Spokane Folklore Society Index

Calendar of Events
Current Newsletter
Fall Folk Festival
  Lady of the Lake
Membership information
SFS welcome page
About SFS
Code of Conduct
Discipline Policy
History and Photo Archives

Performers' Referral List:
Contra Dance Callers
Contra  Dance Bands
Children's Entertainment
Dance Instruction
Dance Performers
Festivals & Camps
Local Folk Venues
Local related organizations etc.
Music Teachers
Spoken Word
 Web resources

Support our Business Members:

Kit "KayCee"Brennick, State Farm Insurance
4407 N Division St, Suite 610
Spokane, WA 99207
Bus: 509-483-5540 Fax: 509-592-2098

David Lohman
Collaborative Lawyer
A healthier alternative for divorcing and separating couples
Licensed in Idaho and Washington
(208) 664-5544

You can promote your business and support the Folklore Society
with a business membership--$100/year

Questions about the folklore society? email  myspokanefolklore@gmail.com

Webmaster: Brad Sondahl
Email the webmaster with additions, corrections, and kind words

Welcome to the
Spokane Folklore Society

Kevin Brown, Caridwen and Greg Spatz FFF 2019

December Holiday
Thanks to everyone who participated in the Spokane Folklore Society Holiday Zoom Party
- over 50 people enjoyed performances by Arvid Lundin and Deep Roots, Darla Jean & the
Something or Others, Louise Fix and Noah VanNorstrand, along with a poem by Tom

Morgan. Participants also shared stories about meaningful tree ornaments and enjoyed see-
ing friends new and old who have been part of this tradition for 4 decades. And several

people kicked up their heels at home, especially for the closing waltz!

Forty Years Ago ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,


                                       Old Time Music and Square Dancing

                                                                                                By Penn Fix

The Forty Years Ago column relies on information from two sources for its inspiration.

Country Crossroads was a bi-monthly newsletter that provided a calendar of dances through out the Northwest as well as a related article.  The newsletter written by Penn Fix began in November 1980 and continued to 1986.  The other source comes from long time volunteer and founder of SFS, Eric Johnson who provided a detailed list of SFS sponsored events from 1977 to 1992. 


Forty years ago, one hundred and thirty dancers came to the Woman’s Club to dance squares.  Long before there was contra dancing in Spokane, there was old time square dancing.  It all began during Expo ’74.  The Gypsy Gypo String Band from Seattle featuring Sandy Bradley, Jack Link, Jerry Mitchell, and Warren Argo had been hired for the Smithsonian sponsored Folklife Festival.  One night the band had just finished a rousing set of old time fiddle tunes; Jack Link asked the crowd what else they wanted.  And out of the audience came Bill Reagan; he offered to call a square dance.  The response from the audience was so positive that Bill and the band were hired for the rest of that summer.


Bill Reagan, later known as “Wild Bill,” had grown up in Colorado in the 1930s where he learned to dance and call.  One of his peers was “Pappy” Lloyd Shaw who is acknowledged as the founder of the modern square dance movement.   Bill served in the Air Force during WWII and remained overseas until he retired in 1963.  During his time in Europe and Asia he called square dances but when he returned to the states and moved to Republic, Washington with his family he quit calling until that fateful night at the Expo 74. Bill’s absence from the United States right after the war and his decision to not call once he returned meant that he missed the continued development of the square dance scene started by Pappy Shaw.  Square dances became much more complicated which necessitated dance lessons and classes.  Bill’s dances were simple and easy to teach at public dances. 


After that summer, Sandy Bradley and the Gypos returned to Seattle and the bar, the Inside Passage, where they held weekly concerts.  But instead of just playing old time fiddle tunes, Sandy began calling squares.  She developed a repertoire of dances gathered from Bill Reagan, Lloyd Shaw, and other older callers.  At the same time club square dancing was wrapped up in clubs that hosted classes, asked members to wear matching costumes, and danced to recorded music.  Sandy, on the other hand, offered an alternative: simple easy to learn dances held in public settings with live fiddle music.  Sandy brought the “old time” square dance revival to the Northwest.


One of the first sponsored events of the newly incorporated Spokane Folklore Society In 1977 was a square dance with Sandy Bradley calling. While most of its events were concerts, the Spokane Folklore Society did sponsor two more square dances in 1979.  


In January 1980, the Spokane Folklore Society offered its first series of dances.  For the next two years, the SFS held two dances a month, one contra and the other squares.

The house band for the square dances was Sweetwater String Band led by fiddler Geoff Seitz.  And “Wild Bill” Reagan called the dances. Other square dance callers came to Spokane during this time.  Pop Wagner and his brother Bode from Minnesota were hired to play for the Expo ’74 festival.  They returned in 1980 to play and call square dances on two separate occasions. The following year Sandy Bradley returned as well as two of her proteges, Sherry Nevins and Debbie Nagusky.


The interest in square dancing in Spokane culminated with a dance held forty years ago, February 21, 1981.  The Hurricane Ridgerunners, a powerhouse band from Seattle, played for 130 dancers at the Women’s Club that night. The band featured Jerry Gallaher calling and on guitar, Mark Graham on harmonica, Armin Barnett on fiddle, and Paul Kotapish on mandolin. They also held a dance in the Coeur d’Alene at the Ivalee Dance Hall the night before and the following weekend they were in McCall and Boise, Idaho.  The tour, noted Jerry recently, was the “zenith for the band.”  In 1982, they returned to Spokane for the first of several Spring Festivals sponsored by SFS but shortly after that event, the Ridgerunners broke up.  Mark explained,” when Ronald Reagan’s era struck the flimsy old time music economy like an asteroid, everyone put on clean clothes and went to school or got a job.” 


The band’s fate reflected that of square dancing.   The popularity of contras had begun to overcome the old time square dance world.  Square dance callers like Sandy Bradley, Sherry Nevins, and Debbie Nagusky first added contras to their repertoires and then later called contras almost exclusively.  String bands remained popular because their music could be used with contras but bands that focused on traditional contra dance music from New England, Ireland, Scotland, and French Canada were in more demand.  In January 1982, the Spokane Folklore Society discontinued the monthly square dance and moved to a single contra dance on 3rd Saturdays of every month.

more articles are available at our  Current Newsletter

We can help you get in touch with other people in the Spokane, Washington, area who are interested in music, dance, and folk arts. Find out what's happening on the calendar  
Our major project of the year is the  Fall Folk Festival.
One of our main activities with SFS is Contra Dancing. Contra dancing is a type of traditional dance from New England. Dancers face each other in "contra" lines and move up and down the formation as couples in figures directed by a caller. The Virginia Reel is a dance in this style. You don't have to be experienced - the caller teaches all the moves. Special clothes are not necessary. No partner is needed - Singles and couples are invited. Check the calendar for the contra dance schedule.   Click here more details and some pictures and links to video of a typical local Contra dance.

If you are interested in having the Folklore Society help sponsor your event, please download this .pdf form here.  (Acrobat reader required)

If this is your first visit to our site, please read more about the Spokane Folklore Society: its organization and mission. We hope that you will join us, and subscribe to our monthly newsletter.