Between September 2022 and March 2023, we hosted four Community Dances at the Ely Senior Center, bringing Ely together in dance and reminding ourselves that fine arts don’t have to be intimidating. We had so much fun dancing with you all that we want to commemorate it here. 

The Dances: 

What does an Ely Folk School Community Dance look like? An EFS Community Dance always features live music. The band often consists of a mandolin, keyboard, accordion, fiddle, and/or banjo. The dances played vary between the waltz, polka, schottische, two step, foxtrot, and square styles. While the band plays, one person, the Caller, teaches the dances to all assembled. Each step is rehearsed before the whole song is put together. 

We often host the dances at the Ely Senior Center. This year, thanks to the dedication of volunteers, we decked the senior center out in string lights and mood lighting prior to the start of each dance.

The dances are accessible to people of all ages and skill levels. Many folks come with a partner and many don’t! Come with an open mind and with readiness to jig, spin, do si do, and more! 

The People: 

For the 2022-2023 dance series, we invited a different band and caller to play each dance. Here’s a little bit about each band! 

Sugar on the Roof blends traditional Americana music from the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s with their own signature sound. Enjoy duetted harmonies that will make you want to two-step, fiddle-driven stringband tunes to stomp your feet to, a well-placed trombone to make it swing, and old country waltzes that will make you cry.

Four Mile Portage: Tom Maloney and Brandy Forsman, an Ely local, make up Four Mile Portage, based in Duluth. From Old-Time Fiddle and Banjo Dance Music, Dance Calling, and Vocal Harmonies, they do it all! Four Mile Portage plays community dances every Saturday night in Duluth, Minnesota. 

Friends on the Range: Jim Ganahl and Carol Booth have been playing music and singing songs together since 1995. They live on the southern shore of Lake Vermilion in northern Minnesota, not too far from the Iron Range, and so they call themselves Friends On The Range when they perform in public. Jim plays the accordion and the trumpet. Carol plays the piano. Their musical repertoire includes everything from Irish Jigs to Cowboy Ballads. They’ve written several songs of their own, and they’ve also rewritten the lyrics for a number of traditional folk songs and holiday carols.

From 1998 to 2010 Friends On The Range was the house band for the Home On The Range Community Dance Association. Over this period of twelve years Home On The Range sponsored more than one hundred community dances in Ely, Tower, Virginia, Hibbing, Grand Rapids, International Falls, and Brimson.

Terrence Smith and the Tamarack Dance Association: Terrence Smith has led these types of family dances for over 30 years. Terrence is a master at getting anyone to dance. His clear instructions and hands-on demonstrations have made many feel comfortable dancing for the first time. 

We also have a great volunteer Dance Committee who helps schedule, set-up, and advertise each dance! Heidi Breaker is our incredibly talented leader. Heidi has loved dancing since she was a girl and is passionate about dance’s ability to invigorate a community. She has long-standing relationships with many bands in the state and volunteers her time scheduling bands for the Ely Folk School Community Dances. 

Abby Sirek moved to Ely last summer and started getting involved at EFS by participating in events including cooking classes, introductory pottery classes, and (of course) the community dances. Abby says, “I love the community dances because it brings the community together as a whole; from toddlers and children to adults, it’s a fun, intergenerational event. I don’t have experience dancing, but watching everyone learn new dances together, while laughing, smiling, and enjoying one another’s company– it’s a heartwarming event. By volunteering for the community dances, I help with spreading the word across the community and decorating the Senior Center prior to the dance starting. It has also given me the opportunity to meet other people in the community and the surrounding area that I otherwise wouldn’t have met! Anyone and everyone is welcome to these events (and any EFS event), and I invite YOU to join me at the next dance!”

Emily Roose is also a new member of the Ely Folk School Community Dance Committee. Emily loves helping with the Community Dances because of the joy it brings her and everyone who attends. She says, “I’ll look around the room during these dances and every single person will have a smile on their face!” The reward of such carefree fun is partly why Emily volunteers. 

The Reaction: 

It is important to have intergenerational, entertaining, and artistic events in a community. Ely Folk School community dances are just that. A place that welcomes everyone, no matter their skill level or how they choose to participate. Our community dances serve as a space to inspire young people to explore dance as well as a space for older folks to rekindle love of movement and dance. 

Attendees called the dances “an absolute blast”, “a great community event”, “so much fun”, and “awesome”. Another commented, “I’m so happy we have amazing events like this in Ely!!” Someone else said, “This event brings all areas of the community together and bridges the gap between all ages.” 

The Gardner Trust:

The Ely Folk School Community Dance Series was funded in part by the Donald G. Gardner Humanities Trust. To date, the Trust has awarded more than $815,000 back to the community artists and art organizations to enrich life in Ely. The support of the Gardner Trust is crucial to this event series. Their grant each year helps the Ely Folk School pay each band a fair rate to play at our dances. 

Have you been to an Ely Folk School Community Dance? What was your favorite part?