Living History – Dancing at the Indiana Roof Ballroom

roof dancersI have to admit, I’m very prone to attacks of nostalgia. The past often returns to me in vivid images, like the photograph of my mother at the Indiana Roof Ballroom dressed to the nines and sitting at a table with other beautiful young men and women out for an evening of fun.

Being fancy was pretty normal in my mother’s youth. The ladies tried to outdo each other with their swirling party dresses. The young men with their bow ties and dark rimmed glasses seemed to possess an attractive charisma, one that is still pretty effective today. But now, most of the places we go the dress is pretty casual. Getting really dressed up is reserved for weddings or funerals. Even at these formal events one can find people wearing flip-flops!

That’s why going out dancing at the Indiana Roof is a perfect opportunity to exercise our right to get fancy!!

I just started attending the Big Band Dance Series at the Indiana Roof Ballroom last year even though I had been dancing for many years. I’m not sure why I never went, except that it’s kind of a well-kept secret – one I think everyone should know about!!

For generations, Indianapolis men and women associated the words the Indiana Roof with fond memories of rustling prom dresses, swinging dance bands and romantic waltzes under twinkling Spanish skies. Many of the people who attend the dances today had parents or grandparents who danced there.

The Roof, designed by Edgar O. Hunter and Preston Rubush, first opened in September of 1927. Reminiscent of a European village, painted grapevines swirl up plaster columns and the stucco facades, doorways and balconies contain exquisite details. The domed ceiling resembles the night sky with painted on stars and light features that illuminate the floor as if lit by the moon above.

The “Roof,” as it’s referred to by avid fans, was a popular dance spot through the 30 and 40s straight through the depression and attracted many famous live acts to its stage. Today, in the same tradition, a different 20+ piece orchestra takes the stage above the 100 foot wide circular dance floor to play classic big band tunes of swing, foxtrot, waltz, cha-cha and an occasional polka every other month on a Sunday evening. People travel from all over the Midwest to attend the dances at the Roof. Waltzing around the smooth wooden floor feels like taking a ride on a time machine back in history. I think it’s very special that we can still use this space in the way it was intended.

roofWhen I tell new people about the Roof and it’s beauty and grand scale, they always make the assumption that they have to be a “good” dancer to attend. But that notion couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’ve been dancing at the Roof for a year now, and what I see are dancers of all skill levels (mostly beginner to intermediate – very few advanced). I see dancers of all ages (20s to 90s!) all out there dancing at the same time to the same music. I also see couples slow dancing like we did back in the 5th and 6th grade! There is room for everyone!

The truth is, it doesn’t matter how you dance, it matters that you get up there with your favorite someone special and make it a night to remember! If nothing else, being at the roof is like touring an historical monument – a monument to the popularity of dance and fanciness in our culture.

Want to go?  Here are the details….All dances are on scheduled Sundays, from 5:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. (Doors open at 4:00 p.m.) Check the website for dates. Tickets are $14.00 each.  A cash bar is provided and light refreshments are available for purchase at the bar (cheese and vegetable platters, snack mix and spinach artichoke dip). NO outside food or beverages are allowed. Attire is Business to Formal. Just come as fancy as you are…

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