17 Mar

Dance Festival in Durham

What a great event: Durham Music and Dance Festival! And it would be even greater if there was a little square dancing

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, too.

From this article about the festival:

“I think we are seeing a little bit of a resurgence with this Dancing with the Stars,” Wolf opines. “There was a bubble about five years ago, you know, when they had those Docker commercials, everybody was coming out to swing dance. But I think with this latest thing, more people have been showing up to learn dancing. I just think it’s great.”

Besides the high styles of swing and salsa, there will be a contradance with waltzing and other vintage moves, and the earthy, accessible grooves of zydeco.

12 Feb

Gay Square Dancing in Florida

Check out this article on the resurgence of the South Florida Mustangs: Gay square dancing club begins lessons at Hagen Park: .

Here’s the whole article, in case the link goes dead:

Gay square dancing club begins lessons at Hagen Park

Participants try the promenade and do-si-do as gay square dancing club begins lessons at Hagen Park in Wilton Manors.

By Elizabeth Baier
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted February 12 2006

Wilton ManorsTyler Black and Jack Hoppen buckled their knees and tapped their feet as they waited to hear which step they should use to start their square dancing routine.

The men met at a recent dance class hosted by the South Florida Mustangs, the oldest gay and lesbian square dancing club in the country

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, which revived its once-popular dance classes on Thursday.

Those who didn’t attend the first official class can still participate in the 20-lesson session at Hagen Park, according to the group’s treasurer, Dave Vowell.

“Square dancing is very gay-friendly,” said Vowell, who has been dancing since 1985. “We’re good dancers and we’re very energetic. It’s just all about the camaraderie.”

Black, of Hollywood, liked his first lesson, even though he admitted he’s not much of a country music fan — he prefers pop and dance music.

But Black said the novelty of gay square dancing persuaded him to give it a shot.

“I like trying new things,” he said. “I thought it would be fun.”

Wearing trendy torn jeans, a white button-down shirt and black boots, Black, 39, started the class beside Hoppen, 57, a square dancing veteran who he had never met before. Both quickly mastered about 20 steps, or calls, including the star promenade and do-si-do.

The South Florida Mustangs boasted more than 100 members in the mid-1990s but participants slowly withered to just a few and the group stopped offering lessons

, according to Bob Young, the group’s vice president.

Another club, Southern Country South Florida, has about 60 members and promotes both line and square dancing.

But despite the two groups’ popularity, Young thinks the square dancing scene is slowly fading away.

“Straight square dancing is shrinking because the people are just dying out, and the same thing is happening in gay square dancing,” Young said. “It’s just not attracting younger people.”

Still, organizers are hopeful that the Mustangs’ renewed vigor and new location, from North Miami to Wilton Manors, will attract gays and lesbians who want to learn a new dance.

“It’s something a lot of people who don’t want to go to the bars can do,” Young said.

After his first three-hour class, Black learned a few things about the dance and how he must stay focused on his steps.

“I started thinking about work and lost my step,” Black said. “It’s a lot of fun but you really have to concentrate.”

For Hoppen, who hadn’t danced in five years, the lesson was a good refresher.

“It’s like riding a bicycle,” said Hoppen, a Pompano Beach resident who joined his first square dancing group, the New York Time Square, 15 years ago. “It’s all coming back to me.”

For those who have never square danced, Hoppen likened it to a puzzle.

“When you get through a couple of calls and can make it back to home position, you’ve solved a puzzle,” Hoppen said. “It’s great.”

Classes started Thursday and continue for 20 weeks. Prices are $5 per class or $75 for the entire session. For more information on the South Florida Mustangs, call President Ken DiGenova at 305-343-1710 or visit www.soflamustangs.com.

29 Dec

It’s Healthy to Square Dance

Check out this article: It’s healthy to dance square

I’ve posted the text below (in case the article disappears into archive ozone)

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, but you should check the original article for pictures and an audio segment featuring the calling of Ed Kremers.

Article published Dec 27, 2005
It’s healthy to dance square
The ‘do-si-do’ can help keep you in shape

STOCKTON — What’s good for the mind, body and soul and takes the edge off aging? If the phrase “do-si-do” means anything, it means better health through square dancing.

When dancers sashay, shoot the star and promenade home, they lower their risk of heart disease, diabetes, certain types of cancer, age-related memory loss, osteoporosis and depression

, health experts say.

So if getting fit in 2006 is one of your goals, take a tip from John Winnie, 63, and grab a partner.

After a heart attack in 1996, followed by several surgical procedures, Winnie ballooned to 333 pounds. In 2003, his doctor told him to get the weight off his 5-foot-9 frame, or he’d be “dead within the year,” Winnie said.
Gym workouts bored him, so he returned to a pastime he took up as a young man — facing off in a square with seven others and wheeling around a hardwood floor.

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports recommends 10,000 steps per day to maintain physical fitness. An informal study conducted by the Toe Draggers, a square-dance group in Beaverton, Ore., estimated that a typical dancer could expect to have about 9,000 to 10,000 steps per dance.

At Winnie’s checkup in August, his progress impressed his cardiologist.

“Whatever you are doing, keep doing it, because you are doing it right,” Winnie recalled Dr. Eric Braunstein saying.

Winnie has dropped more than 120 pounds. His blood pressure and cholesterol levels are good. He has no shortness of breath.

“Square dancing is a safe way to maintain cardiovascular fitness,” said Braunstein, of Pacific Heart and Vascular, which has offices in Stockton, Lodi and Valley Springs. “It is patient-controlled, meaning the patient can be aggressive and get his heart rate up, or if he feels winded, he can slow down and catch his breath.”
There are four levels of square dancing: Mainstream, Plus and the more professional exhibition levels, A-1 and A-2. Winnie and his partner, Marcia Schnell, 53, are A-2 level dancers.

Winnie would dance seven days per week if he could. With Schnell, who started when she was 21, he already travels from Dublin to Oakdale to square dance, but he’d like to get a group going in Stockton on Sunday afternoons. He needs 32 people to join him — couples or singles — even if they have never square-danced before.

“I don’t mind helping people learn,” Winnie said. “It’s great fellowship. There’s no alcohol or drugs involved, and you meet people from all walks of life. Everybody’s welcome.”

Square dancing combines all positive aspects of intense physical exercise with none of the negative elements, according to Dr. Arron Blackburn.

“It could add 10 years to your life,” Blackburn said in a 1997 article in the United Square Dancers Association News.

On Dec. 16, the Oakdale Squares celebrated the holidays in full dress at the Grange Hall. Ladies executed the flutterwheel with a whoosh of red and green petticoats, as their gents, sporting Christmas ties, steadied them for a California twirl.
Sonora resident Lilian Graham, 75, and her husband, Jack, 77, have been dancing together for 53 years.

“I have no health problems, just a little bit of arthritis,” Lilian Graham said. “Dancing keeps me going. You hear that music, and all your aches and pains disappear.”

In 2003, researchers from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City found seniors who participated in mind-stimulating leisure activities had a lower risk of developing the brain disease dementia. Square dancing involves executing the dance moves as they are called, so the brain and body have to be tightly coordinated, said Oakdale resident Ed Kremers, who calls for the Squares.

“One of the things people don’t see is the important mental exercise going on, having to listen carefully and react,” said Kremers, 54.

Kremers has been a caller on and off since he was 14, traveling the country and witnessing the benefits of dance.

“People dance well into their 70s and 80s,” Kremers said. “They have to memorize the calls. Besides crossword puzzles, this is another option to keep their minds sharp.”

Modesto resident Isaiah Spears, graying at the temples, declined to give his age but said he’d been dancing for 10 years.

“The more you do it, the easier it becomes,” Spears said. “It should be our national dance.”

28 Dec

Higher level square dancers = vegetarians?

I think A House Divided! is a diatribe against higher level square dancers recruiting at Mainstream dances. As I understand this, higher level dancers are like vegetarians. The meat of square dancing is all the fun stuff: laughing and carrying on. Higher level dancers don’t like that kind of stuff (says who?). So higher level dancers only come to lower level dances because they’re hungry (want new dancers)

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, not because they actually enjoy the (meaty) dancing. A quote:

Are you going to tell me that any upper level Caller or Dancer is not going to advertise his Upper Level class at every lower level dance he goes to?

Ummmm….yeah, most “upper level” dancers I know don’t advertise classes at every (or even any) lower level dance attended.

Seems like many square dancers want to blame square dancing’s current ills on the existence of square dancing levels. If only there were no levels, we’d all be one big happy square dancing family, and square dancing would be as popular now as it was back in the [decade of choice when square dancing was popular]. Maybe…or maybe the higher level dancers would have moved on to some other activity that gives them the challenge they seek.

I think one of square dancing’s current problems is that it’s too hard to start. Mainstream is too big a chunk for an entry level. But does the mere existence of additional levels of dancing discourage people from starting? Does the fact that there is competitive ballroom dancing discourage people from starting to dance? Does a beginning line dancer quit because there are a jillion line dances and she only knows one? Maybe I’m weird, but I like room to grow. I like square dancing because I can find as much complexity as I want…no more, no less.

15 Dec

Are Callers Bossy?

Every once in a while, square dancing gets mentioned in the comics. Back in 1992, Scott Adams had Dogbert as a square dance caller in the Dilbert comic strip::

Swing your partner, dosey-do, now clap your hands… uh-oh, that’s all the square dance moves I know… I’ll bluff the rest. Slap your partner in the face

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, Write bad checks all over the place, Flirt with strangers, annoy your spouse, Get a divorce and lose your house, …uh… dosey-do.

This weekend, the Brevity strip commented on the bossiness of square dance callers here. The strip shows a caller (with live music!) saying “Swing your partner round and round, now do-si-do…” and a dancer commenting “Man this guy’s bossy.”

I guess callers are sort of bossy control freaks, but I’ve always seen it as a consensual relationship: after all, the dancers are paying us to boss them around. The goal is to give the dancers pleasure. (Several years ago, a couple of callers (the initials of their last names were S&M) published a caller note service called Top To Bottom. I was told the allusion was deliberate.)

08 Dec

Old Time Squares

Stig Malmo, a caller in Denmark, writes:

Do you remember callers like: Floyd woodhull, Ed Durlacher, Fenton”Jonesy”Jones, Joe Lewis, Les Gotcher, Ed Gilmore …I have an extensive collection of older square dance records. In the past 8 years I have been working hard to get an even better and more complete collection. All the records are the original soundtracks from the old 78 rpm records.

These look like some real classics. Stig has put snippets of some of the recordings on his website

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, but if you’re interested in the full recordings, you’ll need to email him. The website: Square Dance Oldies.

17 Nov

Swing Rueda

I came across this quote in a blog:

It was a swing rhuetta workshop – like square dancing, but with swing dancing, and in a circle.

(Here’s the cite, but you won’t be able to access it because it’s protected. Apparently protected sites come through just fine in the LiveJournal RSS feed.)

Swing rhuetta? Never heard of it. Off to Google. Nothing. Did I mean “swing rhetta”? Nothing relevant. Let’s try it without the “h”. “Swing ruetta” Google helpfully asks if I mean “swing rueda”. Bingo!

Rueda is danced in a circle with two or more couples. There is a dancer who calls the moves which the entire circle executes in unison. Some moves require partner changes and that’s when the fun begins.

Check out Swing Rueda – Circling the Globe! There’s a list of moves here, which include the Sushi Roll, Amoeba, and Treble Clef.

Swing rueda is based on Salsa Rueda or Rueda de Casino Interesting quote:

Although the names of the calls are presently the same across the board, the different towns in Cuba used their own calls. This was due to the fact that when the pioneers of Rueda de Casino started, they wanted to keep others from participating in their Ruedas. Nowadays many local variations of the calls can be found. They can change from town to town or even from teacher to teacher. For example, if you learn rueda in London you won’t normally be able to dance it with people who learnt with a different teacher. Furthermore, when a teacher runs out of calls but wants his class to keep going and make money, he often makes up new calls. This goes to detriment of the fun of dancing rueda with people you just met, but makes for an expanding world of rueda.


14 Nov

Square Dancing in Europe

Here’s an article from Stars & Stripes about square dancing in Europe: In Europe, it’s hip to be square. Check the website for pictures and links to contacts to find out more about square dancing in Europe, but here’s the text in case the article cycles off the web:

The state of square dancing in Europe these days is somewhat baffling, not unlike a caller with a stutter and a Cajun drawl.One might assume that since Americans turned the Continent on to square dancing after World War II, interest in U.S. military communities would be high, as it was a couple of generations ago. And if anyone lost interest, the assumption goes, it would be the student, not the teacher.

But while some Americans still enjoy swinging a partner round and round, square dancing doesn’t draw servicemembers as it used to.

Instead, it’s the student — the Europeans — that has taken to half sashays and rollaways.

There are hundreds of square dancing clubs on the Continent. The United Kingdom, for example, has more than 200. Germany double that. And more clubs are springing up every year, particularly in Eastern Europe, which, according to aficionados, is quite fertile ground right now.

“It’s fun, the people, the clothes, the atmosphere,” 40-year-old Karl-Heinz Schuchmann said last month during a dance in Frankfurt, Germany.

It would be misleading to claim this emblematic import from America is growing by leaps and bounds in Europe. But the fact is, despite the need for younger members, square dancing — and its close cousin, round dancing — remains a popular pastime for many Europeans.

The same can’t be said for Americans living in Europe.

“When I started” 14 years ago, Schuchmann said, “there were more Americans, but they went home.”

“It used to be different,” acknowledged Kenny Reese, a former U.S. servicemember who coaches square dance callers, mostly in Europe.

“When I started calling here 20 years ago, we actually danced on the caserns.”

Decades ago, hundreds of enthusiasts — from generals to privates — crowded into clubs to swing the night away. Women would come all dolled up in frilly blouses and prairie skirts or petticoats, while the men wore Western-style clothing, from cowboy boots to bolo ties.

According to Reese, Heidelberg, Germany, was the hub of square dancing in Europe, though by no means was it the only place.

From London to Paris, Vicenza to Bremerhaven, square dancing was quite the rage starting in the mid-1950s after Americans introduced it. In a sense, you could say it was a reintroduction, since the origins of square dancing are rooted in Europe, particularly in 17th-century England and France.

American immigrants gave it their own spin, but many of the dances more or less held true to their origins as folks moved West. The most significant contribution by the United States was the introduction of a caller, the person who cues the dancers to transition from one sequence of steps to another.

For generations, square dancing kept to its rural roots. Industrialist Henry Ford helped popularize it in the 1920s, but it didn’t gain a foothold until Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw wrote “Cowboy Dances” on the eve of World War II.

After the war, square dancing grew in popularity in the United States. Servicemembers based in Europe founded clubs and turned their hosts onto it, and by 1955 the European Association of American Square Dancing Clubs was founded. The EAASDC celebrated its 50th anniversary in September.

“In the States, it needs to be rejuvenated, from what we hear, but over here it is growing,” said John Sanderlin, founder of the Texas-Armadillos in Heidelberg. “It’s one of the largest organizations of its kind in Europe.”

There are an estimated 9,000 clubs worldwide, from Norway to New Zealand. There are already three clubs in Russia and more than 300 in Japan.

Square dancing requires at least four couples, though there is typically more than one, four-couple square of dancers on the floor. The dance itself is based largely on the steps of traditional folk dances, such as the Morris, English Country, Contra and Quadrille, a French word that means foursome.

Some square dancing events, especially larger ones in Europe that draw participants far and wide, can span three days. Reese said a dancer attending one of these events could cover a distance of 20 miles by the time it’s over just by dancing.

“A lot of people don’t realize the fitness aspect to it

,” he said.

Square dancing also requires concentration, which is why no alcohol consumption is allowed until after the petticoats stop twirling.

“It’s very good for the mind,” said Christiane De Keyser, a 56-year-old Belgian who, along with her husband and another couple, drove nearly 300 miles to attend the dance in Frankfurt last month.

“When you drink, your mind is not so clear,” she said. “The other people in the square are relying on you.”

Despite the prohibition, the socializing that goes on is one of the draws. In the decades following World War II, square dancing was a way for soldiers to get acquainted with the locals.

But over time, U.S. participation waned. Because servicemembers rotate assignments every few years, it was the locals who provided the continuity, Sanderlin said.

Groups such as Beaux & Belles (Frankfurt), Kuntry Kuzins (Wiesbaden), Heidelberg Hoedowners and Mannheim Mixers still exist, but very few Americans, if any, are members. Long gone are clubs like the Paris Squares, SHAPE Shuffling Squares and North Sea Hoe Downers.

A check of several U.S. installations in Germany found not one that serves as a base for an organized club.

People like Reese and Sanderlin are willing to help people, couples or communities get started. While there is some interest, Reese admits, things aren’t swinging like they used to.

“We’re not dying,” Reese said, “but it used to be different here.”

28 Oct


Sigh. First, it was comment spam (or Link spam, which actually affects this website. Since I wrote my own blogging software, I don’t have comment moderation (who’da thunk that spammers would run around manually entering spam comments into various special-purpose blogs); as a result

, I get a few spammy comments a week (which I promptly delete).

Now, it’s Splogs: a fake blog which exists solely for the purpose of building up page ranks for spammer sites. The splogs usually grab random content from other sources. How does this affect me? As I wrote about last year (Square Dancing in Weblogs), I set up a PubSub subscription to monitor mentions of square and contra dancing. Now, my subscription is basically spamming me with repeated articles. Once one splog gets some piece that happens to mention square dancing, more of them grab the piece. So I get tons of references to the same article, making the subscription much less useful.

Most recently, an article that I blogged several months ago (Square Dancing and Meditation) has been picked up. Maybe that’s a good thing. The original article was kind of interesting; maybe some people will be turned on to square dancing through seeing it in all these fake blogs.