Lily Pearl’s Square Dancing Tractors Presents a Different Kind of Show
Writer / Lois Tomaszewski
There is something iconically American about square dancing. With commands to do-si-do and promenade, circle left and circle right, and many more choreographed movements, square dancing is fun to watch. Many folks might have even taken part in a square dance, but it’s a sure bet that not many have seen square dancing done by a fleet of tractors.
Lily Pearl’s Square Dancing Tractors is a local act that can be seen at events such as county fairs, hometown parades, Northern Indiana Power from the Past shows and other venues. They have traveled to Branson, Missouri, to Illinois, to Indianapolis for the State Fair, to Traverse City, Michigan, and to many other destinations. The group has been featured on RFD-TV and even in Reader’s Digest magazine.
Eight red, 80-year-old International Harvester Farmall H tractors, along with a single green one, perform tractor dance moves to music, navigated by their drivers, half of whom are dressed in peculiar costumes. These costumes are designed to amuse the crowd and can consist of evening gowns, summer dresses, wigs, and various anatomical enhancements to represent the female half of a square-dancing couple.
The Farmall H tractor was produced from 1939 to 1954.
“We really enjoy it when the crowd gets to pick the ‘prettiest’ woman,” says Lilly Pearl member Tyler Master.
Sometimes, he says, the reaction is “mixed. It’s a novelty. It’s out of the norm for a lot of people.”
Curiosity draws many spectators to the shows, which are performed for 30 to 45 minutes. Usually there is more than one performance scheduled. Word of mouth often spreads and people come to see what the dancing tractors are all about.
“We even have our own local groupies,” Master says.
Lily Pearl was a name suggested by one of the founding members. In addition to the drivers, there is a square-dance caller accompanying the group.
The idea came about from a bet that it was possible to choreograph tractors into an intricate dance pattern. On the dance floor there are four sets of tractors side by side, and sometimes, as the choreography dictates, they move in opposite directions. Tires are touching and there are all kinds of scenarios that could go wrong.
Master says tires need to be the same size, gears must match, and the tractors must all start and end in the right position for each dance move. That takes planning and practice.
Practices begin in February, especially if there is new choreography to learn. The group has done the same routine for about three years now, so currently there is not much learning needed to start the season.
On the day of the show, there is a list of chores that are done prior to the performance. The dance floor (a.k.a. arena in some cases) is cleared of obstacles, as the tractors need room to move around. Master, who usually sets up the performance space, also takes precautions to ensure that spectators can safely watch the show.
It takes many hours of practice to be ready to perform. The veteran drivers have done it enough so that practice sessions are not as frequent as they once were, but practice is still necessary to fine-tune the movements ahead of show season. The group’s busiest time of year is summer, which coincides with county and state fairs and other tractor-friendly events.
Members are meeting soon to plan next year’s appearances, Master says. Performance season is June 1 through October 31. After a year-long hiatus in 2020, the group resumed performing in 2021.
“We do have a lot of fun,” Master says.
Interested drivers are always welcome, too.
The group is based in Rochester, and is available for bookings. Performances are priced at $1,500 for one or two shows.