News & Politics

PHOTOS: Square Dancing Returns to Rock Creek Park

Historic Peirce Mill in DC has a long history of hosting community dances.

The do-si-do was alive and well outside Peirce Mill, a 19th-century gristmill in Rock Creek Park, this past Saturday. Several hundred dancers, both experts and newbies, returned for the mill’s first summer square dance since 2018.

A heat wave had cancelled the annual event in 2019, and by the time 2020 rolled around, sashaying with strangers didn’t exactly follow Covid-19 protocols. Like previous years, the DC Square Dance Collective, a community group that works to keep the foot-tappin’ tradition alive, led the dance. Meanwhile, the Baltimore-based fiddling trio Devil in the Mill provided the old-time, Appalachian folk tunes.

While the annual square dance had only been meeting for a few years prior to 2018, the mill has a long tradition of dancing that goes back more than a century, says Angela Kramer, executive director of Friends of Peirce Mill.

“I sometimes say that mills are one of the first third places,” says Kramer. “They’re where people often gathered and socialized in farm communities. We have one article describing a dance that took place on a beautiful September evening sometime in the 19th century. There were a lot of young people who danced, there was a lot of falling in and out of love, and one older woman was quoted as saying she was glad that the mill’s walls couldn’t speak.”

The annual square dances at the mill today help uphold that tradition, she says. (The historic grist mill, which is the last one in operation in DC, also puts on corn-milling demonstrations in the fall. The next one is on September 9.)

“The dance is one of our favorite events of the year, so it felt really great to have so many people out and enjoying a beautiful, warm summer’s evening in Rock Creek Park together, especially after Covid,” said Kramer.

Jessica Ruf
Assistant Editor