Square Dancing: Good For Mind, Body, Soul And Romance
An invitation from friends to go out, 35 years ago, started a love affair with square dancing for Moose Jaw’s Bill Smith, the president of the Moose Jaw Town and Country Squares. “I needed something to do and I had some friends going square dancing and they asked me to come along and I'm still at it,” Smith said explaining why he got involved with square dancing.
Square dancing is a dance involving four couples arranged in a square. Despite what many people think, it did not originate in the United States but actually originated in Europe – where in many countries it is now seen as a folk dance.
The American mid-west version of square dancing was popularized due to it's association with cowboy and Western frontier culture. In the US, a total of 19 states list square dancing as their official state dance.
And for 50 years the Moose Jaw club has kept square dancing alive in the Friendly City.
Smith said square dancing is a great physical activity which helps dancers stay physically and mentally fit.
“It's good for your legs and good for your mind, you have to be alert to remember the calls,” Smith said when asked about the benefits of square dancing.
Physically, square dancing is highly beneficial to dancers, he said. “It helps you keep physically fit. If I don't dance for a couple of weeks I can sure tell it in my legs,” Smith said.
But dancing and keeping physically fit isn't the only reason Smith square dances. There actually is a social aspect to it. “It's pretty nice we come out go dancing and we enjoy ourselves talking to each other. In these small clubs you start to get thinking of everyone as part of the family. We get to know one another really well,” he said.
Asked what he would be doing if not out square dancing, Smith said likely at home watching television. "There's not much good on TV today, this is a lot better than that,” he stated.
Square dancing in the Moose Jaw club even has a romantic element to it, as evident by callers Valerie and Lane Wright who became involved as high school graduates four decades ago.
“I've been square dancing for 40 years. When we (Valerie and husband Lane) were dating we were looking for something positive and fun and square dancing fit the criteria,” Valerie said. She sees positive things from square dancing as it is good for the mind, body and spirit.
“You can crank on five miles of walking in one two hour session. It keeps your mind active. It revitalizes your spirit by being with and socializing with people you enjoy being with,” Valerie stated.
“Once you become a square dancer you become part of a family. If you are out of town in another community you can always stop by another club and come and join them,” she said.
Smith agrees that the various square dance clubs are careful not to compete with each other. " "It's great we go out and do a lot of visiting with other clubs,” Smith said.
The two closest clubs to Moose Jaw are in Swift Current and Regina.
The Saskatchewan Square and Round Dancing Federation fosters this spirit, and annually hosts a major event rotating among the various member clubs. There are no competitions in square dancing; it's a done for recreation, the Federation’s web-site says.
The Federation web-site also states square dancing is now be danced to a variety of music and may include older music but also uses music from the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or even newer.
Smith admits though the Moose Jaw club membership has shrunk with more people passing away. “The younger people today are doing other things,” he said.
Despite the drop in members – the club has 40 members – this year saw a major revival as a dozen people joined the club.
“It's good, we usually don't get that many joining,” Smith said.
He added, “anybody who can walk can square dance and encourages people to come out and give it a try."
Asked if square dancing is a lot of hard work and causes him to break out in a sweat, Smith laughed stating, “I usually don't work that hard.”
Valerie said before she became the regular caller for the club she was the guest caller at Lindale and St Michael’s schools, offering square dancing as a noon hour activity. Most students at these two schools are bussed in from rural areas and have noon hour activities.
“I enjoyed it calling for the kids. I was a bit of a teacher disciplinarian because kids in grades four to eight don't like to touch each other's hands,” she said but the kids really enjoyed participating.
Asked if she would like to do it again, she said she would like to but admitted she was just “too busy” to do it at noon hours but had been asked by physical education teachers to come in for a couple of classes in the past to introduce square dancing to the students.
For people who might laugh about young people and square dancing both pointed to Japan where square dancing is highly popular. Square dancing, according to more than a few websites was introduced by the US military in Nagasaki in 1946 to help democratize Japan after the war to give people a positive activity to do and it flourished and spread throughout that country. Japanese dancers dance to callers calling the dancing in English.
Square dancing, for Valerie, is a serious affair, with her spending a week in Wetaskawin for four years at a caller school held there.
“It's an intense week of learning and I am just at the beginning,” said the self taught caller.
But you don't have to be so intense or serious to give square dancing a try. The group offers those interested an opportunity to come out and give it a try for two times for free.
Memberships cost $40 annually with participants charged $6 for each two hour session which are held at St Margaret’s School each Monday evening from 7-9 pm. With a wrap up on March 26th.
For further information please call Bill Smith at 306-692-6177.