Academic journal article Western Folklore

About That Swing: "Sleaze" Dancing and Community Norms at River Falls Lodge

Academic journal article Western Folklore

About That Swing: "Sleaze" Dancing and Community Norms at River Falls Lodge

Article excerpt

It's 6:15 on a Saturday evening in late spring. You've been driving less than an hour along U.S. Highway 276 from Greenville, South Carolina, past Traveler's Rest and Marietta, looking for an F Mart store and signs for Jones Gap State Park and River Falls Road. When you come to the junction, you turn right and follow the road four miles or so. Just after you pass the fire station and Gap Creek Road, you turn right on River Falls Lodge Road and go down the hill. At the bottom there's a low, ramshackle building surrounded by trees and a number of oddball sculptures, with outdoor furniture on a concrete patio in front. This is River Falls Lodge, located in a cove on the Middle Saluda River, a mile or so below the escarpment of the Blue Ridge Mountains that forms the border between the Carolinas. It is here that the Greenville-based Harvest Moon Folk Society sponsors Saturday-evening contra dances. You're in time for the potluck dinner that starts at 6:30. You pull up beside other cars across the drive from the building, retrieve your covered dish from the back seat, along with your dance shoes, go in and drop your $6 admission fee into the cookie tin on a table inside the door. If you wanted to camp overnight, you'd drop an additional $3 in the other can.

Inside, the hall's architecture resembles that of many other dance halls around the country, especially those based on the Grange hall model: a raised stage, an open floor measuring approximately 60 by 35 feet, with room for seating along the perimeter. Around the hall, however, you'll see pronounced differences between the Lodge and almost any other contra dance hall in the country. Most contra dance groups rent space from one or another local organization on a regular basis: church recreation halls, school gyms, community centers, the meeting places of fraternal groups such as the Eagles, and local Grange halls. In such halls, decorations, if any, are temporary and few in number. At River Falls, the decorations are profuse and as permanent as local whim dictates because the hall is owned by a local dancer, Leon Chapman, who rents it only for dances. Because it is used for no other purpose, it may be unique in the world of contra dancing. The decorative style is "funky" and whimsical: old 78 rpm records and LP album covers from the late 1950s nailed to the rafters just above the heads of the dancers; numerous strings of flashing white Christmas lights overhead; musical instruments in various stages of disrepair; and an old dentist's chair situated on the stage, for a time occupied by a poorly inflated, life-size, plastic female figure with a dusty, stringless guitar on her lap. Though the hall has been used for contra dancing only within the last six or eight years, the atmosphere is redolent of 1960s counterculture, stabilized and codified through bricolage. As one dancer states,

We locals think that the atmosphere is much more homey, inviting, and friendly than other venues. I think the subdued lighting, the low ceiling, all the decorations, the outdoor furniture on the entry patio, and the outdoor setting are all conducive to a welcoming experience. In the winter, it's dark when the dance starts, so you drive for several miles on this dark curvy road, then you get there and see the lights and hear the music and the dancers' feet and shouts, and you just know you've arrived.1

Dancers come from a wide area around River Falls. The community of participants includes "regulars" from the nearby South Carolina cities and towns including Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Seneca, and Clemson, and from the Asheville, NC, area. Semi-regulars-those who come often enough to be recognizable by the others-come from Charlotte and Atlanta; one couple even comes from Talladega, Alabama. Nonlocal dancers also show up on occasion, as do varying numbers of Furman University students. The numbers attending any given dance vary from around 120 to 150, up to as many as 210 or so. …

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