“Friendship in Music” – The Call of the Square Dance

AUBURN – Box the Gnat. Braid the ring. Sashay, circle, swing.

Yeah: square dancing.

You probably did it in college physical education class. Your parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-great-greats probably did.

But they probably didn’t do it for rock, jazz, disco, or hip-hop, or learned it in the simplest way it’s taught today.

But we are getting ahead.

Square dancing dates back 15eEurope of the last century, influenced by dance movements from England, France, Scotland, Scandinavia and Spain. Modern dancers who recently attended a session at Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Auburn say they do it for fun, exercise and friendship.

The session was led by Al Hipkins of Auburn, a professional caller who leads dances in Lewiston-Auburn and Brunswick.

“It is above all a fun activity, not a competition,” he said.

Once people had gathered in the school cafeteria, he picked up a microphone and hummed into it, with a bit of twang. Sung.

“German left, big right, big left, women’s chain, women’s center and men’s sashay, promenade.”

Four couples were positioned in a square, with two people on each side facing the center. They bowed, held hands, circled, switched partners, sashayed, strolled, met in the middle, called “Whoo!” and eventually joined their partners.

“I mix them up and then put them back in order,” Hipkins said.

Auburn partners Cam and Edy Churchill have been dancing together since 1983 when they met here in Sherwood Heights. They married the following year.

“She was so fun to watch, always smiling and laughing,” Cam said.

She arrived this first time without a partner. Everyone else was matched, he said. “But she never missed a dance.”

Back then, Cam says, the dances drew 40 or 50 people. That evening, about ten people were present, enough for a square.

At the time, “we had eight or nine squares,” Cam said. “Now it’s mostly us old people who have been dancing for a long time. Some of us are a little rusty.

But the Churchills still like to dance.

“Oh, my, yeah,” Edy said, just off the dance floor and a bit breathless.

“It keeps your mind sharp,” Cam said.

Indeed, a novice had trouble following some basic steps on her first try. It was not so complicated as fast. But really fun.

“In one night of dancing, you can do 5,000 to 8,000 steps without ever thinking about exercising,” according to Hipkins. “Dancing engages your spirit, relieves stress and includes you in a larger community.”

Wally Vickerson, like many others, wore a Twin City Spinners name tag and badge he earned when he graduated from a 20-week course in 2012.

The draw for him is friendship, he said, and “you can use your mind as you get older”. He met his wife, Carol Vickerson, at a square dance five years ago. She had been a widow for seven years.

“Wally was very sweet,” she said. “It’s nice to have a companion.”

Square dancers move in a circle during a session Sept. 15 at Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Auburn. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal


Before square dancing arrived in the United States, it was a folk fashion in Europe, according to sanjuan.edu’s “History of Square Dance.”

“In England around 1600, teams of six trained performers – all male, for the sake of propriety, and wearing cowbells for added punch – began performing choreographed sequences known as the Morris dance.”

It is believed to have inspired English country dancing, in which couples would line up on village greens to practice weaving, circling and swaying movements reminiscent of modern square dancing.

When the Europeans settled the first colonies here, they brought this tradition with them.

Over the generations it became less popular in most places, but it spread to Appalachia in the 19e century.

“Instead of memorizing each step, participants began to rely on callers to provide clues – and as the square dance call became an art form in its own right, humor and entertainment” , according to “Square Dancing History”.

The practice received another boost in 1923 when Henry Ford sponsored a dance program for public schools in Dearborn, Michigan.

Later, he sponsored a Sunday radio show in which a professional called out dances that had been printed in the newspaper the previous week.

Ford’s friend Thomas Edison began producing 78 rpm square dance records.

“Old-fashioned square dancing has become all the rage,” according to the website. Folk dancing also received a major boost in the 1920s when New York’s public schools, the first major school system to do so, made folk dancing a required activity.

Square dancing developed rapidly after 1939. The dance particularly developed in the decade following World War II. Many American GIs had been introduced to square dancing in USO cantinas.

Today, thousands of clubs have been established in communities across the country.

Square dancing has been the nation’s “official national folk dance” since President Ronald Reagan signed an act of Congress in 1982.

And the United States has a National Square Dance Day: November 29

“At bottom, it remains a strong and enduring part of the American folk tradition. As the dancers themselves like to say, “square dancing is a friendship set to music”, according to “the story of square dancing”.

Caller from square dancer Al Hipkins calls out the steps of a square dance set. 15 during a public session at Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Auburn. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal


The September 15 dance in Sherwood Heights was an introduction to a 12-week course offered by Hipkins. He said ‘social square dancing’ is a ‘new trend in America’

Social Square Dance was developed in 2016 by Callerlab, an international organization of square dance callers, as a way to “call” new dancers by providing a simpler, easier to learn call system.

The system is designed to create a 50-call entry-level program that can be taught quickly in 12 to 14 weeks, “and yet serve as a realistic destination for long-term square dancers,” according to callerlab.org.

“Dancers are encouraged to dance this program and recruit their friends, with no pressure to move up to higher programs.”

Hipkins said the difference between traditional and modern square dancing is that traditional dancing is done in contredanses and can be taught and danced in one night.

“Every song in traditional dance has a prescribed choreography, which does not change,” he said. “Modern square dancing changes with each dance as the caller dials in the sequence to dance each time.”

Square dancing traditionally includes seven call list programs, starting with the general public (69 calls), according to Wikipedia. Level 7, the third of three “challenge” levels, includes 429 calls and concepts.

Learning all of this can take years.

But you don’t have to in social square dancing.

“It’s time to erase the old image of square dancing from school days and television,” Hipkins said in a press release announcing the new class.

Music is one of the biggest surprises for new dancers, he noted.

“Dancing today is done to great music from the best in rock, disco, jazz and hip-hop, as well as country and bluegrass,” he said.

Hipkins started square dancing in 1972 with the Susquehanna Swingers in Havre de Grace, Maryland. He was hooked. After moving to Maine, he was recruited as a caller in 2006 by Sage Swingers Square and Round Dance Club in Brunswick.

“Once they found out I could sing, they asked me if I wanted to learn how to call,” he said. “Being able to sing meant people liked to hear me.”

In September 2011, he founded the Twin City Spinners Square and Round Dance Club in Lewiston-Auburn.

In addition to singing Sherwood Heights dance calls, he sang a song called “Good to Be Alive” by American singer-songwriter Andy Grammer while calling steps.

The dancers followed the rhythm and some sang.

If you’ve seen square dancing on TV or at your town hall, you’d expect to see women in frilly dresses with crinoline petticoats and men in embroidered shirts and cowboy boots.

But not here. These dancers wore jeans or khakis and comfortable shoes.

“New dancers aren’t as interested in fancy dresses,” Hipkins said.

One reason is that unless you make your own outfits, a men’s dress and suit can cost up to $2,000, he said.

So come as you are.

Twin City Spinners will hold an open house at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 13 in Sherwood Heights. The new classes will begin October 20 and run from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The cost is $5 per person each night, or you can prepay and get 10 classes for the price of 12. Hipkins can be reached at ( 207)- 841-7959 or [email protected]

He will be there with a folkloric flair. Expect fun.

“The teamwork needed to be successful in square dancing transcends all other concerns and helps people forget about their problems and enjoy an evening with others who also come to have fun,” he said. -he declares.

Edy Churchill and Roy Blier complete their spin to the right during a square dance session Sept. 15 at Sherwood Heights Elementary School in Auburn. Lorraine Boilard and Rick Fortier turn towards them on the left. In the square dance, the partners change several times during the same dance, to finally find their main partner. Andrée Kehn/Sun Journal

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