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Mayville barn dance tradition going strong after 27 years

MAYVILLE, N.D.--Jim Marschke and Gen Westland began to count in time as the band struck up another folk tune. One two three, one two three. A waltz, their favorite. Marschke extended his hand to Westland and together they abandoned their armchair...

Maija Lindaas and Nate Sand dance at Elroy Lindaas' barn, just outside of Mayville, N.D. on June 25, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)
Maija Lindaas and Nate Sand dance at Elroy Lindaas' barn, just outside of Mayville, N.D. on June 25, 2016. (Meg Oliphant/Grand Forks Herald)
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MAYVILLE, N.D.-Jim Marschke and Gen Westland began to count in time as the band struck up another folk tune. One two three, one two three. A waltz, their favorite.

Marschke extended his hand to Westland and together they abandoned their armchairs for another spin on the dance floor.

The two met five years ago on this same dance floor in the hayloft of Elroy Lindaas' barn, Marschke said. They had arrived separately with friends and paired up for the last dance of the night.

It was also the last barn dance scheduled for the season, Westland added.

After they parted ways, Westland, who had been recently widowed at the time, went home and promptly forgot about her dancing partner. But Marschke couldn't stop thinking about her.

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"He made sure he came back next June to see if I'd be here," Westland said. "And I was. Our relationship developed from there."

"That's happened a few times," Lindaas said. "We've had some that have gotten married. We have had two marriages that developed from senior citizens up there."

Lindaas' barn dances have been bringing people to Mayville, and for Marschke and Westland and quite a few other couples, together, for the past 27 years.

"People recognize that it's become a local attraction," said Lindaas, 79, a retired third-generation farmer born on the Mayville farm where he has lived his whole life.

Inside the barn, the ambiance is part rustic charm, part old-school ice cream social. As the sun gradually sets, high double-paned windows let in long rays that bounce off the wooden beams of the gambrel roof and bathe the hayloft in a warm amber glow. People chat over potluck snacks, pop and a steady supply of coffee for those eager to dance the night away or stay alert on the drive home after the revels end. They sit along the barn walls on mismatched suede sofas and floral couches until the songs lure them on to the dance floor.

Lindaas, who plays guitar and sings with his band, provides the music as well as the venue. On barn dance nights, they frequently invite guest musicians to join them on stage, as many as seven accordions at one time, Lindaas said.

Their repertoire consists of songs he has heard from the 1940s, '50s, '60s, he said. "Nothing too much new."

Pieces include Norwegian and German folk tunes, as well as classic country songs by the likes of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and John Denver.

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People waltz, two-step and polka to the music. Sometimes, they dance the occasional schottische, a slow country polka of Bohemian origin.

When children are present, Lindaas likes to throws in the butterfly dance and the bird dance. Both are crowd pleasers for all ages.

How to build a barn dance

Farmers traditionally threw barn dances for friends and family after the raising of a new barn, but the Lindaas' barn didn't see its first dance until 1989.

"We kind of slid into it," Lindaas said.

The Lindaas farm dates back to 1878, when Lindaas' grandfather, Endre, who emigrated from Norway as a teenager, homesteaded the land. In 1949, Lindaas' father, Eddie, built the barn in which the dances are held using reclaimed timber from a previous barn.

As a functioning barn, it housed dairy cows, horses and hogs. Lindaas' fourth daughter, Darlene McGovern, remembers the loft being filled with hay and a rope swing when she was young.

The barn was being used for storage when Elroy's youngest daughters, twins in high school at the time, asked if they could throw a dance in the barn, Lindaas said.

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He agreed as long as they were willing to clean it out first.

The task took them a whole summer, Naomi Roisum, one of the twins, said. The floor was caked with so much grime and matted hay that they had to use a three-wheeler to pull weights against the boards to scrape off the muck.

But it was worth the effort, she said. They pinned streamers on the walls to decorate and blasted songs on cassette tapes. The dance was a big hit with their friends.

Lindaas said he didn't play, but set up a sound system for them.

"That was strictly their music at the time."

Once the barn was clean, Lindaas saw a chance to bring out his old guitar began rehearsing with his band in the loft.

"And then it became his hangout place with his friends," Roisum said.

Intermittent jam sessions soon became regular performances for friends and family.

"People started hearing about it and the crowd started coming," Lindaas said. "It has kind of blossomed from there, I guess."

As the dances' popularity grew, Lindaas began to draw up summer schedules that he lists every year in the Traill County Tribune. He installed a new dance floor, rain-proofed the roof and collected furniture from his friend, an auctioneer.

"When there was a chair or a sofa that didn't sell," Lindaas said, "it went up in my barn."

Place to gather

Lindaas greets visitors, regardless of age, with a "hey, kiddo" and a handshake. He estimates that he knows over 90 percent of the people who come.

"I've made a lot of friends with this music deal," Lindaas said. "A lot of those that used to come a lot, now their kids or grandkids are coming. There's new people all the time."

Lindaas attributes the popularity of his barn dances to its relaxed, family-friendly atmosphere. Instead of alcohol, Lindaas keeps chilled pop in a vintage round metal cooler.

"People mix quite well," said Bev Nelson, 80, of Hawley, Minn. She and her husband, Kermit, who frequently plays guitar with the band, drove two hours to attend.

"We'll get home about 1 a.m.," Bev Nelson said, cheerfully.

Silvia Schaeffer and about 20 of her classmates from the Mayville high school class of 1956 celebrated their 60th reunion at the barn dance. They also came for their 55th reunion, she said.

"It's just a lot of fun for all ages," Schaeffer said. "The fellow who owns the barn, he recognized me right away!"

Lindaas said music, and all the friends he's made from playing music, have been a good diversion since his wife, who had a flair for singing, developed dementia six years ago and died in March of last year.

"It's easy to play when you see people enjoying it," Lindaas said. "It's really is fun to watch everybody having fun."

In addition to the barn dances, Lindaas said he and his band play at nursing homes, gatherings, and even a few weddings. It's always a pleasure to introduce his favorite songs to a new generation or reacquaint older folks with songs from their past, he said.

"I'm going to keep on as long as I can," Lindaas said. "I tell everybody the time we spend playing music doesn't count on our age."

Related Topics: MAYVILLEMUSIC
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