I felt like my own square dance history was necessary to share with you to emphasize the transformation I have experienced in the last nine to ten months. Before, “Square Dancing is Friendship Set to Music” was just a slogan, just a bumper sticker. NO LONGER my friends! I now cherish each tip and I am proud to call you my friends.
A very recent historical event we participated in was a square dance demo at Erie (Colorado) Elementary School on January 29, 2015. The Physical Education teacher there, Ann Apple, was a former student of mine while she was in college, just a few decades ago. So that’s the connection to Erie Elementary. She had just finished the ‘dance unit’ with the children, which included square dance and asked (ok maybe I prodded her a little) if I could arrange the demo. I had the pleasure that morning of introducing our illustrious caller, Bill Heiny (with whom I also have a history, i.e. junior high school). I also tried to convey to the students why we square dance; because it’s fun, it’s our passion, because it’s the best thing since toaster strudels. However, I don’t feel like I did an adequate job in that regard.
The July, 2006 issue of National Geographic1 included an article titled “Shall We Dance?” by Cathy Newman. She eloquently puts into words the cultural, and individual, significance dance can have. “From the first kick of a baby's foot to the last "Anniversary Waltz," we dance--to internal rhythms and external sounds. Before the written word, humans spoke the language of dance.” Dance is not merely biomechanical movements, initiated by indiscriminate or deliberate muscle contractions of our bodies, but it also radiates from our hearts. Dance could be considered part of the natural order: “Planets spin. Lightning leaps. Atoms dance. And so do we.”
“Dance in America can hardly contain itself. We dance--from Florida to Alaska, from horizon to horizon and sea to sea, in the ballrooms of big cities and whistle-stop bars, in Great Plains Grange halls, underground kivas, church basements, barrio nightclubs, and high school auditoriums… A medieval superstition averred that dancing in front of Saint Vitus's statue ensured a year of good health…. Dance, like the rhythm of a beating heart, is life. It is, also, the space between heartbeats. It is, said choreographer Alwin Nikolais, what happens between here and there, between the time you start and the time you stop.
Oh how wish I had shared some of these words with the children in Erie. But there is always next year. Ann was very excited at my suggestion of making an Erie Elementary demo- an annual event. I do continue to reflect on the personal significance of square dancing (and round dancing at some time in the future I hope) for myself, the depth of which continues to grow.
We would like to commend Ann Apple for her inclusion of dance in her physical education curriculum. More schools should do the same. Remember that Lloyd ‘Pappy’ Shaw was an educator that recognized the value of dance, specifically square dancing, and taught students from first grade through high school to ‘square ‘em up.’ The Cheyenne Mountain Dancers became famous as ambassadors of square dancing in the 1930s. We look at that time period as the beginning of a renaissance of square dancing in the United States. Is it too audacious to ask ‘why not another renaissance period of square dancing in Colorado?’ Could not our square dance communities and clubs reach out to schools to plant the seed of the thought that “dance is life?” Food for thought.
We would like to heartily thank Bill Heiny for his incredible calling and instructing in Erie as well as his wife Paula for dancing with us. Much thanks to all who joined us for the demo; Gary & Janet Bugg, Ernie &Sandy Lindholm, Ron & Karen Dreher, Steven & Darlene Archer, JC & Bev Moore, Mary Ann Forman, Ed Allen, Adrian Swenson, Betty Harris, Ruth McKee, Sandy Richmond, John Burkett, Gene Juerns, and Ken Salinas, Griz and Senda Casada-Griswold.
Again, as your Council Historians will endeavor to seek out those callers, those dancers, those communities, those events, those writings, those images of the past that may enrich our own experiences as square dancers today.
1Newman, Cathy. “Shall we dance?” National Geographic. Jul 01, 2006; Vol. 210, No. 1, p. 104-125