Bellingham’s country dances has roots in the Seattle old time dance scene. Sandy Bradley started calling a square dance series in the 1970s at the Inside Passage Tavern in Pioneer Square. The Gypsy Gyppo string band played fantastic old-time music for the square dances.
John Hatten started calling squares at the Inside Passage dances in 1975 and, when he moved to Bellingham in 1979, started calling square dances here. The Whatcom County Parks Department promoted dances and John called as far afield as Hovander Park, Blaine and Point Roberts as well as WWU, the YWCA, and other venues around the county. The old Geneva School (now the Whatcom Hills Waldorf School) was managed by the county parks and it became a regular dance venue. Local musicians included Larry Hanks, Laura Smith, Brad Reynolds, Laurel Bliss, John Clark and Linda Fox.
Mike Schway moved to Seattle in 1975 for grad school at UW and fell into the Old Time music scene there. The Gypsy Gyppo squares at Pioneer Square’s Inside Passage were going strong, but Sandy Bradley was getting a little weary of calling to Pioneer Square riff-raff so she passed the caller’s mic to Jack Link and they asked Mike Schway to join them on fiddle to help fill the gap. Mike says, “What an honor! What a band!” He remembers John Hatten calling squares with the band at the Inside Passage.
In 1984, Mike moved from Seattle to Deming. The local Bellingham dances had been on hold for a few years. Mike put together a band called the Chuckanotes and started a third Saturday dance series at the Fairhaven Library in 1986 or 1987. The original band was Brad Reynolds, Linda Fox, Dave Doop, Alan Swensson, and Mike Schway on fiddle. John Hatten was the regular caller for these monthly dances, calling both contra dances and square dances. Later on, the Chuckanotes would occasionally have guest callers for the monthly dance.
At the same time, an old time dance revival was happening in Vancouver BC. Cameron and Susan Stewart were running a very successful contra and square dance series at Capri Hall in Vancouver. There were more than a hundred dancers at the Vancouver dances.
With just one dance a month in Bellingham, Bellingham dancers started traveling to Vancouver to their dances. Vancouver callers Cameron Stewart and Marion Rose would come to Bellingham to call, and Vancouver dancers would come to Bellingham dances.
There was enough interest in dancing in Bellingham that Marlin Prowell started a first Friday series of dances in 1989. Stringfever, a local bluegrass band, was the house band for this second dance series. This arrangement continued for a couple years, and in 1991, all the local dance organizers joined together to form Bellingham Country Dance Society (BCDS). BCDS would take over the scheduing and publicity for all the country dances in Bellingham.
Dance attendence was taking off. We had more dancers coming to each of the two dances each month than had been attending the single monthly dance previously. Dances became so crowded that we added a fourth Saturday dance series in 1993.
… more to come …