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'They're dancing out the doors.' Old tradition of barn dancing sees surge of interest at CT museum

Guests square dance just outside the barn during a Blue Slope Country Museum barn dance on Sept. 2, 2023 in North Franklin, Conn. The farm and museum has been hosting weekly barn dances for 25 years.
Joe Buglewicz
/
Connecticut Public
Guests square dance just outside the barn during a Blue Slope Country Museum barn dance on Sept. 2, 2023 in North Franklin, Conn. The farm and museum has been hosting weekly barn dances for 25 years.

Much like cider donuts, agricultural fairs and lobster, barn dances to me are just quintessentially New England.

Back in the day, barn dances served an important function — a chance for farmers and their families to put aside the daily grind and blow off a little steam as they gathered to socialize, listen to music and dance.

Blue Slope Country Museum in North Franklin, which is dedicated to giving visitors a glimpse into Connecticut’s agricultural past, has been hosting barn dances since the 1990s.

On a cool, late summer evening, my wife and I decided to give it a try. The doors to the museum's enormous two-story barn were opened wide on this Saturday night, giving square dancers a glimpse of Blue Slopes’ beautiful fields. The barn was packed with dancers, so much so that some people had to dance in the grass outside the barn, straining to hear the caller.

“It’s a lot of the same people each week, and a few new people,” said square dance caller Richard Sbardella.

Pat Fulton traveled from Cumberland, Rhode Island for the dance. She said two-and-a-half years ago, they’d be lucky to have 24 people.

“Now they're dancing out the doors,” Fulton said. “It's a beautiful thing. Eighty-eight people on a dance floor in one night. What's not to like?”

Participant Rebecca Joy said being at the dance brings back all the memories from her childhood.

“I get to bring my five children with me now and they get to do the things that I did growing up,” Joy said .

In between my own clumsy attempts at learning how to promenade and allemande, I managed to chat with some square dancers, and put together this audio postcard. (Click above to listen.)

If you go
The next barn dance at Blue Slope is Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. Learn more here.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.
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