Chapter 4

Chapter 4 – Back to Columbia 

In 1988, with the help of a bunch of roses sent by Jim Ronald to Jan Godfrey, the secretary of the Calvary Episcopal Church, the group was able to secure the use of the activity room in the church and contra dances started again in Columbia. They did not stop right away in Boonville. Until at least 1989, maybe later, dances alternated between the two locations on the first and third Friday of each month, as shown on the flyer below, which was sent by mail to the group members.

January 1989 monthly newsletter, page 1

January 1989 newsletter, page 2

With the move back to Columbia, Jim Ronald instituted a $2.50 admission price instead of passing the hat around. The money collected was used to pay for the hall rental ($100) and give something to the musicians.  Art remembers musicians getting $75 and callers getting $35. However, there was not always that much available and the organizers gave what they could. That could be $15 to the caller and $60 to the musicians. Sometimes, it was not even that much.

Slowly but surely Jeanne and David Neely, who in the daytime were nurses at Boone Hospital, became the ones that were running the dance. They would get there early, moved the chairs aside, mopped the floor afterwards. Jim was in charge of reserving the church, finding musicians and callers, and sending flyers but for all practical matters, Jeanne and David were doing the bulk of it. As is the case in those situations, they all burned out after a few years. On top of that, Jim Ronald had to go to Eminence, in the Ozarks; he was not going to be able to do this anymore and he wanted to make sure things were going to keep going. This is when Art Jeffreys was asked to contribute. He started opening the church and collecting the money. Before long, he had the key of the church to open and close as needed. Sometimes, getting involved is as simple, or as complicated as that: being willing to do it. While he was still involved, Jim organized a committee: himself, Art and Michelle.

Jim Ronald was sure of one thing: he wanted newcomers to get a full welcome, the “red carpet treatment.” Things were loose but he wanted to make sure that new dancers would feel welcome and not isolated. Because of this, time to learn a dance was longer. In fact, it was so long that some musicians were known to go have a drink across the street. When the dancers and caller were ready for them, someone had to go get them. 

As a result, an evening did not include as many dances as they typically do nowadays. But the sense of community was very strong. For example, they always closed the evening with a circle dance that had 3 circles: an inner, middle and outside circles. They would dim the lights and dance “O how lovely is the evening” (see

Maybe there was a waltz before that, but the evening would close with that circle dance. Not everyone liked that. One musician says: “As a musician, I was trying to avoid participating in that. This was not my thing, I was not much for a group hug. I was not very aware of the group dynamics; it was fun to play for a dance and I was apart from the drama.”

Derek was still the mainstay caller in 1989 but he gradually called less and less and stopped by 1990. Sometimes callers from other places would come, like Bob Borcherding or Ken Johnston, from St Louis .  Gale Adams, a dancer from Michigan, knew some square dances, some polkas and was calling, but that was not really what people wanted: they wanted contras (see the two March 1990 dance programs). 

March 2, 1990 dance program. Note the high number of dances. They must have been fairly short.

March 16, 1990 dance program. Here the number of dances was much smaller.

One of these people was Jim Thaxter. Jim was performing with a clogging group in the 80’s, and he had never called but he wanted to and he was practicing by himself with tapes. He lived in Moberly, about 30 miles from Columbia, and came to Columbia for the contra dances. As someone who had to drive that long to get here and go back home, he did not like it when the dance would not start until 45 minutes after the announced time. Since that seemed to happen somewhat regularly, he just started calling. He was not always in time with the music because real people dancing and a live band are quite different from tapes with the voice of Tony Parkes helping to give the calls at the right time.  But everybody was great about it, and nobody said anything about it because Jim was the only one willing to call. Jim did not take any pay for several years, partly because he felt he was only learning to call and partly because the group wanted to save money to buy sound equipment. The dances were a mixture of easy contra dances, squares and mixers, sometimes as short as three to four minutes. Very quickly, Jim Thaxter became the mainstay caller for the contra dance: there wasn’t anyone else. And when Jim Ronald had to go to Eminence, Jim Thaxter became the main person of the group: he became president of the Mid-Missouri Country dancers and Art was treasurer. Jim was the main caller for 7 to 8 years, after which he realized that, if he wanted to dance, he had to train other callers: he organized a workshop to teach calling to others.  

On the musician side, more bands were available. Kathy and Dave were still playing for the dances, Paul and Win as well. Howard Marshall played a lot too. And then Charlie Walden, Taylor McBaine and Heinrich Leonard. Taylor was a tall, skinny guy that could play fiddle. There was also Whopup Holler (Joel Christman band).

Sam Griffith started doing the sound for these dances. Before that, Gale Adams had bought a sound system, which the group was renting from him. But he was bringing it every time to the church, unloading it, carrying it upstairs and packing it. It was a regular amp with a couple microphones. But again, he was the only one doing it and after a few years, he burned out. When he found an opportunity to organize dances at the Senior Center, he left and took his equipment with him. Sam started doing the sound, with his own equipment.

Dances were doing well and dancers came in greater number. Dave Para recalls that suddenly, there were 2 lines. Through their outreach efforts and contributions to area festivals and fundraising events, the contra dance group was firmly established in Columbia. Soon, the dances in Boonville stopped, except one once in a while (see the Fall 1995 schedule of dances). In 1998, it moved to first Christian Church and in 2010 to the Ballroom Academy of Columbia. The search for good venues never stops. The admission rate slowly increased: from $2.50 in 1988 when Jim Ronald first instituted an admission feed, it raised to $3.00 in 1990, and $4.00 in 1995.

1995 Fall Schedule

1996 participation of contra dancers to the Twilight festival in downtown Columbia, Missouri.