Dancing has always been an important part of the history of Red Deer and Central Alberta.
In the ancient cultures of the First Nations, dancing was rich in symbolism and spiritual meaning. For the early pioneers, community dances were a popular means of meeting other newcomers and providing opportunities for socialization, recreation and fun.
The pioneer dances were often organized in the local schoolhouses, but were also held in private homes, barns and just about any other place that could hold a reasonable crowd.
In Red Deer, organized dances got a big boost in 1903 with the construction of the Purdy Opera House on Gaetz Avenue. Unfortunately, the Opera House burnt down in 1907 and was never rebuilt. The new Lyric Theatre on Ross Street did not lend itself very well for the staging of dances. The facility was geared towards the showing of movies and did not have much in the way of open space.
The situation improved again in 1913 with the construction of the large St. Luke’s Anglican Parish Hall on the north end of Gaetz Avenue. The new Red Deer Armouries, built in the same year on Mann (49) St. provided an even better venue with the large open spaces in the drill hall.
The Parish Hall developed significant financial problems during the First World War. However, dances were successfully organized at the Armouries for many years.
Quite naturally, the first dances were connected with the military. They consisted of regimental balls or Saturday night entertainments for the local militia and/or the Great War Veterans Association (fore-runner of the Legion).
The 1920s were the start of a Golden Age of dancing in Red Deer. Large community groups began holding regular dances at the Armouries.
The CPR was the largest employer in the community and the CPR employees’ dances were consequently huge events. Not surprisingly, since the local telephone operators were a notable group of single young women in Red Deer, the Alberta Government Telephone dances were enormously popular as well.
By the mid-1920s, private dance halls began to appear in the community.
The first was Turner’s Dance Hall and Studio. It was located on the second floor of the old Palace Livery building on Mann (49) St. west of Gaetz Avenue.
The business was operated by Mrs. Agnes Turner, a single mother, who gave dancing lessons and managed the hall to help support herself and her daughter Audrey.
Although modest in size, Turner Dance Hall was quite popular.
It was clean and respectable. Teenagers often went there as their parents were far more likely to give them permission to go to Mrs. Turner’s than to another more rambunctious place.
As the 1920s progressed, dance halls flourished at nearby resorts.
The Sylvan Lake (Hazelwood) Hotel became a popular venue as did the Oriental Gardens. In 1925, the Hussfeldts built the Alexander Pavilion west of the public piers.
In 1930, James P. Simpson built the Trianon Dance Hall on the corner of Lakeshore Drive and 46 St.
This was renamed the Varsity Hall after it was purchased by John Penley of Calgary in 1933.
The Sandy Cove Hotel at Pine Lake also became a popular resort with regular public dances. The hotel’s owners had added the dance hall onto the building during the First World War, but the venue became particularly popular after the War. Many claimed that the Sandy Cove had one of the best dance floors outside of Calgary and Edmonton.
During the Second World War, a large army training base was constructed north of 55 St. in Red Deer. Two airbases, Penhold and Bowden were established south of the City. With almost as many military personnel as civilians in the community, dances became even more popular.
In order to take advantage of this new development, in 1943 Willard Trimble built the Cub Hall on 54 Ave. in North Red Deer. Willard and his orchestra, the Kings of Rhythm, staged dances there two or three times a week. The business flourished for the rest of the War
The Country Pride Dance Club is organizing a Celebration of Dance in Red Deer as part of Alberta Culture Days from Sept. 30th to Oct. 2nd. The dances, lessons, workshops and other activities will be held at the Red Deer College. More information is available at www.countrypridedanceclub.ca and the Red Deer Arts Council web site.