Halls around the country are the venue for regular old-time dances, providing an important social outlet in many rural communities.

Story By Pepi Ronalds

You’d almost certainly miss it if you didn’t know it was there. It’s neither bright enough to mar your view of the Milky Way on a clear night nor loud enough to travel through the valley on a still one. There are no spotlights or balloons and no markers apart from parked cars. In Campbelltown, central Victoria, you might have to pull over and wait for another set of headlights to guide you to the grassy knoll outside the hall. You could stumble across it in nearby Trentham but you’d need a keen eye and an ear cocked. Chances are there’s one near you – though finding it could take a little legwork and, once there, you’ll need a little something else too.
“I hid behind that door I was so petrified to come out,” says Margaret Cantwell of her first visit to an old-time dance in Dumbalk in eastern Victoria. Live music echoes through the brightly lit hall with 70-odd dancers circling around. They move in the measured, almost leisurely, sequenced steps of dances such as the Pride of Erin, Dorothea and Maxina. But to describe old-time dancing as slow is to ignore the rowdy energy in the room. People laugh and chatter. Whistles, hollers and even crooning are common. “We’re not real fancy dancers,” Ken Becher says. “We don’t want to be. That would take the fun out of it. It’s more of a social thing. You get to meet people. You get to say hello.”

This Story is from Issue #87

Outback Magazine: Feb/Mar 2013