I watched with interest as the story of the Bynum School of northern Montana was told, and thought perhaps this holds the answer to a whole lot of life’s challenges.
The tiny school at the foot of the Rockies made the NBC national news one recent evening — not for something that would jar us with horror, but for an enduring tradition that shapes young lives in a joyous way.
Every morning, before the day of schooling begins, the students of all ages gather for twenty minutes of dancing, followed by group singing.
Teacher Susan Luinstra lights up with a smile as she describes the minute the music starts to play, as children rush to get a partner and hit the dance floor.
The melodies often date back to an era before their parents even arrived in the world, and provide the type of simple rhythm that makes one focus on the moment, dancing with a partner.
Luinstra told the origins of this tradition.
Ira Perkins taught at the country school for 50 years, and believed it was dancing and singing that would hold the key to enduring the Great Depression.
His thought was that even on the days when a child arrived at school with a “chip on his shoulder,” twenty minutes of dance could transform the day in to something good.
He felt this ‘partnership’ on the dance floor would bring, as the commentator explains, “ranch kids and town kids, poor kids and kids with plenty” to a place where experiencing joy together was a certainty.
To dance, one has to work with a partner, and reaching that end result sets everything else aside.
The children learn all types of dancing, including the joyous square dance, and the simple steps of the waltz which teaches timing and a need to pay attention to a partner.
As their instructor says, this helps the children in ways which they carry with them out in to the world.
Luinstra herself was once a student at the school, and it is obvious that she is happily carrying on the tradition of her former teacher, Mr. Perkins.
After dancing, the students and teacher gather on the floor to sing together before class begins for the day.
Many of the songs date back to pre-Civil War days, lyrics sweetly telling love and life stories, tales of both heartache and joy, and simple triumphs.
A community dance was held at the end of this particular week, and the turnout was impressive. A span of generations gathered for a good old square dance.
Who can be sour or contrite while square dancing?