The spirit of community was alive Wednesday night in the Ruby Valley as members of the Sheridan and Twin Bridges communities blended together in a colorful blur during a good old fashion barn dance at the Madison County Fairgrounds.
The dance was put on in part by the Sheridan and Twin Bridges Public Schools, and came at the tail end of an educational unit where students in English and History classes focused on the homestead era. Through the Humanities Montana – Speakers in the Schools Program, dance caller Mark Matthews of Arlee came to talk to students about the role of dance in the experience of immigrants during the homestead era. Matthews spent the morning on Wednesday talking to students at Twin Bridges before going to Sheridan in the afternoon, showing films about the history of dance and how European and African influences came into play.
Following the potluck dinner Wednesday night, the sweet music of the Broken String Band of Bozeman picked up and Matthews began calling the different dances, explaining the moves and history as he went along. While some picked up the dances easier than others, members of the community young and old moved in unison to the rhythm as their energy filled the room.
The educational unit on the homestead era was funded by a grant from the Montana Historical Society. Teachers from both schools attended a workshop in Helena to gather background information. Students interviewed community members about their family heritage, and received presentations from guest speakers Ellen Baumler, a historian with the MHS, and Alan Weltzien from the University of Montana Western. Through the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read Program, students read “My Antonia” by Willa Cather and “Girls of the Gulches” by Mary Ronan to get insight to the homestead era.
Sheridan English teacher Sally Schendel said part of the goal for the project was to celebrate the role dance and literature has played in communities from a historical perspective.
“We wanted to bring both communities together,” said Schendel. “Having the dance was another level of building community through heritage, through history, through literature.”
While the Broken Strings Band played into the night on Wednesday, the people of the Ruby Valley twirled about the barn, moving between dance partners, catching up with old acquaintances and making new ones.
“That was wonderful to see the two communities blend together in one evening just for the fun of it,” Schendel said. “Enjoying music and each other’s company, and enjoying dancing together and learning how to dance together.”