About This Project

Sunnyside Hall, South Surrey, British Columbia

In the Winter of 2011, I visited two dance halls several times and produced a photo documentary about my parents old time dance community. In one of the locations I photographed, Sunnyside Hall, the old time music and dances are more traditional. This style was popular while my mother grew up on the prairies. Whole families and all ages danced together and relationships began. It was at one of these dances where my own mother and father had their first date. It comes as no surprise that so many of Sunnyside dancers, mostly in their 70-90’s, are originally from the Canadian prairies. The need for a sense of community never goes away.

A conversation that I had with my father in April, 2012, prompted me to revisit the Old Time Country Dance at Sunnyside Hall in South Surrey, British Columbia.  My father explained to me that the 75 dancers I met last year had declined to forty. “So many have died in the last several months and you see,” he said, “when one goes, the partner stops coming, so you lose two.” He also explained that attendance wasn’t enough to cover the bills so he was speculating that the nominal savings that the group had carefully accrued over time would be used to augment the expenses.  “Once the savings are gone, then that is it.”

My heart sank when I heard this. The sense of community at this dance is profoundly important to many of the people in attendance. Apart from the obvious fun and enjoyment derived from dancing, there is much more to be gained: exercise, taking personal pride in dressing up; a sense of purpose in the helping roles (e.g. setting up, taking money, running coffee time, cleaning up); and connection with others, especially for those who may be more isolated. I went back on May, 21, 2012 (slightly over a year since my last visit). Again, I was moved by the sense of presence in the moment that the dancers had. No gadgets. No pining for future or past, just living for the enjoyment of today’s dance. They welcomed me so warmly.

On the way home, my mother and father embellish on earlier observations about the Sunnyside dance. “The numbers are also dwindling because some are not well, others have lost their driver’s licenses and can’t get rides and some are just not able to dance anymore.” I did visit with one man, whose body is failing him, but he still comes to watch and listen to the music.  There were others like him.

As I photographed and visited with the aging dancers, I was keenly aware that I am witnessing the demise of a piece of Canadiana that was transplanted to the West Coast by people who left the prairie life. A place of belonging and meaning for so many is disappearing. A place where there is a hug and touch and genuine interest in how you are doing. Old time country dances at Sunnyside is a place where the familiar brings comfort and joy. It’s a place that is the epitome of a strong community.

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