Lake of the Ozarks Square Dancers - 1953
The Lake of the Ozarks Square Dancers, were based in Tuscumbia, Missouri. The group toured around the Midwest and eventually reached national fame after appearances on the Ted Mack Amateur Hour. Their energetic dance style was very popular with television audiences; this clip comes from their second television appearance, recorded in Kansas City and broadcast on June 13, 1953. This success led to their becoming hired as The Grand Old Opry Square Dancers, regular performers on that popular country music television show. They performed several shows in Reno, Nevada and the Blue Room in New Orleans, among many others.
Author Dan Peek describes the history of the group in these words: "In the late 1940's a young Ozark Jig dancer, Tolliver Lawson, traveled to Kansas City on a family visit. While there he observed a troupe of western style square dancers who performed with taps on their shoes. Tolliver immediately procured some taps and upon his return to the Ozarks, as the first tap shod Ozark Jig dancer, "tore up" the dance floor at the next community picnic. Soon all his friends had taps on their Jig dancing shoes.
"A group of those friends, spearheaded by Lee and Joyce (Williams) Mace, formed a Jig dance troupe and shortly were in demand throughout the Ozarks. Not long after, they came to national attention. The "Lake of the Ozarks Square Dancers" performed at the National Folk Festival and at such high profile events as the Kansas City Centennial and the Chicago Fair. By the early 1950's they had appeared on national television shows, the "Ted Mack Amateur Hour" and the "Today Show with Dave Garroway" and were performing at major night clubs and entertainment venues across the country.
"Nashville's Grand Ole Opry hired the troupe to be "The Grand Ole Opry Square Dancers". The Ozark Jig dancers were a sensation.
"In addition to live performances, the Ozark Jig dancers filmed nearly 100 nationally distributed TV shows that would become the historically important “Country Classic” DVD series. As “Stars of the Grand Ole Opry” they met and became friends with their fellow Stars. Mother Maybelle Carter had them over for dinner and poker, Gene Autry invited them to a dinner he hosted at the Andrew Jackson Hotel. The Ozark Jig Dancers and the Maces had made it in Nashville."
Peek's book, Live! at the Ozark Opry, is available in print and online. A review of Peek's book appeared in the Old-TIme Herald.
Missouri fiddler Charlie Walden described their performance: "“The dancing in the video, although somewhat stylized for the performance, is entirely genuine Ozarks square dancing. Especially the footwork, called "jig-dancing," is the real McCoy and was unique to Missouri's Ozarks. That square dance group with Lee Mace was legendary among the old timers, now-deceased, that I used to play fiddle with.”
- Information about Gene Spencer, who played guitar for the dance group; this site has a lot of information about the Lake of Ozarks team.
- Lee Mace, Tolliver Lawson, and Carl Williams formed the dance team at the Tuscumbia picnic. The idea of dancing on the Grand Ole Opry was started by a conversation between Carl and Tolliver. Tolliver spearheaded the group's appearances on the Grand Ole Opry.
- Callers for the group were Spurgeon Atwell and Glen Morgan.
- Mace later went on to found the Ozark Opry. There's also a videotaped interview with Lee Mace that focuses on the creation of the Ozark Opry. More information about the Ozark Opry is available.
- After a while, management of the team was shared by the dancers, especially Tolliver Lawson.
- Memoir by Lois Mace Webb, sister of Lee Webb, about the Lake of Ozarks Square Dance team (scroll 3/4 of the way down that page)
- Information about Jim Skiles, who was fiddler for the team; more information is on a related web page
- Buford Foster founded a children's square dance team, The Tadpoles, from Camdenton, Missouri, also dancing in Ozark style. We hope to add moving images of that team to this site.