Waltzing Through Time: A History of MSU Dances

Written by: Autumn Beyer

Primary Source:  MSU Archaeology Program, February 14, 2017

For Valentine’s Day, let take a dance through time! MSU has a long history of university dances. As we learned through Susan Kooiman’s blog post from October, there are archival records, such as dance cards, from the 1880s that list the order of dances with a space for filling in your dance partner. This particular dance card uncovered by Susan, was from 1884 and only had one dance line filled in. Here is the story, as told by Susan:

1884 Dance Card. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

1884 Dance Card. Image Courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections.

“He was to do the Grand March with Grace Boosinger. Curiosity prompted an internet search of her name, which turned up the alumni update section for the Iota Chapter (Michigan Agricultural College) of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity in 1892. It reported that H.E. Thomas married Grace Boosinger (“his old freshman girl) on July 12, 1982, and that he had been “re-nominated as circuit court commissioner.” Harris Thomas was a mover and shaker – he began his career as a lawyer but served as president of multiple companies later on and even served as a US Postmaster. He and Grace lived in Lansing their whole lives and are buried here as well. It seems he only had one name on his dance card for a reason…”

Sadly, many of the photos that I have uncovered do not have as much of a backstory, but they do tell the tale of the long history of formal dances at Michigan State University, some of which still happen today. Now we are going to continue waltzing through time, taking a look a few photos of dances through MSU history.

In 1912, the Olympic Society was one of several literary societies on campus. It was founded in October 1885, due to the need of another literary society at the school (MSU Archives). Below is a photo showing a group of students from this dance.

1912 Olympic Dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1912 Olympic Dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In 1920 the first Co-Ed Prom took place! However, even through the name says co-ed, it was an all girls’ dance. Not a single man could attend, or even be an onlooker! The dance had some resistance from men on campus, but successfully continued for several years.  The M.A.C. record article about the first dance states that, “The lights went out, but the dance went on without interruption.  Did some envious man try to stop the fun because he could not be there?” (MA.C. Record Jan 20 1920). The men sometimes held separate “stag parties”, but news accounts note that attempting to sneak into the dance was a enticing challenge and they had to “plug the tunnel and keep the college cop at the door to keep men from sneaking in”(M.A.C. Record Jan 1935).

Each of the “couples” were required to attend the dance in costume. Interestingly in 1921 someone dressed up as Munsel Color Theory (I wish there was a picture of this because as you know, we love Munsel). This prom was organized by the all girls’ student council and with run with the help of the co-ed faculty and student body. The co-ed prom continued through the 1930s.

1920 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1920 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1927 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1927 co-ed prom. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In 1943, a Mardi Gras Ball was held at MSU. Below, is a photo of the queen of the ball and her court.

1943 Mardi Gras ball queen and court. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1943 Mardi Gras ball queen and court. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

As I continued through time, I came across several photos from 1950, one of a group of female students getting ready for a dance and the other of a couple at a formal dance.

1950 couple at formal dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1950 couple at formal dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1950 female students getting ready for dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1950 female students getting ready for dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Several years later, in 1953, there was an International Festival where three women performed an Indian Stick Dance.

1953 Indian Stick Dance at the International Festival. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1953 Indian Stick Dance at the International Festival. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

The photo below, from a dance in 1954, shows a large group of students doing the Bunny Hop!

1930 conga line. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

1954 Bunny Hop. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

In 1955, the University held a Harvest Dance pictured below, showing a couple posing with the best of the harvest crop!

1955 harvest dance

1955 harvest dance. Image courtesy of MSU Archives & Historical Collections

Finally, I would like to take us to the present day, where MSU continues to have formal balls! One of them is the Honors College Ball. Each year, the ball is organized by Honors College Programing Board, and it is the social calendar highlight of the year. The theme changes from year to year and recent themes have included “Black and White,” “Winter Yule Ball,” and “Masquerade.”

All in all, MSU has a very long history of formal dances, from the late 1800s to present day.

 

Sources:

Olympic Society:

  • http://archives.msu.edu/findaid/ua12-2-19.html
  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-296/1912-olympic-dance/

Co-Ed Prom:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-294/1920-coed-prom/
  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-295/1927-coed-prom/

Bunny Hop:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-30C/conga-line-1930s/

Mardi Gras Ball Queen and Court:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-310/mardi-gras-ball-queen-and-court/

Female students getting ready for dance:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-B99/female-students-getting-ready-for-dance-1950/

Couple at Formal Dance:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-840/a-couple-at-a-formal-dance-1950/

Indian Stick Dance at the International Festival:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-F4E/indian-stick-dance-at-the-international-festival-1953/

Harvest Dance:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-93F/a-couple-poses-with-produce-at-the-harvest-dance-1955/

MSU Dance 1958:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-297/1958-dance/

Dance Decoration:

  • http://onthebanks.msu.edu/Object/1-4-83D/students-decorate-dance-1959/

M.A.C. Record – Jan 1935, January 20 1920.

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Autumn Beyer
Autumn Beyer is a second year Ph.D. student in the Department of Anthropology. Her research focuses on prehistoric foodways through the analysis of animal bones in the Midwestern United States. This is her first year as a CAP fellow and she plans on working with returning fellow Susan Kooiman on a project to recreate historic MSU meals based on artifacts recovered from a privy.