The Round dance cuers were Doc & Peg Tirrel and the callers Bob Mitchell and John Kaltenthaler. It was the year my mother retired from an activity she and my father really loved.
At that weekend Doc interviewed my mother for an article about her life. This is the article that was written September 1989 at Deposit NY.
How long have you been dancing? One year, five years, ten years, twenty years. I would like to introduce you to Helen Hardy of Franklin Lakes, NJ. She is a young 88 years old and has been square dancing since she was a teenager--at least 70 years.
Helen came from a dancing family, mainly ballroom style of the period. But
she started square dancing with her five brothers and sisters to records while in her teens, learning the dances from the written directions coming with the record. It was Eastern style dancing.
In the late 1920's the family danced in the summer to a live caller in a park in Springfield, NJ every Saturday afternoon. This was like a barn dance. Helen and her future husband, Lou, had their first date at a square dance.
Later in the 1930's Helen and Lou danced at the "Hill Top Barn" in Bloomfield. Here the dance hall and bar were separate entities under one roof.(Some early delegate meetings of the Northern New Jersey Square Dancers Association [NNJSDA] were held in this hall.) The dance style was still Eastern.
Lou & Helen moved to Franklin Lakes and, in the 1940s, started dancing in the Wyckoff Grange to Rod LaFarge. Here the dancing consisted of squares and folk dances, the latter the precursor of the round dance program. The dance hall was on the second floor, refreshments on the first floor. It was always crowded with carloads of people from New York City. Street clothes were the costumes of the day. Special party activities were devised for holiday periods, and regulars would decorate their attire to suit the day.
With the introduction of Western style dancing, places like the "Barn" and
the "Grange" lost many of their regulars to the developing clubs. Such a club was the Wayne SDC (later Ramapo Squares) organized about 1950. Helen & Lou were charter members. The club danced every Saturday, with the last Saturday being family nite, when the dancers brought & danced with their children. The caller was Miggy Haslat, a petite woman, who would often fill in a square with Chuck (the Hardy's son) when needed.
The Hardys held every office in the club. Helen & Lou were the representatives of the Wayne SDC at the organizational meeting of the Northern New Jersey SDA in 1958, and for many years were its delegates. About 1962 the Wayne SDC moved to Oakland and became Ramapo Squares. The Hardys also held offices in Cloverleafs SDC and belonged to Hix & Chix and Hi Taws. They received the Lucarini award for service in 1970.
In 1963, the Hardys were in the first round dance class Ramapo Squares conducted. The Tirrells were the teachers. Also in the class was Frank & Gerry Marra from Wayne. Shortly thereafter Chuck, the Hardy's son, met Gerry, the Marra’s daughter at a square dance picnic. Square Dancing was a part of the wedding. while Chuck & Gerry left square dancing to raise a family, they are now again active with the Left Footers in Saugerties NY near where they live. Even though Lou died in 1984, Helen has continued to remain active in square dancing.
Commenting on what has kept her interest in square dancing, Helen says its the laughter, joy and friendliness expressed by the people involved. She still corresponds with many square dancing friends who have moved to other parts of the country. She hopes the development of programs does not segregate the dancers, and hopes dancers should never forget their roots and beginnings. She & Lou enjoyed going to one niters just as much as club dances. She feels the young people may be being excluded by the long teaching requirements, and also that the cost of costuming today is much greater than It was when street clothes were acceptable or when most dancers made their own dresses.
She also sees a loss of special club activities--Mystery bus rides, club picnics, covered dish dinners. These helped develop the social part of the square dance picture. The sociability is what is needed to knit the dancers together.
Helen, with 70+ years of dancing behind her, now must sit an the sidelines for physical reasons. She can still do an Phase II or III round with a gentle partner. And she still likes to watch the dancers and talk with them. Square dancing is still her main social life.
Written up by Doc & Peg Tirrell
My mom moved into the Albany Avenue Manor in May 2001.She celebrated her 100 birthday December 23, 2001 there.
She moved to Golden Hill in June 2002.In December 23, 2003 she celebrated her 102 birthday with her roommate Paula Rice who was 104.