Monday, September 27, 2010

Where have all the dancers gone?

 Whether summering at a Muskoka cottage or one of the many resort hotels in the last century, one of the fun activities was attending lakeside dances. Elegantly attired enthusiasts would canoe, row, or cruise over to a venue, sometimes in a chauffeur-driven launch.

According to Muskoka Traditions by Andrew Wagner-Chazalon and Bev McMullen, “The Lake Rosseau Club at Cleveland’s House… was so popular in the 1930s that people were known to wait in shifts for their turn to dance. Other resorts had their own style - Windermere House was known for quiet, sedate music, whereas the Charleston and jitterbugging were popular at the Royal Muskoka.”

One of the most renowned dance halls was Dunn’s Pavilion (renamed The Kee to Bala in the 1960s), which hosted big name bands like Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Guy Lombardo, and others. It was built mostly over water, with a large sundeck that enticed couples to snatch a few minutes from the hectic activity to watch the moon shimmer across the lake. There were live bands every evening except Sundays, since dancing was not allowed on the Sabbath in Ontario in those days. Weekends were so popular that special trains from Toronto were added to accommodate the crowds of partygoers who, locals lamented, “were sleeping all over the place, on the beaches, in the park.” Those who couldn’t get into Dunn’s would sit in the grounds or on their boats and listen to the music drift into the star-studded night.

Less formal but no less popular were the dances once rock and roll invaded The Kee with bands like April Wine, Lighthouse, The Tragically Hip, and numerous others. Those of us who've been there have never forgotten those magical evenings.

The Kee to Bala still attracts top name bands for concerts on summer weekends, but unfortunately, the few resorts that remain no longer have dances. I’ve missed those on my holidays in Muskoka these last couple of decades. Fortunately, my characters can dance to their heart’s content in the Roaring 20s.

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