Friday, March 26, 2010

Carnival of Genealogy, 92nd Edition: A Night of Dancing at the Crazy Horse

The topic for the 92nd edition of the Carnival of Genealogy is Dance! along with its great poster from fM.  Dance lessons as a child? Parents danced on a Saturday night? Traveled to see Nureyev, Twila Thorpe, Ruth Jamison, and Baryshnikov? School dances and Proms? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Dance was king.

For me the following story is about dancing at a very unique time and place. The year was 1962, the summer of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Marilyn Monroe’s death, and Jacqueline Kennedy's White House tours; John Glenn orbiting the earth in Friendship 7, U.S Military presence in Vietnam rising to 2,646,and James Meredith attempts to enroll at University of Mississippi. However in Oregon's high desert basin in Klamath County, the world news is indeed a world away. Ours was a world of local news; the biggest local impact was that most of the Klamath tribe chose to sell their portion of the Tribal lands to the U.S. Government. However for the most part, our lives revolved around the day to day work, tending the land, crops and critters; a world of family, friends and dancing on Saturday nights. 



My hair still damp and steamy from the shower, as I coax our three children to eat their dinner while ironing my tiered dancing skirt. Smiling with anticipation as each stroke of the iron brings the starched skirt to life, ready to twirl tonight, Saturday night at the Crazy Horse. Now a lick and a promise with the iron to the matching camisole, with its little shoulder straps and then I move through the house gathering the children’s overnight clothes. Humming to myself as I remember our first first dance --- I was but 14 and he, a year older. We have always danced well together, even though we laughingly call it our “one-step.” Over the years we have perfected the “one-step,” until now we move as one, twirling and whirling our way through slow dreamy love songs, or an elegant waltz, or the heavy beat of the country rock.

He nudges open the kitchen door and deposits his tools and work boots by the door. Ruffles my hair and gives me a quick kiss as I finish pressing his western dress shirt.

Mm mm, that’s a nice greeting.” I mummer. “Hurry and take your shower, by the time you are ready, I’ll have dinner ready for us.”

Overnight cases and sleeping bags were stacked by the door, by the time he sat down to eat his dinner. The sun was down and shadows had lengthened across valley, before we finally had the 57 Chevy station wagon packed with children and everyone’s overnight gear. The trail of dust along the dirt road signaled the start of the 75-mile trek to Klamath Basin. The station wagon ate up the miles across the flats, and soon leaving the behind the little “wide-spots-in-the-road” of Hidelbrand and Dairy. The halfway mark at Olene Gap, heralded the children’s fussing and asking how soon they would be at Grandma’s house. We were all looking forward to this evening of fun; the children being pampered and spoiled at Grandma’s house; and he and I, an evening of dancing.

After trundling the children into their Grandma’s home for the evening, we headed to downtown Klamath Falls and the Crazy Horse Bar and Lounge. “Funny, when we lived over here in the Basin, I don’t remember the Crazy Horse being such a good place to have fun on a Saturday night,” I mused.

“It wasn’t much of a place then. It’s just since the Indians got their money, that the Crazy Horse has turned into the hottest spot in town. The Crazy Horse is just making sure that they get their share of the Indian money, what with a good band and lots of booze.”

The car hums in the night air as we cross the bridge into town and I nodded. It was sad that most of the Indians had decided to sell their portion of their tribal lands. And it was true; everyone, not only The Crazy Horse, was trying to get a share of the Indian money that was flowing throughout Klamath County like milk and honey. Shaking my head and those somber thoughts away, my attention turned to the dancing. “The Crazy Horse does have good band with a solid beat, and that old-fashioned western feel. A fun place to go on a Saturday night.” For us, the music and the dance floor drew us back every Saturday night.

The incessant beat of “Proud Mary” greets us, as we walk through the dimly lit lounge. I toss my shawl across a chair to hold our table near the dance floor. He beckons to me with a crook of his finger, and taps his well-shined dress cowboy boots. A toss of my head and a swish of my skirt answers him and we move onto the dance floor. The beat goes faster and faster, twirling and whirling, I follow him across the dance floor. After the final turn and lay back, we breathlessly leave the floor.

A short-skirted waitress takes our order, a beer for him, a diet coke for me. The waitress doesn’t mind our paltry order, as her dark skinned customers from the reservation lands are far more important. Customers who will fill the tote around her waist with hundreds of dollars in tips. She smiles and brings more drinks, takes more money, and takes more orders.

The laughter and voices are building ever higher; the night is coursing with a current that zaps back and forth across the room. The band takes its cue from the noise level, and begins a cool down with a slow’n’easy Patsy Cline song of love lost. We again take to the dance floor. He cradles his arm around my back and we move dreamily across the floor. The crowd quiets a bit, except for those raucous guys in the back fringes. Now the band’s beat of Ike and Tina Turner’s “Honkey Tonk Women” draw us again to the floor. The music and the dancing goes on and on --- “Ramblin Rose,” ---slow and nice, good for wonderful long swooping whirls across the floor. “Ode to Billy Joe,” “ King of the Road” and “Big Bad John” all have that great western swing beat, syncopated steps mixed with fast turns and twirls. Now the band mellows back into slow dancing. Now we sway and swirl around the floor to Ferlin Husky’s “On the Wings of a Dove,” Bobby Goldsboro’s "Honey," and Tammy Wynette’s "Take me to Your World."

As the evening goes along, more and more dancers join us on the floor, enjoying the beat of songs like “I walk the Line,” and “ Abilene.” The crowd favorite is the heavy beat of “ Proud Mary” and they call for it again. Then “Galveston”, “Wichita Linemen,” and “Sixteen tons” are greeted with glee as the dancers, hungry for the beat, continue weaving their way around the dance floor. We are breathless and brows damp, but ready for more, as we join the crowd pleading again for “Proud Mary,” as well as Jerry Reed’s “When you’re hot, you’re hot,” Everly Brother’s “Wake up Little Susie.” Another round of slow dancing gives us time to catch our breath before the dancers call again and again for the beat of “Proud Mary.” The tempo rises to a fever pitch; the noise level goes ever higher, the drink orders ever faster. We are oblivious to all but the beat and the music.

A fight breaks out in the back. Hard liquor, drunken cowboys and Indians, sometimes one and the same, are a ready-made recipe for a bar fight. We keep on dancing, still oblivious to the high voltage atmosphere building in the room. Then the music stutters, the last notes awkwardly, haltingly end. The ruckus on the back fringe of the Crazy Horse has erupted into a full-fledge brawl that sprawls out onto the dance floor. Dancers back away. More noise from the back as the fight heats up. He protectively puts his arm around me as he guides me back to our table, pick up our things, and slip out into the cool night air.

We left the Crazy Horse much more subdued than when we laughingly took to the dance floor a few short hours ago. The tempers and vagaries of the time and place ended this night of dancing --- and perhaps the innocence and naiveté of dancing at the Crazy Horse.

NOTE:  The Crazy Horse is a fictional name for the bar, which is long gone and I can't remember it's name.


  1. Your story spinning is just as good as your dance spinning. And, all those old songs, they sure were great music, weren't they?? AHHHHHHHH, grand musical dancin' memories.

  2. A goin' honkey tonk'n was just so much fun!!

  3. I think there are more than a few honky tonks still around in the West...I might have even been into a couple of them because that Crazy Horse seems very familiar! Great story telling!

  4. Joan, thank you for taking me back to the 1960s & 1970s ... and the Texas honky tonks of my younger years ... I was right there beside you, spinning around the dance floor with the guy that I've been married to for 35 years now ... wasn't the "Cotton-eyed Joe" fun? ... and were you there when they sang "Fraulein" ... {hugs} to you for so beautifully sharing this story ...

  5. P.S. I DO like the fresh new look of your blog ... I am enjoying playing with the new templates myself!

  6. P.S. Love your new look, though I've had to take a second look twice now to make sure it was 'you'!

  7. Oh, my, talk about a trip back through the time warp! Makes me homesick for what now seems like a much simpler time, though given the songs you are dancing to, I'm going to high school sock hops, trying to decide what college to go to, and trying to figure out how to attract the attention of the boy I was crazy about....

  8. My parents loved to go to the honky tonk and dance (Mom was quite good at it, I'm told) and I remember hearing so much of this music growing up. What memories!

  9. What an exciting evening! I loved reading the whole story!

  10. Great story! I'm a little envious, as I enjoyed dancing back in high school but haven't had a dance partner ever since. You lucky girl!

  11. Great story, very good read.

  12. I enjoyed your story and the way you told it! You are a wonderful writer.

  13. Well, you have made me want to try out a honky tonk! I don't even know where I would find one in Cleveland, Ohio...lol I am so jealous that you have a permanent dance partner. As I mentioned in my blog, I didn't marry a dancer. Great story.

  14. Oh my goodness, take me back to yesterday girl!
    I used to love to dance. We had youth center dances on the different air force bases I lived on. Hubs could care less about it, so I haven't danced in years and years and years, except in my mind, of course. It's like riding a bike, you never forget! Great story~