Historic Laramie dance hall is a unique treasure
Several times a year, Laramie hosts square dances that attract dancers from hundreds of miles around. Part of the draw is the hall, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Wyoming Public Radio's Micah Schweizer has a postcard from Laramie's Quadra Dangle Square Dance Club.
MICAH SCHWEIZER: Full disclosure: My wife and I are taking lessons at the Quadra Dangle. This summer, we were driving around town, getting our bearings after moving to Laramie, and the massive pine log hall made me step hard on the brakes. It was built by the Union Pacific Railway company in 1928 as an athletic club. The UP used its expertise constructing bridges to build a 60-foot open span inside with a smooth hardwood floor underfoot.
JUDY STROBEL: “The floor is great, the acoustics are great, great people, and it’s just a fun time.”
Judy Strobel and her husband Lynn traveled from Miles City, Montana for a recent dance.
LYNN STROBEL: “Rustic. It’s kind of got a rustic appearance.”
SCHWEIZER: “Are there a lot of other clubs like this?”
LYNN STROBEL: “No, this is an unusual hall. Makes it kind of special.”
SCHWEIZER: In many places, square dances happen in community centers and multipurpose rooms with tile or concrete floor. Here, feet glide across the rich wood floor and dancers are surrounded by the log hall’s frontier ambiance.
In 1949, Union Pacific sold the hall, called Gray’s Gables. It became the Quadra Dangle; today, nobody seems to quite know what the name means. The newly formed club offered the low bid, but promised to maintain UP’s prohibition of drinking and “rowdyism.” All the same, the big dances are pretty lively. More than a dozen squares of four couples each follow the caller’s lead.
SCHWEIZER: Dancers come from Wyoming, of course, but also Montana, Colorado, and beyond, drawn by the unique hall. Jerry Teitsma is from Granby, Colorado.
JERRY TEITSMA: “We love the friendship and the great hall, the wood floor. It’s a great place to dance.”
SCHWEIZER: But Quadra Dangle caller Dave Guille points out a challenge.
DAVE GUILLE: “Our square dancing group is becoming aged. They’re getting up there in years and we’re not finding young people to come in and take those places.”
SCHWEIZER: There are exceptions, like 11-year-old DJ, from Rawlins, who’s been dancing for about a year, and this 16-year-old:
ANDREA: “I’m Andrea, and I’m from here in Laramie. My parents have been square dancing for a really long time; that’s how they met. And I just thought it would be good to try and get younger people in.”
SCHWEIZER: Andrea also does hip hop and point dancing. But what do her peers think of square dancing?
ANDREA: “Well, I’ll tell them that I square dance, and they’re like ‘No way,’ and I’ll be like ‘Yeah way.’ So they think it’s different, but I just try to embrace it.”
SCHWEIZER: Yancey Allison is a caller at another club, the Rawlins Promenaders. He says some people get hung up on the image of square dancing.
YANCEY ALLISON: “You know, ‘The girls have to wear the fancy dress, I have to wear the cowboy shirt—I don’t want to wear that stuff.’ I tell people no. In fact, I know a square dance caller that calls wearing a tie-die shirt, Bermuda shorts, and flip flops.”
SCHWEIZER: And I’ve found square dancing to be about more than just learning calls like the Dosado, Grand Square, and California Twirl. It’s about forming new friendships and being part of the local culture.
The hardwood floor is now 85 years old. It’s had the last sanding and refinishing it can take. But it still has life in it. With renewed community interest and some younger dancers, so does the Quadra Dangle Square Dance Club. For Wyoming Public Radio, I'm Micah Schweizer.
The next open community dance is January 16, 2014, with lessons starting January 23.