Square Dancing is anything but square

     A kaleidoscope of vivid color uniformly flows across the dance floor, creating the impression of an opening flower on a warm summer day. Blues, reds, violets, and a splash of yellow, flutter to an upbeat song, awaiting the caller’s next command.  Suddenly, the voice of the caller utters a few words that sound like Greek to the naked ear, and the flower begins to fold into a network of lovely, intertwining movement.

     Wait!  She was over there.  Wasn’t he a partner with her?  They’re a quickly moving, fluid, artistic block of dancers who know exactly what they’re doing.  And the best part of all, there’s a genuine smile on every face, which illuminates the scene even more. Welcome to the new and exciting world of American Square Dancing.

     The evolution of square dancing is one that is not uncommon to the creative minds that first came to America.  Several cultures and existing dances, such as the gavotte, mazurkas, the schottische, the minuet, the Virginia real and other squares and rounds mutated and changed until one individual took it upon himself to organize.

     Many of you may recognize the name ‘Henry Ford’ as the father of the automobile but Henry also had a great love of dance.  He met up with one Benjamin Lovett, a great dancing master, and lured him back to Detroit from Massachusetts where Ford established a broad program for teaching squares and rounds, including radio broadcasts and programs for schools.  In 1926, he built a beautiful dance hall in Greenfield Village and named it Lovett Hall, which is still in use today.

     Together, Ford and Lovett wrote a book titled “Good Morning”, a reference guide to squares and rounds.  This book provided the start for a young school superintendent from Colorado Springs, Colorado, named Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw to write and publish the first really definitive work on western square dancing.  And western square dancing began to grow like wildfire.

     The 1950s brought about even more exciting changes.  New designs and steps were created to keep the dance fast moving and fun.  Traditional square dancing took on a more balanced and skilled chorographical form.  What was once known as contemporary or Western square dancing became American Square Dancing where the colorful dress and dramatic, professional changing scenes make the show almost as much fun to watch as the dance itself. 

     In the 1970s, health benefits started being introduced and realized. “Square dancing contributes to a more healthy and independent lifestyle,” says Lewis Maharam, MD, a sports medicine specialist in New York City and president of the Greater New York Regional Chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. 

     “Regular square dancing may boost endurance, and being able to tolerate longer bouts of moving faster may result in improved cardiac function as the heart, a muscle, can become more efficient if trained.  This can be considered a type of cross training, which helps to offset the muscle loss and strength loss typically associated with normal aging,” says Maharam, also the medical director of the Suzuki Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, the Country Music Marathon, and the New York City Marathon.

     Jerry Reed, 2001 executive director of CALLERLAB, the international association of square-dance callers, with over 2,000 members worldwide, agrees with the medical reasons for joining a club but finds the social interaction between people just as significant.

     “Most of the activities that people do these days are individual, such as golfing, tennis, and bowling,” Reed says.  “Square dancing is kind of unique in that it involves touching hands – we turn, we swing, and that seems to bring us closer together.”

     “A typical evening of square dance is about two hours long and in that time we dance six ‘tips,” Reed says. 

     A tip includes a “hash calling” where the caller calls out some moves, which the dancers execute in smooth choreographed routines, and a ‘singing call’ which can include all types of square dance moves times to fit popular songs, including anything from John Denver to the Bee Gee’s “Stayin’ Alive” or songs by Elvis and the Beatles.

     All over the country, Americans from kindergarten to senior-citizen age are ‘sashaying’ and ‘do-si-doing’ themselves to longer, healthier and happier lives.  They’re having a blast and also lowering their risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, age-related memory loss, osteoporosis and depression.

     The old stigma of a barnyard dance held back in the hills is quickly dying while those who know better, are living it up.  Setting friendship to music is the way many members refer to a typical dance.  You might be a surgeon, a factory worker, a salesperson, or a waitress but share one common goal.  Learn the steps, relax and have a great time. 

     Contact an area Caller today for more information on lessons and dances.  Calling square dances today is an art form but more than that, it is a profession.  Any caller will be happy to lead you in the right direction.  Visit www.dosado.com  for a complete listing of callers.

Source: 2006 AAPJ print journal. Quotations taken from “Do-Si-Do Fitness” by Denise Mann, July 9, 2001 issue Web MD.

Published by on May 2011. Filed under Archives, Centerstage Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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