Play Parties: Dances by another name

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Rupert Peyton commented in last week’s article about the invention that permitted young people to have fun before the arrival of the Model T in 1908.  His comments about having fun at the old Wyche home were featured in the March 29, 1956 issue of the Bossier Banner-Progress.

“It was the cleverest invention that ever deceived a puritan mind.  [The inventor] worked a way by which those old devils, the ‘fiddle and bow’ and the ‘caller,’ were banished.  This satisfied most of the believers in ’reform,’ and the young folks just sang and danced to the rhythm of their own voices.  Of course the word ‘dance’ couldn’t be used.  They gave it the benign name of ‘play parties.’  To the words and tunes of ‘Roxy Ann,’ ‘Sugar Lump’ and ‘Shoot the Buffalo’ these young people went through about every movement and step that were included in the ‘sinful’ square dances.  You could have a ‘play party’ in the stern deacon’s home but he would have gotten out his shotgun if somebody had tried to do a formal dance.  He thought those young folks were playing something like ring-around-the-rosy or dropping the handkerchief.  The did the Virginia Reel is disguise right under their noses and with approval, but woe to the young man or woman who danced to a fiddle.  What in the dickens did young folks care?  Besides they proved that ‘he who dances must pay the fiddler’ isn’t necessarily true.  You don’t pay anything when you dance to your own song.”

“Well it was during the ‘play party’ day that the young folks gathered for their revels at the Parkers, and elsewhere in North Bossier, and the young man or woman who knew all the songs and movements was in great demand.  Now the singing was a bit off-key but the rhythm remained, and that’s what the young folks liked.  That was why the old home shook that night the Parkers entertained.”

“As a boy I watched the ‘play party’ in its heyday and was just a looker-on that night when the Parkers entertained.  That was the night that Andrew Smith rose and shined in all of his rural and rustic glory.”

“Andrew knew every song and movement and the intricate steps of ‘Skip to my Lou’ and ‘Had a Little Fight in Mexico’ were as easy to him as the multiplication table to a professor.”

“Some time ago Andrew told me that he still recalled the words, songs and movements of the ‘play parties’ which went out like a flash with the arrival of the Model Tin the rural hinterlands.  I got a radio man interested in an effort to preserve some of this by-gone folk-lore and we planned to make a recording and Andrew agreed to it.  Somehow, the recording plans were postponed.  Finally my radio friend left and just a few days ago Andrew departed for that Fairer Land.  Behind Andrew leaves sadness in the hearts of friends and loved ones, but with his passing went one of the rare masters of a bit of colorful and unique Americana.”

“Only in cold type and with imperfect memory can I translate to you the saga of the night when the rafters of the old Wyche house shook and Andrew Smith shone in the social glory of his youth, age, and community.  The old house is gone and so is Andrew but the memories they both leave behind would make chapters in the annals of grand old Bossier.”

Ann Middleton is Director of the Bossier Parish Library Historical Center. She can be reached at (318) 746-7717 or by e-mail at amiddlet@state.lib.la.us