How Lloyd Shaw Dance Center Came to Be
By Simona Derr
On this Friday night in February, Doc Litchman sits alone on a bench in the large, mostly empty dance hall. I do not disturb him because he looks like he is concentrating; most likely on the square dances he is about to call in a few minutes.
Later he is in the area where we are having our potluck and I take the opportunity to converse with him. I discover that in the mid 1980’s he was looking for a small house to purchase; a place to store his extensive archives on square dancing. “It all started with a 16 millimeter film called the ‘Spokane Silver Spurs,’ a high school dance demonstration team under the direction of Red Henderson who followed Lloyd Shaw’s lead in creating a progressive dance program for students in the local public school system. The collection grew from there,” he says. He kept the archives in his own home from 1972-1982, then in a North Valley converted chicken coop from 1982-1988. His archive grew to more than 100,000 items before it was declared by the Library of Congress to be the “National Clearing House for Square Dancing.”
In seeking a better place for his burgeoning archives, Doc teamed up with a realtor who knew that the Fishback Dance Studio was for sale. The realtor suggested that Doc might like to buy a place to house the archives that also had a dance space. Doc was all for that. He had a wealthy patron, Russell Acton, who paid for the building.
Acton was a chemist who, in retirement, was a very good farmer. He had several patents which he obtained while he was doing research as a chemist in the 1930’s, which gave him a very comfortable income and from which he had saved a large amount of money for his retirement. He didn’t have a lot of land in Illinois, less than 100 acres, but it was marvelous soil. His crop, green beans, were highly sought after by the Jolly Green Giant! He donated money to Berea, Kentucky, for a dance hall, to Jane Farwell for another dance hall, and to the Lloyd Shaw Foundation for an Archives Building.
The purchase, completed in 1988, became the Lloyd Shaw Dance Center, named after a beloved folk dance teacher, principal, and administrator of schools for the Cheyenne Mountain school district in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Due to the influence of Elizabeth Burchenal who visited Denver at the time, Shaw instituted folk dancing in his school beginning in the early 1920’s and then expanded to include square dancing when he found local groups doing dancing as part of community social activities (in about 1934). He quickly instituted square dancing and other forms of dance as a part of an all-inclusive social activity which, incidentally, replaced team sports (football, basketball, etc) from the school curriculum. His Cheyenne Mountain Dancers became nationally famous when he took them to the National Folk Festival in Washington, DC, in 1940. Shaw published two books on dancing (Cowboy Dances and The Round Dance Book) which are still a source of dance material for callers and teachers.
Once the old Fishback studio was purchased and made ready for dancing, the archives took up residence. There they stayed until 2004 when they were moved to the Denver University Library Special Collections. The archives filled a 73-foot long semi-truck trailer when it all got shipped to Denver! Now one old archive room is an office, and the other is a smaller dance space.
I stop Doc’s wife, Kris, to tell her that Doc’s portrait should be up on the wall with the others in the main dance hall and she tells me the story of those portraits. The fellow with the eyepatch in one of the paintings is Bob Osgood from Los Angeles, California. He put out a monthly dancing publication called Sets In Order Magazine, beginning in 1948 and continuing until the 1980’s. In the 1960’s, he had the portraits painted to go on the cover of each publication. The portraits were donated to the Lloyd Shaw Foundation to keep them open to the public and available for viewing. Bob gave them knowing that the Foundation had the building and was willing to take good care of them. Several of the people in the portraits have visited the building to view their pictures though most of them have now passed on. Each portrait is identified with the name of the subject(s). They were all very influential in the resurgence of square dancing beginning in the late 1930’s through the late 1960’s.
Now you know a little more about the place our group calls “home.” Thanks so much to Doc and Kris Litchman who had the vision to buy the Fishback studio and the generosity to make it available to a wide range of dance groups from International Folk to Tango; A Western Performance Group, English Country Dancers, New England Contra Dancers, and Irish dancers. Our dancing experiences are enriched by having such a wonderful wooden floor on which to dance, nice bathrooms, a kitchenette for potlucks, and a comfy foyer. Thanks also to Donna Bauer who manages the Lloyd Shaw Dance Center and keeps it working well; from arranging the schedule, to getting the leaks fixed, keeping it supplied with paper towels and soap, getting the sinks unclogged, keeping the space clean, getting burned-out lights changed, and a new updated sign put up outside above the door to the Dance Center.
Back to the enchanting night of dancing in February: Doc calls a stunning array of square dances as a four-person live music band plays, and saves a silly, corny, laugh-a-second square dance for the end called “Look At The Northern Lights.” With his words, he creates a chilly, snowy, windy, gritty, northern atmosphere as he has us ducking into the igloo, playing pat-a-cake with the local Eskimos, then exiting the igloo to swing in the middle of an arctic blast of wind and snow, and to fling up our arms and fling out our feet as we look at the northern lights!—Hey!