Dances With Life

Hometown Heroes, People
on June 17, 2001

Donna Bermes has danced her way through life since she was 13. The mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother who met her husband on a dance floor is still kicking up her heels at 73 and helping the generations following her stay light on their feet.

When we were just kids we danced with the other girls because at that age boys wont dance with girls, Donna recalls. She sits in her country kitchenher fine, gray hair neatly coifedwearing blue jeans and a jade green sweater. Legs crossed and arms folded, she recounts a lifetime of dancing and the love of her life.

Donna started going to country dances when she was 16. It was what she did for fun. It was a way to connect with movie stars such as Fred Astaire and Ann Miller, who she watched at the matinee for 10 cents.

She met her husband, Ervin Ert Bermes, at a country dance. The graceful dancer swept her off her feet. He loved to dance, she says. She was 18, Ert was 21, when they marriedpartners for life.

Wed dance about every weekend, Donna says. The dance club ladies sold a midnight lunch for two bits. Children fell asleep on benches as the adults danced to the music of a live band.

It was a social get-together, Donna says.

When Ert and Donna were married, they held a wedding dance in their home. When we got married, we had work to do and the kids came along. But we always had time to go dancing, Donna says. That was our time to get away from the kids.

Barbara Adams, the second of Donnas five children, recalls watching her mother and father practice their dance steps on their homes front porch in Molt, Mont. (pop. 524). Theres just something about Mom and Dad dancing together, they made it look so easy, Barbara says. I loved to watch them. They flowed so well together.

I met my husband on the dance floor and lost him on the dance floor, Donna pauses, her voice choking up. Ert died of a heart attack suffered on the dance floor on Oct. 3, 1999. Its a painful memory for Donna, but even her leukemia, which is in remission now, hasnt kept Donna from dancing.

She offers a visitor coffee and sugar cookies at the kitchen table graced by three silk roses. Photos and artwork on the walls memorialize the farming life and the Bermes family farm. On her refrigerator are photographs of some of her 15 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren and her little dancers. Granddaughters Leah McCord, 10, and Megan Schmidt, 11, have taken up dance, too. It was Megans idea to join her grandmother at the monthly Big Sky Polka Club dances held in Billings at the Shrine Auditorium.

Megan told her mother: The next time you go dancing with Grandma, Im going, Megans mother, Erlene Schmidt, recalls.

Megan says she decided to learn how to dance because her whole family danced and it looked fun. Grandma taught me the polka, Megan says. Shes a good dancer. She looks smooth.

Fred Schroeder, past president of the Big Sky Polka Club, agrees. She can dance with anybody and follow them, he says of Donna. Shes got good rhythm.

The granddaughters arent the only ones to join Donna at her once-a-month dances. Daughter Erlene and her husband, Clinton, usually accompany Donna. For the most part, the crowd at the dances is older, ranging in age from the mid-50s on up into the 80s.

Whats going to happen when our generation dies? Donna asks. She quickly answers her own question. We wont have any dancers. Thats why I was so tickled when the girls wanted to learn. It will stay with them the rest of their lives.