Not Your Grandma’s Square Dance

Lately we have really been enjoying dancing old-time squares with a bunch of wonderful young people at their monthly dances in Columbia.  So far, we have attended three of these dances in three different locations, depending on what space is available each time.  The next one is tentatively scheduled for April 30 (location TBA).

A young woman named Laura has been holding these dances about once a month. Early on she invited friends to come play music and dance at her house, but the dances quickly grew too large for the space.  The dance in January (the first one we attended) was held in an old warehouse downtown that used to be part of the Wabash railway station and that now holds numerous art galleries in the “catacombs” downstairs but also has a large open space perfect for dancing on the first floor. The February dance was held at an art gallery, and the March dance was held in a yoga studio. Depending on how many people show up and what the space is like, the dances each have a slightly different flavor, but they always feature live music, high energy dancing, snacks to share, and lots of smiling people.

We didn’t quite know what to expect the first time  but were delighted when we arrived to find a room filled with people in their twenties or early thirties playing music and dancing a big circle dance like they dance in Appalachia, with a series of two-couple figures (birdie in the cage, duck for the oyster, right-hand across, four-leaf clover). The young caller, Jesse, was  tall and thin and definitely looked the part of an old-time square dance caller, wearing jeans, a short-sleeved shirt, a vest, cowboy hat, and boots. The women were adorable in their boots and long western-style flounced skirts and tights. All the dancers were quite lively, skipping around the room, making percussive sounds with their feet, and the wooden floor had a nice bounce to it.

We were also happy to see several people we knew and flattered to have been invited, as we were clearly the oldest people there. Jesse called several dances and then the band played a schottische and a waltz. After that, Jim and Laura and Jesse took turns calling dances, mostly squares and an occasional big circle dance. We never had fewer than two squares on the floor and sometimes as many as four. The band kept changing in size and configuration throughout the evening. At one time, there were two fiddles, a guitar, and a mandolin. Later, there were three guitars, one fiddle, an accordian, a mando-yuk, a banjo, a washboard, and a guy playing spoons.

In between squares, we danced various couple dances. Toward the end of the evening, Jesse taught everyone how to dance the Cotton Eye Joe. Then about 10:30, several of the band members began singing songs; one of the dancers laughed and said, “The dance must be over; the guitar players are singing.”

photograph of square dancers

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2 thoughts on “Not Your Grandma’s Square Dance

  1. I’m happy to read that the old dances are being preserved somewhere. I learned to dance in Colorado Springs in 1957 with “authentic western” callers, and I’m still club dancing today in Denver, CO, with visiting national callers booked every week.

    • Yes, it is great that the old dances are being preserved. I took club dance lessons when I was 14 and really enjoyed it, but then I discovered mountain style hoedowns and old-time square dances, and I have gotten away from the club dancing. I am fortunate to live in a part of the country where we have a strong tradition in old-time dance and music and where some of the master fiddlers and callers are still passing that tradition on to the next generation. So were you associated with the Lloyd Shaw Foundation in Colorado Springs? My husband and I actually attended the Rocky Mountain Dance Roundup in the Springs several years ago, which was great fun!

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