Clubs try to make square dancing less ... square

CorrespondentJanuary 3, 2013 

Square Dance caller Vance McDaniel of Knightdale.


  • More information What: Square Dance Fun Night When: Saturday and 19, and Feb. 2 and 16, from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. Where: Fellowship Hall in the rear of the First Baptist Church at 99 N. Salisbury St., Raleigh Cost: $5 per dancer Details:

When some folks hear the term “Western Square Dancing,” they may think of dancers dressed like cowboys and cowgirls, twirling and weaving between other dancers at a dizzying pace. A fiddler plays the tune, and the caller is hard to follow by the untrained ear.

It may seem exclusive – maybe even forbidding. The Triangle Square Dance Alliance is out to change such perceptions with Square Dance Fun Night.

It’s a night that welcomes novices like they are experienced hoofers.

“You don’t have to know anything about square dancing,” says Knightdale’s Vance McDaniel who is lithe scheduled caller, according to a press release, for the upcoming “Fun Night” events.

“You will be shown everything you need to know at each dance. You will learn the basics in the first half-hour or so, and spend the remainder of the evening enjoying a fun dance.”

The idea for the night came after some brainstorming by TSDA members, says Bill Colman, 73, a representative from the Star Twirlers, a square dancing club that meets on every Thursday night at Highland United Methodist Church in Raleigh.

“In the Triangle area, we have about eight square-dance clubs,” says Colman. “We thought it would be more effective if we had representatives from each club get together and try to come up with some ways that we could further square dancing, and get us more known in the Triangle area.”

The representatives – about 15 of them – have been putting their heads together for about a year and a half, trying to make square dancing look more attractive, fun and welcoming to folks who’ve never tried it.

The first of these scheduled events is Saturday from 7 p.m. until 9:30 p.m. in the First Baptist Church in Raleigh.

In the square-dancing system, dancers start at the basic level, then move to mainstream, then mainstream-plus. Eventually, some rise to advanced level, and can even compete on the “challenge” level, if they so desire.

“Most of the clubs here dance at the mainstream-plus level,” says Colman, and that says something about the dedication of the dancers.

Square-dancing clubs normally hold classes to bring dancers up to snuff before they’re allowed to join as full members.

This process can take a long time, so the Triangle Square Dance Alliance is trying to make things easier for newcomers.

“We want people to just come like they used to, have a party and have a great time,” says Colman. “You don’t have to join a club. You don’t have to do anything.”

Colman, a retiree who used to work in information technology, got into square dancing eight years ago at the suggestion of his wife Nancy, who now co-writes the Star Twirlers newsletter with her husband.

“I used to play a lot of basketball,” he says. “So my wife comes home one day, and she says, ‘Let’s try square dancing.’

He was reluctant, but he went. Once he found out how much energy was involved, and how much mental capacity was required, he was hooked.

“At one time, we were dancing five times a week,” he says.

His wife occasionally wears a pedometer to the dances, and they are often very satisfied and surprised by the healthy results. “For a three-hour dance, she had over five miles,” Colman says.

Don’t worry about running to the western-wear store to buy boots, spurs and cowboy hats, Colman says. The dress code is casual – with one stipulation.

“The only thing we request is that men wear long sleeves, because you do sweat a lot, and women do not like to grab hold of a sweaty arm,” he says with a chuckle.

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