23 Apr

Square Dance Puzzle

Warning…this is totally geek-centric.

Here’s how I found this (embarassing description of meaningless surfing follows…)

I was going to start writing choreography. I decided to see if CSDS had been updated, so I went to Vic’s site. Once there, I saw that he’s added a new document to his site: Two Couple Primer. So of course, I had to read it.

There was a link at the bottom to an 80-page ebook on pairs dancing, but it lead to a 404 error (there’s a typo in it). So I deconstructed the URL and ended up at KARL BELSER HOME PAGE. Okay, clearly a square dancer; let’s see what he does.

Hmmm…this looks interesting: COMMITTEE TO PROMOTE SQUARE DANCING HOME PAGE. (I wish Karl wasn’t so into all-caps page titles…). I wandered around the links here for a while (checked out the organization’s history and the square dance videos at the Saddlebrooke Squares site).

Then I went here: Square Dancing 101. Whoa! This is an odd document. This description of square dancing for the Unnamed Facility Square Dancing Club is unlike any introductory document I’ve ever seen and includes some complicated rules about handholds (“Handholds are greedy”) and token movement.

So of course, I had to discover what this was about. More URL deconstructing led me to the MIT Mystery Hunt. The url of the square dancing page indicates that it’s from the 2003 puzzle. I tried starting from the top, but couldn’t figure out how to get to the square dancing part. So I started back from the Square Dancing 101 document, and got here: Barn. Of course, square dancing would happen in the barn.

I didn’t attempt to solve the puzzle, but here’s a puzzle for you: can you identify the caller in the audio files that go along with the puzzle? Hint: MIT notwithstanding, it’s a West Coast caller. Here’s the solution to the puzzle (both of them).

So, I told you it was nerdy. I think I’d better go write choreography now.

22 Apr

Video: Bear Miller calling to Hooked on Classics

Bear Miller recently posted a video to his Facebook page showing him calling high energy Plus at a Halloween dance in Colorado. (You may not be able to access the Facebook stuff if you’re not registered.) The music? Hooked on Classics (check the link if you’ve ever wondered what all the tunes are in that medley of disco-infused classical extracts). iTunes link: Hooked on Classics.

Note: almost no square dance costumes…just a variety of Halloween costumes.

At the very beginning of the clip, note what the dancers do when Bear calls Square Thru 4. Later on, you can see the non-active dancers doing that move while the actives actually square thru.

Bear nails the ending. Sort of like a gymnast sticking on the dismount, except callers aren’t required to do it…it’s just way cool when we manage it. Bear was good…I thought he wasn’t going to make it, and then bang! there it was.

22 Apr

Summer Decisions

Oh dear, oh dear…shall I raise the level of my incompetence and attempt to learn C3B this summer?

This would involve traveling to Germany, most likely attending iPAC, and then heading to Plön for Clark Baker‘s weeklong C3B compact class.

I learned C3A in a weekend a long time ago, and have been dancing (using the word loosely) it two or three times a year ever since. So it’s not like I’m bored with C3A even remotely. On the other hand, there aren’t many opportunities to learn C3B in an intensive way (which is necessary for me, since I sure can’t learn it through regular classes in Albuquerque).

So, do I need or even want to learn full C3? Yes, I think it will increase my choreographic understanding, and it’s always fun to learn something new. No, I’m not even really competent at C3A; I don’t get to dance it all that much. Full C3 would be one more level that I wouldn’t get to dance that much. I’ve heard that C3B is really hard.

Do I want to go to Germany for a couple of weeks this summer? Yes, it would be exciting. No, I’d be away from T-B. I haven’t been out of the States in over 20 years (I think that’s a yes and a no).

Decisions, decisions….

19 Apr

Durango Barn Dance

Here’s a fun description of a barn dance in Durango: Stairwell Sisters not wasted at Durango dance.  Note: 200 people all having a great time.

Stairwell Sisters not wasted at Durango dance
Residents stomp, hoot and holler to San Francisco band

April 17, 2007
By Mike Clark | Special to the Herald

Judging by the whoops and hollers filling the Elks Club, the event billed as a “rural Saturday night celebration” will be part of the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown for a long while. One of the special events of last weekend’s annual bluegrass festival, Saturday night’s Old Time Barn Dance featured clogging, square dancing, contra dancing and assorted buck steps and sashaying around the dance floor to the old-time musical accompaniment of San Francisco’s all-women band, the Stairwell Sisters.

The doings had a decidedly family atmosphere, with kids underfoot and the organization on the loose side. One complication is that not a lot of people know precisely how to do all those steps, so the evening began with a lengthy workshop by Stairwell Sister, Evie Ladin, hitting the high points and the women in the audience – a 4 to 1 majority – enthusiastically joining in.
For the most part, the men either sat with arms folded and eyes glassy, or made their appearance on the dance floor doing a nonspecific shuffle rather like being in a strange church and singing the hymns without knowing the words.

Still, not having the dances down cold didn’t appear to curb anyone’s enthusiasm. This crowd of 200 or so looked as though their natural habitat might be the library or in front of a computer, but they were primed to cut loose Saturday night.

This was dancing for people who don’t normally dance, but the general ignorance of the steps put everyone on an equal footing, so to speak – even the kids. So the crowd overflowing the Elks Club and crowding the dance floor was by no means the hippest group ever gathered in Durango. The dress code was Counterculture Formal. But there wasn’t an ounce of pretension to be found, and they were having as much fun as any group I’ve seen in a long time.

The Stairwell Sisters, one of the Meltdown’s headline bands, plays for a lot of contra dances and hoedowns in the San Francisco Bay area and seemed right at home patiently obliging newbies and experts alike with a solid instrumental backing. There were times, though, when the Stairwell Sisters playing for our haphazard selves had an air of overkill, like the Beatles doing a bar mitzvah.

Not that anyone else noticed. They were too busy do-si-doing and promenading to steps like “Monkey in the Middle” and “Drop the Clutch and Let ‘Er Go” to be bothered. As the evening shifted from dance instruction to dance expression, the raucous group of dancers made it hard for Evie and company to be heard at times.

So if an evening of foot-stompin’, whistlin’, whoopin’ and hollerin’ fun, to the tune of accomplished old-time “Brother, Where Art Thou”-style music sounds like something you want to try, sorry. You missed it for this year.

But you might want to lay out your best T-shirt and Tevas for 2008’s barn dance. And here’s a tip for the organizers of the Meltdown: Guys, you’re gonna need a bigger dance floor.
mike@h2xinc.com.Mike Clark is a freelance writer who lives near Chimney Rock.

31 Jan

New Feature at Ceder.net

I love databases and database-driven websites. Vic & Debbie Ceder’s Square Dance Resource Net is a prime example of how to use databases to build an interesting, informative, and flexible site.

His newest feature is Caller Notes. It’s billed as an online caller note service; so far, there’s one entry: Caller Notes — Half Sashay, which contains a definition, teaching hints, dos and don’ts, equivalents, flow considerations, good uses, bad uses, gimmicks, extensions, choreography, and comments. Here’s where the database stuff shines. The choreography is pulled from Vic’s choreography database, so it is an evolving and expanding collection of choreo. And, as the collection of comments grows, they too will be searchable (presumably).

This allows a note service that continues to be up-to-date and useable over time.

Note: When I first started calling, there were a number of note services available. These were published by (usually) individual callers and (usually) provided choreographic ideas for featured calls.

17 Jul

Article on Gay Square Dancing

Here’s a reasonable article from a mainstream newspaper on the recent IAGSDC convention, Wish Upon a Thar: Dancing outside the box. There are a few little oddities…like feeling the need to get a homophobic quote from someone on the NEC…but in general, it was okay.

Here’s the whole article, just in case the online version disappears:

Dancing outside the box

Gays embrace an American tradition: square dancing

By Joanna Smiley | joanna@tlnews.net

Mike Neiheisel stood in the Anaheim Marriott lobby clad in khaki shorts and a black polo shirt embroidered with a rainbow-sail logo. A mix of coffee, nicotine and adrenaline pumped through his veins.

Neiheisel, 51, had left his home in Escondido at 6 a.m. that day with one thing on his mind: square dancing.

He wasn’t alone.

Neiheisel was one of nearly 1,000 people who gathered July 1 at the hotel for the 23rd annual International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs (IAGSDC) convention.

Some of the dancers flew in from as far away as Japan and Grand Rapids, Mich., to do-si-do.

Coincidentally, hundreds of teenagers disguised as action heroes were also in town for the Anime (AX) Expo 2006. A boy with a purple mohawk winced as he brushed shoulders with a gay square dancer in a pink tutu. The third group to book the hotel that weekend, a Christian televangelist group, had yet to arrive.

“It’s wonderful here,” Neiheisel said. “The air is cranked way up, we’re dancing, I’m seeing people I get to see once a year and once a year only.” He floated into the main ballroom with his head held high and his smile utterly contagious.

The gay square dancing boom

It’s a scene that has grown significantly since its Florida debut in 1977. IAGSDC, which formed in 1983, includes 60 clubs, 2,400 members and international affiliates in Canada and Japan. For the past 15 years, the community has been growing steadily, according to Karl Jaeckel, archivist with IAGSDC and one of 10 people who has been to all 23 of the group’s conventions.

“If I had to pick three reasons why we’re growing, I would say it’s because we operate as singles’ clubs, so it’s a great social activity,” Jaeckel said. “We don’t require uniformed clothing, and there is an added element of excitement with gay square dancing. We kick up our heels knowing we are dancing in a welcoming place.”

For Neiheisel, it’s all about the people.

“It’s such a diverse group from all ages and backgrounds that comes together for this one common interest,” he said. “There’s also the benefits of socialization and physical activity. We have a guy in Finest City Squares (the San Diego group Neiheisel is a member of) who is 80 years old and square dancing, so it’s got to be good for you.”

Barbara Klein is a straight square dancer who attended the convention with her friend Melinda, a member of Tucson Squares.

“What I love about it is that it’s high-energy and much more stylized than straight square dancing,” she said. “Gay square dancing is not what you think of when you think of the high school honky-tonk.”

Roots of the dance

New England settlers and immigrant groups who brought folk music to America in the early 1900s probably had no idea how popular square dancing would become.

To unwind from a hard day’s work, pioneers would gather in front of a fiddle player and twist and twirl their neighbors. It became a grand old American pastime.

Square dancing is the official state dance of 22 states, including California. However, in recent years the straight square dancing community has seen a decline. At this year’s 55th National Square Dance Convention in San Antonio, approximately 7,000 people attended, a two-thirds drop from 1994.

Vivian McCannon, 88, of San Antonio, has been on the National Square Dance Convention Executive Committee for 32 years. The San Antonio convention was her last before retiring.

McCannon said she isn’t keen on gays appropriating the square dancing tradition.

“I’m not in favor of (gays), and I’m not exactly sure why they’ve come into square dancing,” she said. “Gays are a touchy subject wherever you go. I’ve seen some at straight clubs. As long as they stay to themselves and aren’t bothering anyone, it’s OK.”

Gay acceptance: a work in progress

Brian Smith, treasurer of IAGSDC and a member of the Vancouver group Squares Across the Border, said about 20 percent of Saturday’s attendees were reluctant to wear their passion for gay square dancing on their sleeves.

“There is less reason to hide in Canada,” he said. “With everything going on in America, the trend is to hide. Where I’m from, gays can get married, gays can get divorced, gays can even file income taxes as a couple.”

David Eppelheimer, a 52-year-old gay square dancer and kindergarten teacher from Grand Rapids, Mich., said July 1 was his 10th convention.

“I’ve always treated myself as a second-class citizen,” he said, smiling at a friend he recognized from last year’s dance. “Now I realize I don’t want to believe that anymore. It feels good to be accepted here, to be who I am in this room full of a thousand people who have dealt with it or understand and are straight.”

In a room down the hall — the designated lesbian square dancer suite — a discussion ensued about why there are more gay men than lesbian square dancers.

“Men need this outlet,” said Olivia Pickette, a square dancer with DC Lambda Squares. “They can hang here and be themselves. It seems more culturally accepted to be a gay woman right now.”

Suddenly, a woman who resides in Oceanside surfaced from behind a soda machine. She said that she had to step out of a photo earlier in the day because she works in the military. (She declined to be named in this story.)

She has three more months until she is discharged, she said. She explained to the group that her sexuality is not accepted in her line of work. If she discloses to her commander that she is a gay woman and sexually active, it is grounds for dismissal.

Square dancing: the common denominator

The clock ticked and Neiheisel emerged from a room packed with dancers. He rounded up his Finest City Squares crew. It was almost time for the Honky Tonk Queen and Fairy Tale Ball.

“The North County group is struggling,” Neiheisel said with a sigh as he handed out collared shirts. “. . . Finest City Squares is doing really well. We meet every week in San Diego.”

Jim Dillon and his wife, Nancy, square dance with Neiheisel’s group. This was their second gay square dancing convention.

“We go to both straight and gay conventions,” Jim said. “They’re perfectly open to straight couples here. (Square dancing) is good exercise, a mental challenge and great fun. (Gay dancing) is very different than straight square dancing, which requires traditional attire, for one.”

Veronica Ramirez, a 16-year-old from Santa Ana, draped in black and clutching a sword, hurried by Neiheisel and his pals.

“Man, I think this is really cool,” she shouted. “The fact that you’re here and out in the open is a great thing.”

Reach reporter Joanna Smiley at 760.752.6735.

14 Jul

Trendy or Just Hilarious

I can just see it now…Just like Heather, Amber and I go to play Bingo because we think it’s hilarious, one of these days we’re going to do some other elderly activity because we think it’s hilarious and BOOM! We’re hooked!

This is from Ersonal-pay Ace-spay: “Because I find it hilarious” or “Six-Two Acey Deucey”, in which Kate prays that square dancing becomes trendy. As a caller, I especially like:

My super power: Anyone who hears me calling Square Dance calls automatically performs the moves against their will – and women have been known to sprout massively puffy skirts in my presence.

although I can do without the puffy skirts.

So Michelle, who just happens to own a square dance outfit, writes back:

FYI.. this is the leftover from a Halloween costume so don’t go rushing out buying a square dancing dress to copy me. I know it SEEMS like the next logical step in your life but really.. square dancing hasn’t quite made it back…

(DoMeSTiCa: Dear Kate).

29 Apr

Another young caller

Area siblings to attend 46th Buckeye Dance Convention in Dayton:When I first saw the headline, I thought it was an article about some old folks who happen to be brother and sister and share a love of square dancing. But no, this brother and sister pair are still teenagers; the brother graduated from high school in 2004. And even better: he’s learning to call.

Event will feature western squares, round, contra, clogging and folk dancing

You’ve seen them on stage or they’ve been behind the scenes in Richmond Civic Theatre productions.

But the brother-sister duo of Nathaniel and Mary-Beth Arnett is demonstrating another of its talents — square dancing.

Area residents interested in the art form can attend the 46th Buckeye Dance Convention on May 5-6 at the Dayton Convention Center.

In 2002, their grandmother encouraged Nathaniel and Mary-Beth, plus their parents and brother, to take square dance lessons through Hoosier Corners Square Dancing Club in Richmond.

Their interest grew, and Nathaniel incorporated square dancing into his 2004 high school graduation party. That day, he shared his interest in becoming a caller with the guest caller from Columbus, Ohio.

Nathaniel has since served as an apprentice, traveling to Fairborn, Ohio, each Monday night to teach dance lessons.

Meanwhile, Mary-Beth became acquainted with the National Line Dance Instructors and she began a country western line dance apprenticeship in 2004.

More than 1,000 dancers, callers, cuers and other dance leaders plan to attend the Dayton convention, which will include western squares, round, country-western/line, contra, clogging and folk.