Everybody Danced

Dances on campus were the source of pleasure for a large number of students who attended the University from before World War I through the 1960s.  Dances were presented by various classes, Greeks, non-Greeks, Ag students, and the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A.

Formal and informal dances offered students the opportunity to dance the two-step, waltz, tango, jitterbug, and other popular dances during their free time.

Folk Dancers, May 8, 1961.
RS 39/2/20, ACT 39, Folder “Recreation 1948-62”

As Beth Olwin Dawson, class of 1933, recalls:

“Our social life was dancing. The sororities and fraternities each usually had a couple of dances each year. They’d have a pledge dance in the fall and they’d have a formal in the spring. … Then we had Freshman Frolic, Sophomore Cotillion, Junior Prom, and Senior Ball. They had Senior Ball two nights, they’d have two bands. I mean, everybody danced. Every Friday and Saturday nights were dance nights…

Then besides that they’d bring in name bands like Duke Ellington and Ben Berney, they’d have special dances. Everybody danced. They had Robeson’s Roof, that was wonderful, Robeson’s Roof. Then even in the winter, the third floor of Robeson’s was a furniture store. They would even move all that out and would have Wednesday night dancing on the third floor of Robeson’s. That was the entertainment. There were some wonderful dancers. It was even before jitterbug or anything, it was just nice, lovely dancing. Friday and Saturday nights, you didn’t usually go to a movie, you’d dance. We were dressy. We wore long dresses, frequently, and it was dignified and all.”

Dance program autographed by Henry Mancini, 1965.
RS 41/20/185, Box 1, Folder “Dance Programs, 1933-36, 1960-66”

Over the years,  students heard the rhythms of many well-known bands.  Besides Henry Mancini, who autographed a student’s program from the 1965 Homecoming dance (see image left), students danced to the tunes of Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, and other famous musicians at the University of Illinois campus.


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