COLUMN: Marina Gambin remembers the dance steps of her youth in Branch

Marina
Marina Gambin
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I have often heard people reminisce about how a certain song evokes the memory of a specific event, place or person.

Marina Gambin

Whenever I hear the popular tunes “Mussels in the Corner”or “I’se the B’y," a particular dance instantly comes to my mind.

The dance known as "The Lancers" was quite popular in Branch, St. Mary’s Bay, when I grew up there in the 50s and early 60s. This dance was performed to the accompaniment of either the highly talented Gerald Campbell on the accordion or harmonica, the gifted Edward English, who could make his mouth organ speak, or accomplished musician, the late Ernest O’Rourke.

I can still hear the joyful mix of music and merriment as two or three sets of Lancers got underway simultaneously on the dusty, wooden floor of our parish hall. With shirt sleeves rolled up and ties securely knotted, the energetic males wasted no time in guiding their eager female partners onto the floor where all would dance until they were ready to drop. Onlookers could easily distinguish the inexperienced teenagers from the seasoned veterans. However, in those days, the generation gap did not seem to manifest itself as it does today.

The dance routine itself was conducted quite expertly. Four males and four females positioned themselves so that couples were facing each other. Although I can visualize every step, swing and manoeuvre from beginning to end, limitations of space do not allow me to describe all the enjoyable mechanics of the Lancers. By the time we had wound our way through “threading the needle," "chaining up" and a variety of other movements, the whole set probably took a half-hour or more.

The pace of some portions of the Lancers was wild and reckless. In hindsight, I marvel at the fact that I never saw a dancer die with a heart attack or faint through pure exhaustion. Both genders would be perspiring and panting with beads of sweat running down beet-red faces. The action called for much swinging and some burly males were not hesitant about lifting slender females completely off the floor as they twirled around at breakneck speed. There was always the danger that a shoe might leave its owner's foot and go flying precariously into the crowd of bystanders.

There were other parts of the dance which were quite graceful where the tempo slowed a bit. This would give the revelers a chance to catch their breath and re-adjust some bit of clothing that had gone askew. Women would turn to each other with the good-natured complaints, “I’m not going to make it." "I’ll never see the end of this set." "This’ll be the death of me tonight." Despite these objections, I never ever saw a participant quit before Gerald, Edward or Ernest had delivered the last musical note.

The minute the set was completed, however, every male who had been on the floor would make a bee line toward the door. Summer or winter, rain or snow, nothing stopped their hurried exit. As some wiped sweating brows with white handkerchiefs, others rolled cigarettes with their Target tobacco. Often, there was a drop or two of fermented juice hidden close by to help wet the whistles, boost the energy and insure that the Lancers lasted well into the night.

The ladies, who had danced just as hard as the men, plopped down on the chairs and benches. Big bosomed women would cross their arms over their chests and laugh and joke about the ordeal they had just gone through. Younger ladies would move coquettishly toward back rooms to secretly reapply lipstick, rouge and powder in an attempt to remove the shine from warmed faces. After all, the night was young, and there was lots of courting to take place later.

With the coming of the late 60s and early 70s, the Lancers gave way to (or was pushed out by) the age of Rock and Roll. A different genre of music evolved and the generation gap became more pronounced. Bands, sporting a variety of instruments, were frequently hired to entertain at parish functions and weddings. Twisting, limboing and slow waltzing took over on dance floors. Simply put, times changed and so did we.

When I remember a phrase from a lovely Irish song, “Oh for days of the Kerry dancing …" I sometimes wish I could re-enact the dances of my youth. Then I immediately realize that I have a better chance of winning the lottery than I would have of getting through one quarter of the Lancers. I guess I am not blessed with the stamina or the bones that middle aged women possessed 40 years ago.

— Marina Power Gambin was born and raised in her beloved Branch. She is a retired teacher who lives in Placentia where she taught for almost three decades. She can be reached at marinagambin@persona.ca

Geographic location: Placentia

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