The Old-Time Herald Volume 7, Number 5

Dance Beat

How to Go to a Square Dance

By Toni Williams

I’m sick of bars," you tell Ren"e. &e. "There’s got to be a better way to a social life." Take a sip of your black Russian. "I think I’ll check out one of those square dances I’ve seen advertised. Wanna come?"

Consult bulletin boards and newspapers. Look for words like contra, country, mountain, and square. Pay attention to phrases such as no partner necessary and all dances taught. Choose a dance in a college community or a large nearby city.

Do not succumb to Friday night’s temptation to burrow in with a rented movie. Go. Unless you are in Texas, do not wear jeans and boots. Skirts in a filmy, floaty fabric are best. If your legs are good, then leggings with a short and flippy skirt are standard. Ankle length will suffice as well as hide a multitude of flaws. Be sure your shoes are comfortable. Consider dainty, slipper-like shoes, or the sturdier chukka look. Do not clean or polish them until Saturday, when they will especially need it.

Plan to arrive punctually to become acquainted with the early, easy dances. Timing is crucial so you won’t stand around wishing you had someone to talk to besides Ren’e. We. When the caller calls for dan-cers, expect to see a rush to the dance floor. Stand close by, wearing a friendly and interested expression. Do not be surprised when you are asked to dance. Say yes, no matter how geeky the man.

As you walk to the floor, confide that you’ve never done this before. Join a square. Tell him your name when he asks; politely ask the same, and where he’s from.

Listen to the caller. Remind yourself of left and right. Do not think about your date last week who said, "I’d see you again but you remind me of my mother." Memorize the moves the caller walks you through; you will use them all evening: sashay, allemande, promenade. Make eye contact with the dancers you pass in a right and left. Feel the hands: rough ones, limp ones, sturdy ones. Do not be disappointed that the men have too much or too little hair.

To swing, plant your inside foot next to your partner’s and gallop with the other as if you are playing horsey. Lean back a little to give weight. Look him in the eye, then gaze at a neutral spot such as his neck or ear. Do not look at the ceiling or you will become dizzy.

Let your partner gently guide you. Feel pleased you are able to follow instructions. Enjoy making this giant people puzzle. Do not get too cocky or you might make a wrong turn. Listen to the caller.

Do not be nervous when the band starts playing. Ease into the beat, letting your body bounce. Step lightly and quickly. Do not attempt to clog or flatfoot. Try not to dwell on the memory of sixth grade square dancing and Dougie Couch puking on your shoe. Clap when the dance is through, thank your partner, and drift to a different area of the floor.

Pair up for a big circle dance. Be thankful for mixers that let you swing and promenade a different man each round. Smell traces of lemon, sweat, breath mints, soap. Smile. Catch sight of Ren’e whe whirling with a John Lennon lookalike. Get used to touching. Be grateful you’ve watched your diet so the spillover at your waist isn’t more than a handful.

Pay special attention when you join the contra line. These dances are trickier but worth it. Silently count eight beats for each call: circle, chain, hey for four. Meet a new couple and do it again. Note the difference in each man’s swing: limp, vigorous, airy. Enjoy the strong swings the most. Do not worry that you are sweating. Let only your fingertips touch the soaked tee shirt of the next man.

Do not get distracted by the names you mentally attach to individuals: Ichabod Crane or Mel Gibson or Grumpy of the seven dwarves. Feel the surge of the music, the force of 100 feet swishing to the beat. Do not take it personally if the next couple seems displeased that your foursome is not shipshape. Wonder how they manage to enjoy themselves.

See how little time is wasted between dances. Ask the man in the Hawaiian shirt to dance. Check for a wedding ring. Look longer into his eyes when you swing. Say yes when he asks you to waltz. Hold him lightly; step delicately on the balls of your feet. Concentrate. One two three, one two three. Let your hips sway slightly.

Gulp water during the break and wish it were beer. Breathe deeply to have made it through the first half. Compare notes with Ren’e ane and wonder where the Hawaiian shirt has gotten to. When someone asks, "Don’t you dance in Charlottesville?" say not yet and murmur something about the bathroom. Catch bits of talk about computer glitches and marinated tofu.

Be a little pickier the second half of the dance. Invent excuses such as "I’m sitting out to observe," "I’ve promised this one," and "I’m coming down with strep throat." Do not touch your hands to your face or you might inflict yourself with strep throat.

Avoid joining the front-and-center square; they do not want beginners. Listen to the caller as the dances grow complex. Remember to appreciate the live music; it is preferable to recordings. Check for handsome and ringless musicians.

Do not encourage a dancer who pins you with soulful eyes, holds you too closely, or accidentally brushes a hand against your breast. Be aloof and strictly business. Write off the Hawaiian shirt when his gauzy eyes make you suspect he abused something during intermission.

Enjoy the swirl of your skirt against your legs and the way it snaps back like a retort. Envy the women who dance like queens holding court, their audacious reds and purples and oranges that somehow do not clash. Pity the men who missed the coordination boat. Rank yourself somewhere in between, as always.

Convince yourself that you could get used to your next partner’s beard and outdoorsy looks. Admire how you move together like water over rocks. Figure that dancing has cut through a lot of groundwork. Do not raise your expectations too high. Listen to the caller, and swing the next man. n

Toni Williams occasionally reviews CDs and books for the Old-Time Herald and plays in the band Rattlesnake Chili.

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