Dare to be Square

I’m looking forward to the next square dance at the Hallsville community center on Saturday night. John White, one of my favorite old-time fiddlers, has held these dances the second Saturday of every month for years. The schedule always follows the same format:  old-time open jam at 4:00, carry-in dinner at 6:00, and dance at 7:00.  Everyone is welcome to this family event; there is no smoking and no alcohol. Some people come mostly to play music, including several children that John has been teaching to play fiddle. Others come mostly to dance. Some neither dance nor play music but enjoy socializing. You can expect to find people of all ages at the dance, from babies to great grandparents and everyone in between.

John’s wife, a retired school teacher, always decorates the hall with seasonal items. Last month Betty brought blue tablecloths for all the tables, some with snowflake designs. The table by the door had a two-foot lighted snowman and a painted basket for donations that said “let it snow.” There were two other stuffed snowmen in wool hats and scarves on the food table and bowls of peppermints on each of the tables lining one side of the hall, where people sat to eat their potluck dinner. This time for the carry-in dinner, several people brought soups (potato soup, chicken cacciatore, chicken noodle soup, chili) and salads. There was also a delicious cherry pie and an applie pie. Betty remarked that “you just never know what people will bring,” saying “that’s what make it so fun.” This month I am sure Betty will have the place decked out with pink and red and white Valentines.

We arrived after most people had sat down to eat and some were going through the line for second helpings. A couple of the musicians were still sitting close together in folding chairs at the end of the hall farthest from the kitchen, facing each other, playing tunes while everyone else ate. The hall was packed, even though some of the regulars weren’t there, including several of the home-school families who usually come. There were some newcomers and some people we hadn’t seen for a while, including our friend Musial, whose wife had died suddenly of an aneurism shortly after Christmas. He told me he had decided to come because he knew it would feel good to be with friends, even though he didn’t feel like playing his keyboard.

It seemed at first that there weren’t as many children as usual, and it took a little while after dinner to get the Virginia Reel started, but we still ended up with two lines. During dinner, one of the little girls came up to Jim and asked if they could clog, so before lining people up for the Virginia Reel, he got his clogging students up to practice the routine they learned last year. After the Virginia Reel, Jim asked people to find a partner and form a circle, and he taught them some Appalachian square dance figures (i.e., right hands across, birdie in the cage, duck for the oyster), which was great fun. Then we formed a couple of squares, with Jim calling one and Laura calling the other. At one point in the evening we had three squares going at the same time (two in the main hall and one back by the kitchen); Willie called the third one.

Lately quite a few people in their twenties and thirties have gotten interested in old-time music and square dancing, and they have been telling their friends about it. Last month nearly thirty young people showed up, some of whom had never square danced before. They remind me of the dancers we met in Portland at Dare to Be Square. It’s very interesting to see all these kids showing up with their tattoos and piercings at Hallsville for old-time square dancing—yet another place in our lives where the far left meets the far right and finds they enjoy each other’s company. (Of course, we don’t ever talk about politics or religion at these dances, but it seems to me that if we could all find more such chances to share some common interests, the country would be a whole lot better off.)

By 9:30 there were still lots of people dancing, so Jim did another big Appalachian square and taught some new figures (i.e., basket swing, lady round the gent, four-leaf clover). The young people loved the basket swing, and when four of them met up together, they would really start the basket whirling. After the Appalachian square, Jim joined the circle and led everyone in a spiral as we “wound the ball.” Howard Marshall was lead fiddler most of the evening, and Richard Shewmaker (a young fiddler who has lately been winning quite a few contests) also played a long while. John didn’t play as much as usual, but he called at least one square. At one point, all the “regular” callers (Dave, Jim, and Laura) ended up in the same square together and some of the new dancers formed a second square and were standing around wondering what to do next. John noticed they needed a caller, so he got up and led them through “Right Hand High.”

After the dance ended and we had put away the tables and chairs and most people had left, Jim and John swept and mopped the hall, while Betty carried her decorations out to the car.

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