April A to Z: Dawn Dance

The first time I ever read about “Dawn Dances” was October 11th, 1937.  I wrote about it in this post:

A Brief History of Dance

Feel free to click on that link and check out the entire post, it was a fun one!  This is a snippet of what I wrote:

oct 10.jpeg

Monday, October 11th, 1937
Registered at cooking school and made breakfast.  Zosh wore Helen Oparowski’s dress to the banquet.  She looked lovely.  Nat and I went to a dawn dance at Joyland.  Oh but it was cold!  Had a very good time and some boys from Thompsonville took us home.  Nat let her friend kiss her but I wouldn’t let mine.  We had fun though.  Got in after four.

A “dawn dance?”  What is a dawn dance?  Oh sigh!  But it sounds lovely!!

Yes, since reading that the very first time I have romanticized the heck out of that idea. I have found out that Joyland was a beach and dancehall hangout in the Indian Orchard part of Springfield.  What a nice spot for a Dawn Dance but, yes!, how cold!

She and I both wrote about it again and here it is in this post:

September, 1938

And more about that day here:

Excerpts, September, 1938, Grafton, Vermont

Again she wrote about a Dawn Dance in November, 1939.

Wednesday, November 29th, 1939

Zosh, Eddie, Nat, Stretch and I walked down about 10:30 to the Falcon Dawn Dance.  Quite a crowd.  Ernie Depathy wanted to know if I’d go with him again and waited for me to go home.  Johnny Lech was there and I danced the most with him.  We left the dance about 2:30 and refused a ride home from Frank.  Johnny and I took our time and walked home in the moonlight.  He really is made right.  Really the fun we had but made no dates-considering-

There is a lot to unpack here, especially this part about her and Johnny, but for now I’ll stay focused.

There is something about that phrase, Dawn Dance.  About the idea of it.  What is so special about it?  I asked myself that but ignored that voice and researched it anyway.  I had to know more!   I am glad that I did because I surely am not the only onw who found this topic interesting.  I stumbled upon a whole article written by Michael McKernan and it is posted on the Brattleboro Dawn Dances website!  (I can’t believe I stumbled upon this!)  The back ground is this, Brattleboro is in Vermont and not a far drive from us here in Chicopee, Ma.  Most of the Dawn Dances Babu went to were actually in Vermont when she went to visit Ernie there.

The website states:

Brattleboro Dawn Dances

The Brattleboro Dawn Dances take place twice a year on Labor Day and Memorial Day at the Gibson-Aiken Center in downtown Brattleboro, Vermont. Each dance features contra dancing with three bands and three callers from 8pm Sunday evening to 7am Monday morning.

The Brattleboro Dawn Dances are an opportunity to join hundreds of enthusiastic dancers from far and wide in dancing from dusk to dawn to some of the finest musicians and callers around.

We hope to see you on the dance floor!

It seems to be the idea of Dawn Dances were initially revived for a fundraiser for a new dance floor and continued on.

This is the poster from their website:


Here is the link to the article about the history of Dawn Dances.

Dawn Dance in Brattleboro

And here is an excerpt:

My research into Dawn Dances in the Brattleboro area has produced data on nearly one hundred such events during the period from 1926-1964. The Brattleboro Reformer, a small-town Vermont daily newspaper, chronicled these dances, mostly in paid advertisements. Rather than footnote every reference to this body of data, I have included a complete charting of it as an Appendix to this article. 8These dances took place in the tri-state area of Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts within about a twenty-mile radius of Brattleboro. Other work that I have done outside of this small region has convinced me that the after-midnight dance phenomenon was not restricted to the Brattleboro area, although the term “dawn dance” may have been a somewhat local usage (say, in the northern Connecticut River valley). I do not have enough data to generally characterize such events outside the Brattleboro area, so I cannot offer meaningful comparisons with the body of data I have on the local dances, except in the case of a small area of coastal Maine. But there is a possibility that conclusions drawn from my data could be extended to a wider geographical area.

The particular characteristics of late-night dances of the “dawn dance” type around Brattleboro include:

  • They were holiday events. More specifically, they were clearly associated with just three, warm-weather holidays: Independence Day, Labor Day, and to a much lesser extent, Memorial Day.
  • They were most often held on the evening before (the “eve” of, or more precisely, the early morning of), the actual holiday.
  • They began later than normal dances (most often, at or just after midnight) and typically ended at 4:00 am, resulting most often in a dance of normal length (about four hours), rather than an unusually long event.
  • They were often held in dance pavilions which may not have been constructed (or suitable) for winter use.

Rightly so, all of this research took none of the romance away.  But will I be attending a Dawn Dance any time soon?  Noooooo.  Babu and I aren’t alike in many ways.  Being a good dancer is one of those ways.


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