Old-time Dances | Bowing Down Home
Towards the end of the commercial dance-hall era, changing musical tastes threatened the fiddle's status as PEI’s predominant dance-accompaniment instrument. As early as the 1940s and 50s, some bands developed the practice of appending an old-time fiddler to an ensemble that otherwise featured pop music. By the 1970s, this pattern had become the rule at nearly all Island dances and weddings. From that time through the 1990s, the typical Island dance band consisted of guitar-vocalist, keyboard player, bassist, and perhaps a drummer, and played a rock 'n' roll or country-music repertoire. To appease the older folks, however, most such bands would also have a fiddler on their roster. While the band performed its modern repertoire, the fiddler generally played along unobtrusively in the background. He or she would then provide the lead for a couple of square sets and perhaps a few waltzes over the course of a given program.
In the 1990s, four prominent Queens County fiddlers – Reuben Smith, Dave Thomson, Stephen Toole and Elliott Wight – had bands based on this pattern and were running their own weekly dances in the environs of Charlottetown.
In the 1980s, a few Island Seniors’ groups began holding weekly events whose main focus was dancing square-sets. In the district of St. Peters in northeastern Kings County, for example, residents converted an old railroad station into a dance hall, which they dubbed the Circle Club. On any given Friday night, local fiddlers took turns providing the music while perhaps fifty locals got up on the floor to dance a kind of quadrille known as the Souris Set. Souris sets have three parts or figures, and are danced from circular rather than square formations. In 1991-2, the principal fiddler at most Circle Club dances was Angus McPhee, accompanied on piano by Cynthia Jay Crane.
Around 1993, a number of Northsiders under the leadership of Dolph MacIntyre converted a defunct blueberry warehouse into a dance hall and founded the Goose River Dance. Since the late 1990s the principle fiddler at Goose River has been “Young Peter” Chaisson.
In the Abram-Village on the Evangéline Coast, square dances were held regularly through the 1990s at the Club 50, which excluded anyone under fifty years old from its dances. For many years the principal fiddler employed there was Edward P Arsenault.
Although interest in dancing square sets surged in the early 1990s and became a popular activity at many commercial ceilidhs, this proved to be but a temporary interruption in a declining trend. By 2006, virtually all mainstream dance-events had dropped old-time dancing from the agenda and few commercial ceilidhs still featured it on the program. The Circle Club Dance in St. Peters was transformed into a commercial ceilidh when attendance began to fall off. By the fall of 2006, only two venues on PEI offered full programs of old-time dancing – the Goose River Dance and the recently founded Lorne Valley Dance, held at the Lorne Valley Community Hall in central Kings County.