When most people hear the phrase ‘barn dance’, they think of old timers gliding around haymow floors. These dance floors are like no other, with their wooden planks polished smooth by the friction of thousands of bales of hay and straw.
    I think, fondly, of the dance floor at Larson’s Barn, where we would dance with Grandpa. One hand clasped in his and the other resting on his worn-out shoulder, the one that creaked and clicked from years of hard work in both the mill and on his dairy farm.
    Through those early dance floor lessons with Grandpa and my parents, we learned the polka, waltz, schottische, jitterbug, and more. I still love to dance, but there are fewer opportunities now. Community dances just aren’t as popular in this part of Minnesota as they were up north and most wedding dances these days only play hip-hop or country songs. I’ll happily dance to modern music, but freestyle bopping doesn’t compare to the natural choreography of a polka or waltz.
    Lately, I’ve been thinking about a different kind of barn dance.
    Every time we milk our cows, we do a sort of dance. One or two (or more) people move around the barn, stepping in between cows and back out onto the aisle. If you watch the steps dairy farmers take while milking their cows, they would look much like the pattern of steps dancers take while waltzing around a ballroom.
    Like dancing with a partner, we move in sequence with each other. And every farm or pair of milkers has its own dance. On some farms, milkers take sides of the barn or move only certain milking units. On other farms, one milker preps and one milker attaches.
    When Glen and I milk together, our dance is much less rigid. We prep and attach whichever cow is next, working ahead to allow adequate prep time. There are no assigned sides or units or jobs, so the steps of our dance take us all around the barn.
    And just like dance partners who have been dancing together forever, there’s no need for verbal directions. We just know where each other is moving next.
    I noticed while teaching a new employee to milk that teaching someone how to milk cows is a lot like teaching someone to dance. Until they figure out the steps and the rhythm of which unit will be ready to move and which cow needs to be prepped next, there’s a need for a lot of direction. Just like a new dancer needing to know which foot moves where next and how to time the movements.
    Not everyone milks cows in a stall barn, though.
    Parlor milkers have a much different dance. When we milked in a parlor, our movement looked more like the electric slide or a country line dance.
    And dairy farmers with robots have no dance at all.
    There are several other similarities between milking and dancing:
    There’s music involved. At least here, the radio is always on in the barn. And even in the back of the barn where we can’t hear the radio, the swishing of the pulsators keeps a steady beat.
    Sometimes there’s conversation between partners; sometimes there’s not. Some milkers – and some dancers – simply lose themselves in the movement, allowing their thoughts to drift.
    And, often, one generation teaches the next how to milk or dance.
    This summer is Dan’s first season as an official milker. Dan has known how to milk a cow for years, but now he’s learning the flow and sequence of moving units around the barn.
    I’ve enjoyed teaching him and watching him develop the observation skills required for efficient cow milking in a stall barn. Soon he’ll be gliding around the barn like a pro.
    Now I just need to find a nice dance floor, so I can teach him how to polka and waltz.
    Sadie and her husband, Glen, milk 100 cows near Melrose, Minn. They have three children – Dan, 11, Monika, 8, and Daphne, 5. Sadie also writes a blog at www.dairygoodlife.com. She can be reached at sadiefrericks@gmail.com