Colonial Dance Club disbands because of falling membership
After 66 years of dinner dances, cocktail parties, pool parties and friendships, one of Baton Rouge’s old clubs, the Colonial Dance Club, is disbanding.
“It is sad to think about it. We had so much fun,” said Polly Blanche, a charter member fondly called the “mother of the club.” Her husband, the late Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Fred Blanche, drew up the club’s constitution in the spring of 1946.
“I loved every single member of the club,” she said. “I would have picked a fight for every member of the club.”
“We are just crushed to see it closed,” said Carolyn Selig. She and her late husband, Louis Selig, joined in 1948. For years, she has served as secretary and mailed out the club notices.
Many in the club are now widows along with a few widowers. All have lost friends who would have joined a dance club in their younger days. The children of members are not interested.
“They didn’t know about dance clubs. It’s not anything they wanted to do,” said Martha McCrory, longtime treasurer.
The idea of the dance club came from Violet Amis Ellis. “Violet was my age, but she ran around with these girls two or three years older,” Blanche said. “They were all very prominent South Baton Rouge Garden District girls. The idea was conceived to invite only members who had lived in the Garden District.”
Membership was open only to married couples, who according to the preamble to the club’s constitution, were “seeking refuge from the routine of life” by banding “ourselves together into this organization” with the “purpose to pursue this endeavor by sponsoring social entertainment for our mutual enjoyment. . . .”
The first meeting of The Colonials, as the club is called in its constitution, was held at the Acadian Club on Jefferson Highway. The original founding members each asked a friend to join. “That was the way the membership was formed,” said Blanche, who lived in the Garden District at Mrs. L.W. Eaton’s garage apartment at the corner of Cherokee Avenue and Park Boulevard when Fred Blanche was in law school at LSU.
Membership was set at 40 married couples, who were nominated by members and voted on by secret ballot. Each new member paid a dollar upon acceptance. The constitution specified that the club would have four parties a year.
“In the beginning, the men really ran the club,” Selig said. “We were just the attendees.” However, the women always did the cooking for everything. Nothing was catered.
The club was known for its cocktail parties at members’ homes. In the early years, each member couple could invite three other couples. “We had really big parties in light of today’s parties. We did all the food,” Blanche said. She and Selig were two of the major cooks for the parties.
“Polly and I got very irritated when people brought something that was catered,” Selig said. “When somebody started that ‘let’s do it catered,’ Polly put her foot down.”
One year, Blanche was hosting a party at her house in late October. The day before the party, she had a fire. “The house looked bad,” Blanche said, “but I put all kinds of costumes and mannequins in all the chairs.” The smoke and costumes helped create a Halloween theme for the party.
“Nothing deterred us in those days,” Selig said.
In the first four decades of the club, most of the dances were at the old Community Club, which later became the American Legion Hall. It was on Florida Street across from the downtown post office. The room was known for its large revolving silver mirrored ball above the center of the dance floor. In 1989, demolition began on the building to make way for the new federal courthouse annex.
One of the club’s most memorable parties was a farewell dance at the old building. Carolyn and Louis Selig were hosts of the party.
The late Amy Blanche Slowey expressed the feelings of the club in an Advocate column June 11, 1989. “We celebrated the memory of the wonderful times we had in this historic building and said our last good-byes to a great place that has given so many of us such happy memories,” she said.
In the last decade or so, the number of parties was reduced to three or even two each year. “Parties got so expensive. We had to cut back,” Selig said.
The club generally hosted a pool party, a cocktail party and the annual Christmas dinner dance just for members in the Versailles Room of the Baton Rouge Country Club. It was a beautiful party with a live orchestra.
The last few years, attendance at the Christmas party fell off. “The room was too big for the crowd, for the non-crowd,” McCrory said.
Last Christmas, the group moved to a smaller room and eliminated the band. The membership was down to 16.
Selig sent out a letter to the remaining members to see what they wanted to do. She wanted to get an opinion from everyone.
“The tally was pretty close, believe it or not, but there were one or two votes more to close,” Blanche said.
This Christmas, there will be no dinner dance. The Colonial Dance Club is no more.
“We have wonderful memories,” Selig said. “We had some wonderful good times. We all grew old together.”