Thursday, November 10, 2011

You should be dancin'


It's been a year this weekend since I spent a night at the Aloha Grange with about 100 square dancers. That one night set me up with enough interviews to keep me busy for months in the unincorporated community I cover. Since that night, I've been writing stories about the way this once rural area -- and supposed next great Portland suburb -- has changed despite no real planning efforts. Almost 60,000 people live there now, and for the first time since 1983, the county there is working on a plan for it. That probably sounds boring, but it matters to everyone there -- from the 83-year-old who told me stories about the way the now traffic-jammed road in front of his house saw more floods than it did cars when he was raising his kids to the teens I met last week who are tired of driving down sidewalk-less streets to other towns to find something to do.

Anyway, the night I went to the Grange, I didn't know any of that yet. It was my first attempt at really learning about Aloha. The first thing I learned is that place is full of sweetness.

Exhibit A:

ALOHA -- Almost everything has changed at the Aloha Grange. The farmers are gone. So are the strawberry fields. The square dancers have new hips and knees. And a few Saturdays ago, they debuted a new caller. He used a laptop, not a record player, to soundtrack the dance.

The story is the same across Washington County. When the area was predominantly rural, granges were the social centers of town. Though granges such as the Leedy Grange in Cedar Mill are still active, membership in most county granges has foundered. Statewide, grange membership has plummeted by more than 75 percent in the past 15 years.

But the Aloha Grange has adapted. When farmers threatened to shut down the grange two decades ago, a group of square dancers persisted. That's the best wood floor in Aloha, they said. So they took over the grange, and now, every Saturday night, a hundred people show up to dance.

Read the rest on Oregonlive.

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