(Updated 10/00)


A few years ago I "discovered" square dancing. At the time, some of my friends were going to try it, and, although I had no particular interest, I went along.

I had some fairly vague remembrances of square dancing from somewhere deep in my past (maybe school or TV). From what I could recall, there wasn't much to it, just some traipsing around the floor, hooking arms with people, and other simple stuff. So, I was expecting to be at least somewhat bored by a fairly "trivial" experience. But my friends would be there, so I was motivated to go.

However, after I got there, I discovered that my view of square dancing -- and undoubtedly the view of most people today -- was that of "old" square dancing (simple stuff like swing your partner, promenade, etc.). Unfortunately, that's how it's still portrayed today in the media.

I found that modern square dancing is completely different and is a truly fascinating activity. It is by no means simple, and, in fact, can be quite a challenge. I also found it to be LOADS of fun.

The "challenge" is in two parts. First, you have to learn a multitude of square dance "calls" or maneuvers. For example, if the caller (the person in charge of the dance) gives the call "slide thru", you have to know what that means and remember where to move in response. (For the curious, on a "slide thru" you pass by the person you're facing and then turn right if you're a man or left if you're a woman.) Some of the calls, like "slide thru", are simple; others are more complex. You learn the where-to-move rules for all these calls during a series of square dance lessons, which occupy the first few weeks/months of your square dancing existence (don't worry, the classes are fun, too).

The other part of the challenge involves the vast variety of formations and positions the dancers can occupy. Each group of 4 couples starts out in a square shaped formation (hence the name "square" dancing). But after each call they can shift into many other formations -- columns, lines, waves, diamonds, and so on. The challenge is to figure out how to apply the where-to-move rules (that you learned in class) to the particular formation you're in at the moment - or to your particular position within that formation. And, you've got about a half second or so to come up with the answer. Fortunately, most of the time you're in fairly standard formations and positions (like the ones you learned in class), but sometimes you're not, and you really have to think quickly to figure out where to move.

If you've read this far, I hope I haven't scared you into thinking, "this is too difficult for me." Square dancers are, on the whole, average folk who just enjoy being challenged a bit. If you want, there are higher "levels" of square dancing you can learn, each more challenging (in fact, the highest ones require almost MENSA-type capabilities). But most people stay at the bottom level and enjoy that just fine.

The other parts of square dancing are fun, too -- moving in sync ("flowing") with the music, the great variety of music, trying to repair your square quickly after somebody goofs, the mental relaxation you achieve (you completely forget life's problems when you're out on the floor), the good exercise you get without realizing it, etc., and, of course, the many people you meet and friends you make.

So, if you have one evening a week free and are looking for something different to do, give square dancing a try. There are several clubs in town that meet on different week nights (usually at a school), so you can find something on any night. And, it's cheap (usually $2-$3). Each of the clubs usually starts a class for new dancers each September. Plus, there's a special "teaching" club in Richmond that starts classes twice a year - around May and November. For information about classes, click here.

My What Is Square Dancing page has some additional information and some other square dance links.

Feel free to email me if you have questions: matro@vcu.org

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