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Square Dancing at the Pow Wow
I seem to spend a great deal of time wandering around the ruins of places I knew as a youngster. I guess that's because most of the places I knew as a kid are now in ruins.
So it's no surprise that I recently cycled to the remains of the old Pow Wow.
For those too young or too new to Allenspark to remember the Pow Wow, I can only say that what follows may bore you silly, but you missed knowing a landmark that was the home of a great many good times, and ultimately, the worst of times, when it was occupied by a Ukrainian Circus troupe and burned to the ground one Saturday back in the early 70s.
I felt like the opening of “Twelve O’Clock High” as I wandered among the thimbleberries and buttercups and vetch that now grow among the scraps of the red roll roofing, where once we parked our cars and walked up the big porch that led to square dance heaven, presided over by Otto Walter, who lived at the Pow Wow with his wife, Margaret, and their children, the last of whom, Knute, was born the final year they lived there, 1955.
The years dropped away and I could feel the cool mountain evening as I walked up the steps and into the light of the big room, with Otto at the south end, up on the stage with his 78 RPM records of “Rose of San Antone,” and “Sally Goodin.”
Square dancing probably began with a bunch of neighbors getting together at Willard and Leona Trevarton's place, just after World War II. It seemed to Otto like an idea whose time had come, so when he moved to the Pow Wow in 1948, he began to hold square dances (admission 50¢) on Saturdays and eventually he tried them on Wednesdays, with movies (also 50¢) on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Old movies, like Charlie Chaplin in “The Gold Rush.”
By the end of the 50s, Otto was calling at the Aspen Lodge and other nearby lodges, as well as at the Pow Wow.
There were, of course, other places to square dance. Floyd Parker called in the main room of Meeker Park Lodge, and there was a dance night at the old Wild Basin, but those were rather sedate and tame affairs. When you wanted to let it all hang out, the Pow Wow was the square dance Mecca. If you wanted a real hoe-down instead of putting your little foot, that was the place to go.
There were many regulars: Phil and True Colbert came, and Phil taught Otto the singing call “My Pretty Girl.” Then Otto had to go to Denver to find the record for it.
Chick Jensen came fairly often, and sometimes Clyde Jones called, and after the grown-ups were tuckered out, Otto even let me call some dances for the teen-agers. I can remember being encouraged by one couple, Loren and Helen Detwiler, for whom square dancing was to become an important part of their lives: they now have a place in Estes Park with a small but elegant square dancing floor in its basement and they are still good friends.
Carol Angevine was often there, and Otto says that's where she met Bob Case.
Now, as I looked at the solitary chimney on a summer afternoon, I could hear once again the strains of “Cotton-Eyed-Joe,” and I put out my arm and found the solid warmth of the young Andreé Barthlemy as we two-stepped around the floor, I in my Kaibab moccasins, jeans and ordinary shirt and Andreé resplendent in her long square dancing dress. The floor boomed in response as we spun around the room, from the great fireplace on the west, south past Otto, to the front door on the east, and the seating area on the north.
We were filled with the heat and energy of youth and when the evening ended Andreé had a faint line of perspiration down the middle of the back of her dress and a dew on her upper lip. I, on the other hand, simply sweated like a pig.
It all seems so chaste, looking back. The young women, like Andreé, were carefully chaperoned, and it was more like a coed aerobics class than dancing. No finesse at all. Just a romping, stomping, whooping hell-of-a-good-time.
In 1951, on the Saturday after I'd climbed the East Face of Longs, I astonished my parents by announcing that I was going to the Pow Wow that night. I was old enough to drive, just, but they told me I couldn't go, because I was too tired. I insisted. They said I couldn't have the car. I said I'd walk. They said, “Go ahead.”
I easily walked the mile and a half to Meeker Park and hitched a ride to the Pow Wow, probably with Andreé. We danced until Otto threw us out, and I walked back to our place from Meeker Park.
Ah, to be sixteen again!
But then I went to college, and then off to fly airplanes to places where square dancing had never existed, and, well, you know the rest. By the time I came back, square dancing had become something you did with precision, grace, and attention to the nuances of the art. It was something you did at Frank Lane's Dance Ranch in Estes Park, and it cost more than 50¢. Finesse was “in.” Sweating was “out.”
So it's probably just as well the Pow Wow burned. Like so many other things and people here, it got old and wasn't being used for fun any more; the Unitarians had bought it for the Black Caucus to use. No fun at all.
If you never danced there, I still hope you'll look for the old Pow Wow. As you go down the hill from town on the highway, past Ferncliff, just as you pass through the cut at the bottom, look to the right, and you can easily see the chimney. There were grand times on that site.
And if you were there, you are by now, I trust, awash in nostalgia:
“Ingo, bingo, six-penny high,
The big pig, little pig,
Root, hog, or die! ”
© 1985 – 2003, David E. Steiner
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