Commercial Dance Halls | Bowing Down Home

Commercial Dance Halls first appeared in Prince County in the mid-1930s and had spread throughout the Island by the 1950s. Crowd control would become a major problem at these venues. In fact, eruptions of violence became so endemic at one establishment near Summerside that locals nicknamed it the Bucket of Blood.

One major source of friction at these events was competition for room on the dance floor. To keep violence to a minimum, organizers ultimately abandoned the quadrille’s relatively space intensive four-couple square formation, and had everyone inclined to dance simply form one big circle.

These big, circular quadrille sets made working a dance very tough on the fiddler. Probably the worst offender was the swing-all-’round figure, where each dancer swings and promenades in turn with every opposite-sex dancer. With ten, twenty, or even fifty couples joined together to form one big set, the fiddler might have to play full tilt for as much as half an hour or more with no break. And with fiddlers’ playing energies constantly overtaxed, trends were soon underway towards simplification of tune versions, and towards using simpler and simpler tunes for dance accompaniment. Before long, the integrity of the quadrilles themselves began to break down. The number of figures decreased, complex steps were abandoned, and most routines were simplified.

By the 1960s, both fiddlers and dancers had grown generally disaffected with the Island dance hall scene, and when changing musical tastes during the 1970s forced most of them to close, few mourned their passing.

Dance Hall Vignettes: John Gauthier’s band the Prince County Pioneers played a circuit of Prince County Dance Halls in the mid-1940s. In the late 1940s, the Lowell Huestis Orchestra pioneered the alternation of popular and traditional musics on the same dance bill. In Charlottetown, the Sportin’ Club on Grafton Street often featured the music of Don Messer & the Islanders. There were several dance halls in southeastern PEI, the largest of which was the Beaver Club at Beaver Hall in Montague. In the mid-1960s, Hector MacDonald built a dance hall on his own property in northern Kings County.