BANGOR — Deb Roy of Bangor is on a mission to restore a bit of dances past. She is in the process of organizing a reunion of people who once were members of Peg Bennett’s dance classes and who took part in Bennett’s annual Maypole Festival that featured the Maypole dance in which youngsters wove, then unwove, long ribbons around the Maypole.
“Those of us who danced with Peg years ago were a close-knit bunch of people,” she said. “We’ve made attempts in the past to have a reunion, but this time it’s going to happen. So far we’ve had a nice reaction and expect a good turnout.” She said that Internet social media has played an important part in helping former dance class members reconnect with one another. Social media, she said, has made it possible “to rekindle those friendships that were so much a part of our lives.”
Peg Bennett, who died in the 1980s, the wife of Bill Bennett, YMCA youth director, began teaching square, contra and round dance to children in the Bangor area in 1952s.
“She had record player, would travel,” recalled her son, Tom Bennett, owner of Bennett Tire and Wheel on the Perry Road in Bangor. “There weren’t many children in Bangor [of that era] who hadn’t heard of or been in those classes. Before that, there was no place young people could get together to learn those dances. It was new to Bangor. She was a schoolteacher by trade.”
“My sister and I both danced with Peg for 10 years,” said Deb Roy. “The people I grew up with were very much a part of that from first-grade through high school.”
As a senior dancer, Roy and other dancers traveled to the Eastern States Exposition in Springfield, Mass., to perform and to Washington, D.C., where they danced in the Senate Rotunda in 1976 as part of the United States Bicentenniel celebration.
After approximately 15 years of being a dance teacher who traveled to her students, Tom Bennett said, his mother was able to offer her dance classes through the Bangor YMCA — allowing the students to come to her instead of the other way around.
“At one time, she had almost 1,000 students,” Bennett said. “The Maypole Festival would fill the Bangor Auditorium with proud parents. It was almost like Little League, everyone was in it — it was pretty spectacular. All the costumes were made by the moms. [My mother] bought all the material. She was a tall, stately woman, she had white hair, even in her 30s. She could tell you when to stand and when to sit, and you would listen to her. She was gentle in her ways, but very direct.”
Former dancer Evelyn Miner of Brewer said she still has the clown costume, Vienna waltz dress, a quadrilla dress, a quadrette dress she wore in the May Festival productions. She also has a swingster dress, worn by those who wound the Maypole. “[Peg] always opened the show with ‘the big wheel’ to show off the color patterns of the costume. The closing was always a specialty dance that was performed in such a way that spectators in the bleachers could see patterns forming and changing as the dancers moved. It was really a big thing,” she said.
“Peg was a very successful businesswoman in Bangor and she had a very supportive husband.” Roy said. “She was a wonderful role model for young women. She was very strong. She taught young people manners and the appropriate way to comport themselves. She had high standards.”
In a story about Peg Bennett that ran in the Bangor Daily News on July 22, 1982, dance students Chris Shirley of Orono, Mike Dolley of Bangor, Mack Gwinn of Hermon and Cathy Pratt of Bangor credited Bennett with instilling in them confidence, pride, manners, good posture and the ability to overcome shyness.
“We are encouraging all former [Peg Bennett] dancers to get in touch. We would like to see as many as possible attend. The reunion also is open to dancers’ guests,” Roy said.
The reunion will be held 2-5 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, at the Bangor Y on Second Street in Bangor. The cost to attend is $20. RSVPs should be made by mid-August by emailing Deb Roy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 947-7840, or Evelyn Miner on Facebook. Former dancers who have photographs of Bennett, dance events, students dancing they would like to share should contact Davis. She will scan the photos and return them to their owners along with copies saved to a disc. Organizers want to make a scrapbook of the photos in order to share it at the reunion.