When my girlfriend Kerry emailed asking if I wanted to sign up for square dance lessons with her, I thought, “Not no but hell no!” I’d never seen square dancers in person, but the ones on TV are rather, well, square. I pictured them just like you’re probably doing right now, and nowhere did that image fit in my idea of a good time. But I like Kerry and I decided, what the hey? We’ve been going for the last several weeks, having fun tripping over our own feet. Last night was something different, though – a real dance away from our familiar surroundings.
Nervous but determined, we walked into the Oak Grove community center to find it was a lot like ours, similar to a grade school gym/auditorium with a stage at the far end, a polished parquet floor, and one row of old wooden benches lining the two sides. About forty people mingled on the dance floor or sat on the benches – perhaps a dozen men (eight or so of them able-bodied) and the rest women. Most of the women were of a certain age with a more natural bent to their appearance, not wasting a lot of time taming their hair into current styles or enhancing their looks with makeup. Some wore those skirts over big petticoats that looked charming on the average-sized, younger girls but accentuated the older women’s tubular shapes and extra pounds. The younger men wore casual attire – one in a long-sleeved, modern printed shirt and the other in a sage sweater, the rest were earnest grandpas in western shirts stretched tight across the bellies of the ones who liked to eat.
Kerry and I immediately went past the snack table, graced with such delicacies as a torn open box of Oreos and a store-bought vegetable tray, to the clothing sale. Four long racks were packed with gently used skirts, tops and petticoats. We were enticed by some items to force a gap wide enough so we could see the whole skirt, only to be disappointed because someone had sewed on tacky lace or big silver cowboy-ish do-dads.
After perusing two racks, we’d gotten up enough nerve to sit on one of the benches and wait for someone to ask us to dance. Since it was a “New Dancers” event we figured the men would be polite and oblige us, and they did.
Each square requires four couples. Because of the paucity of men, some of the couples were two women. Kerry and I couldn’t do that because neither of us knows enough to dance as “the man.” The caller on stage tells the couples what step to make and when, such as doe-see-doe (actually spelled and pronounced dosado) or one of the fifty-one basic steps for beginners. It sounds like a lot but there are a few favorites they call over and over.
These callers were amazing. One rather large man in a black shirt tucked into black pants had a voice like thick chocolate syrup. Smooth and rich – a voice that could be deemed sexy in another circumstance but here it just sounded soothing. All of the callers sounded like professional radio announcers as they first walked us through the sequence of steps. Then they put on classic rock music and sang the calls. We all knew and loved the songs, delivered in those rich voices, the words being the steps we were supposed to make. One right after the other. Quickly changing partners. Being promenaded and twirled, showing off those big skirts and petticoats.
The callers mixed in a lot of good-natured silliness, too. One caller said, “the smartest two couples change places!” In one square, all four couples tried to change places, in another square nobody moved. He stopped the music to make several comments like, “How come nobody moved in that back square? You know what that says about you, right?”
Kerry and I danced several times, being guided by experienced men who took us by the shoulders and turned us in the right direction when we got confused, and encouraged us after every dance by saying, “you’re doing really well” so we didn’t feel so clumsy. The other women in the square would make eye contact, smile and say, “you’re doing great!” or “so glad you’re here.” The nicest, most patient people on earth are the “angels,” as they are officially named, who patiently offer themselves as partners to those of us trying to learn the steps.
During a break, Kerry and I went back to the sale racks, determined to buy a square dance ensemble. We picked out a few lacy tops and flouncy skirts to try on in the frigid area leading to the ladies room. Another woman joined us with her items, and both assured me that the black skirt and white peasant shirt I tried on were “really cute.” Kerry liked a lacy blouse that I had considered, but could tell she really wanted it so I tried on the other top which was more flattering on me anyway. We paid five dollars for each item. A steal! A good hot water wash and these things will be like new.
Happy with our purchases, we went back to sit on the bench until more kind gentlemen took pity on us. We had planned to leave at 8:30, but I looked at my watch and it was already 9:10, so we danced for the final twenty minutes when everyone gathered in a large circle, held hands and bowed in unison, offering the group a big, “T-H-A-N-K YOU!”
As they say, time flies when you’re having fun. The whole evening was full of laughter. Whether it was Kerry and me commenting as we went through the racks of clothes (“can you believe someone wore this???”) to us looking across the room at two ample women slouching side by side on the bench, both in bright turquoise blouses, skirts, and petticoats. Their petticoats, thankfully, filled the space between their wide-open legs (“oh my gosh, Kerry, I wish I had my camera!”). This was a Normal Rockwell scene if there ever was one.
All of the men and women we have met since starting this adventure have been kind, lovely people, gracious and forgiving, encouraging and patient. I am so glad to be a part of their world!