Shared Stories: Square dancing at Seattle's World Fair

Belle Fluhart has a special memory from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair when her southern California square dance club traveled north and danced on an aircraft carrier.  (A “squaw” dress, also known as a “fiesta” dress, originated in Tuscon in the 1950s and was popular among square dancers.) Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center.  Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program.  Curated by Carol Kearns

By Belle Fluhart

My husband George and I were avid square dancers.  We had danced with three other couples for years. The men all worked for U.S. Motors.  We had joined a club for the first time, The Reel Heels.

When we learned that the World’s Fair was to be in Seattle, George’s home town, we began planning to go up for the fair.  We planned to take George’s mother.

Our square dance friends wanted to go with us. We all decided we would travel together with trailers.  The fourth couple had three children. Ray asked if they could bring the children.
I said, “This is the opportunity of a lifetime. You wouldn’t want to leave them home!”  Another couple had two children also and were bringing them.

Ray had been looking for a trailer to rent that would sleep the five of them, and found one.  It was privately owned and the family would have the trailer, and the club cab truck to pull it with, ready to go when we were ready.

George and I owned a beautiful six-acre property in Alderwood Manor (about 16 miles north of Seattle).  It had rolling hills, huge evergreen trees, and a salmon creek.  We had always camped on our property each time we drove up.

I told the neighbors in Alderwood that we were coming up for the World’s Fair.  There would be four cars and trailers on our property.  I asked them to check with the volunteer fire department to ask if we could have an open fire outside.

The answer came back saying that the volunteer fire department was so excited about our coming up that they were overseeing the creation of our wagon train camping area.  And, so that the neighbors would not have a big water bill, they had filled a tank with water, with a hose and faucet, for us.  They brought a trash can and had also built a fire circle of rocks, so all was ready for us.

On an earlier trip, I had seen a big sign on a billboard that said, “Come square dance with us at the Old Red Barn.”

I wrote saying that we were four couples who were coming up for the World’s Fair, and would be camping out on our property on Poplar Way.  We would like to visit them and square dance at the Old Red Barn.

The answer came by return mail. They were excited that we were coming and asked the dates that we would be there. Our trip was for two weeks and I said we’d be there the last weekend.  This would be after we had done the planned activities at the fair. They replied that the square dance would be Saturday night, and sent a map showing how to get to the Old Red Barn from Poplar Way.

I had done all of the planning for the trip and told our girls that “We don’t want to out-dress these ladies and suggest that we each take a squaw dress.  Don’t forget your petticoats and dancing slippers!”  The men everywhere dress about the same – western pants, boots, and western shirts and ties.

We arrived Saturday evening at the Red Barn and our four couples danced the first dance. Then the caller said, “Now let’s break up this California square.  Let’s get acquainted with these folks.”

A man came all the way across the room and grabbed my hand.  After that first dance, he just kept hold of my hand.

After the next dance, he said, “Are you coming tomorrow?”

I said, “What’s tomorrow?”

He said, “There’s a flat top (aircraft carrier) anchored in the bay and there will be square dancing on deck from 9:00 am all day and into the night, a long as there are square dancers.”

I said, “I’ll go ask the rest of my group.”

Sunday morning at 9:00 am the eight of us walked aboard the flat top and were greeted by the Red Barn dancers.  The man I had danced with the night before came over and asked if we knew a certain, very complicated, very beautiful square dance.  I answered, “Yes.”

As part of this dance, each of the men grabs onto the next man’s wrist on each side, and the girls hold onto the next girl’s wrist on each side.  At the call, the four men stretch their arms out as far as possible, dance around in a circle with the girls on their arms.  They swing the girls until the girls’ bodies are flying out with their feet way off the floor and their skirts flying out in the air.

This man said, “I’m a guest caller.  Each caller is allowed to call one dance.  But I asked if I could call one dance for the Red Barn group and one for the Southern California group.  And, I have permission to do so.”

He made the announcement and said that he was calling this dance for the Southern California square, “but anyone who knows this dance, feel free to join in.”

Two other squares joined us, but the first time we girls took to the air, the other two squares backed out.  Everyone applauded.

Someone asked if it would it be the same if we were not with our partners.  I told the men across from each other to trade places so that all four couples would be different.  Then we did the dance again to a thunderous applause.  

As soon as we were finished, the caller said, “You Red Barn dancers get over there.  Don’t let our guests get away.”

A wall of people came toward us and we square danced all day and afternoon until it was time to go back to camp and have dinner with our families.

We had a wonderful time, we had square danced to our heart’s content, and now we were going home.