Shall We Dance? Early Phi Alpha and Sigma Delta Pi Dances

dancecard1.jpg“On Friday, May 7th, the Sigma Delta Pi Fraternity held its fourth annual dance in the DeCharms Hall Auditorium. Four happy hours were whiled away in dancing amidst a veritable fairy-land of greens from the neighboring woods, which are now in the full glory of spring foliage” (New Church Life 1915, 421).

The Sigma Delta Pi fraternity was formed in the spring of 1911 by Academy of the New Church male students living in Bryn Athyn. They adopted the Latin phrase non sibi sed omnibus (“not for oneself but for all”) as their motto. A week after it was founded the club held a picnic in the woods, complete with Japanese lanterns and a “transparency” of their motto suspended across the Pennypack Creek (see New Church Life 1911, 473). The Phi Alpha fraternity had been formed by male dormitory students a few years earlier. Their motto was mane in vero (“remain in truth”). Both clubs held much anticipated annual dances for many years after their formation.

padance3.jpgDances were traditionally held in the third floor auditorium of de Charms Hall. There were elaborate decorations “as well as leather bound dance programs with the Greek letters of the clubs stamped in gold [see photo, top], and a tiny pencil for writing the names of the partners for each dance. Dance programs continued in use into the ’50s for all dances, and so did the elaborate decorations. For some the preparation, often for weeks ahead of time, was more fun than the dance itself” (Reflections on the First 100 Years: Girls School Centennial Album 1884-1984, 35).

dancecard2.jpgThe dance programs consisted of a numbered list, with each number having the type of dance indicated beside it (waltz, fox trot, etc.). A line beside each number provided space for the girl to write down her partner for each dance of the evening (see photo, top).

padance1.jpgThe original de Charms Hall was destroyed by fire in 1935, and subsequently the fraternity dances moved to the Assembly Hall (now the Mitchell Performing Arts Center).

padance2.jpgFour clubs continue to exist at the Academy of the New Church Secondary Schools to this day: Alpha Kappa Mu (girls), Deka (girls residing in Glenn Hall), Sigma Delta Pi (boys), and Phi Alpha (boys residing in Stuart Hall).

Photos: Sigma Delta Pi and Phi Alpha dance programs from the early 1900s. The dance programs, which belonged to Hazel Heath Schnarr, were recently donated to the Academy by Jill Smith King. The photo of de Charms Hall auditorium decorated with streamers is from the Phi Alpha Ball, January 2, 1915. The two photos with greenery are from the Phi Alpha Ball, May 9, 1914. The bridge in one of the photos is labeled ”the bridge of size.” All three photos are in the collection of the Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA.

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September 5, 2007 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact