Don’t take the dancing too seriously

I coordinate the Square Dance History Project, which among other things helps provide me with a useful perspective on the contra dance scene. Square dancing was huge, involving far more people than today’s thriving contra scene, and this at a time when the population was far smaller. I just returned from calling at the Flurry festival in Saratoga, where the main hall might have eight contra lines, each 20 or even 30 couples in length; that’d be maybe 500 people dancing in one huge and packed room. But I’ve spoken with square dance callers who remember calling for as many as 800 squares at one time—do the math! Some have estimated that between 15 and 30 million Americans were involved as square dancers, and the activity spread to other parts of the world.

Modern square dancing is on the decline; the reasons for that are numerous, beyond the scope of this post. I do think, though, that those of us in the contra scene might do well to be aware of that history and to learn what lessons we can.

Here’s an interesting commentary from Come Square Dancing, a 48-page tabloid published in Australia in 1953, as that nation was experiencing its own square dance boom. (Those who don’t want to download the entire publication can read a brief summary describing how the Australian dance scene developed.)

Just one word of warning
Square dancing is fun—clean, wholesome fun—keep it that way. Above all, don’t let it become an obsession.

It has been going for a long time in the small, homey clubs, where married folks meet regularly, learn new steps, meet new friends, and generally spend a pleasant evening. That is the way square dancing began, and in that form it will continue to be popular for a very long time.

The people who rush into it madly are the people who turn it into the “craze” which eventually kills it. They are the type of people who always want to go one better than the next person. They want to join as many clubs as possible, learn new steps as fast as they can, and bring in that “competitive” spirit that destroys the friendly club atmosphere.

And don’t take the dancing itself too seriously. Always remember your days as a beginner, when everyone laughed at their mistakes.

If you finish an evening’s dancing feeling that you have not enjoyed yourself, one of three things is to blame:

  • The caller has insufficient ability to hold your interest;
  • The other dancers lack the cooperative spirit;
  • You yourself didn’t enter into it with the right spirit.