Such fun being virtually square (dancing)
Social distancing is the polar opposite of square dancing. Staying 6 feet apart just doesn’t work for calls to “Swing Your Partner” or “Do-Si-Do.”
So when COVID-19 slammed doors shut with them inside, square dancing friends from Greeley’s Merry Mixers Square Dance Club virtually put their heads together to find a solution for their dilemma.
Devoted member Sheree Angus ultimately suggested, “Hey, I’ve got this idea.”
She shared her plan, which was inspired by her grandson’s karate class that was meeting online via a program called Zoom. It’s since become the standard for corporate business virtual meetings and home schooling as well.
Angus’s swingin’ pals Lori Stevens and Renate Campbell gave the brainstorm to take their dancing online an immediate thumbs up. The next step involved dance step callers Bill Callaway and Mike Olivieri to determine if the whole, grand scheme was feasible. Callaway has been a licensed caller since 2010 although he’d been dancing since childhood (he’s now 66). His interest had faded with his move to Colorado in 1966 but revived when he and wife Lydia square danced at a church “party night” in 2005. They refreshed their skills through lessons and have been dancing ever since.
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Olivieri, who mentored Callaway, has called dances for about 23 years, some in eye-popping places such as inside a cave and atop a tall bridge.
Callaway happily recalled his lively pastime’s big flourish in the 1970s when there were an average of 12-15 squares with eight people in each at most dances. He and business partner Olivieri comprise Do-Si-Do Boys. Accredited members of Callerlab, a professional square dance caller organization, they hold BMI/ASCAP licenses and give lessons as well as call at dances and parties.
Ironically, the rhythmical activity that historically traces to early Great Britain isn’t technically a dance at all. Callaway described the longtime worldwide craze as a prolonged walk in figures and patterns now performed to all styles of music. Its long roots spread out far and wide.
The Morris dance, for an early example, had served as an exhibition featuring trained teams of six (men only) in two rows of threes. French and Spanish influences blended with popular 17th century country dances in England to evolve into America’s New England initial square dance moves. These steps incorporated Quadrille, Cotillion, waltz, Minuet, gavotte, branle and more.
Forward to 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic shelter-in-place restrictions halted most things fun. Callaway and Olivieri discussed Angus’s exciting plan; they also raised their four thumbs skyward, deeming the entire online volunteer project a definite go.
After technical loose ends were secured, the virtual dance founding team launched its first major event on April 6, 2020. Angus admitted to sheer delight in watching the online participants’ facial expressions switch from anxious to relieved as they virtually danced and visited with their friends.
“They needed to know that at least this part of their now-crazy world was still good and familiar,” she reflected. “Square dancing is not only a physical activity. It’s also known for being very social.”
Zoom square dancing must, therefore, be a virtual antithesis of Isolate At Home social distancing. Ah yes! Swing your partner in virtual celebration!
Angus explained to the dance group that since life had given them lemons, they were going to make lemonade. Which led to the suggestion that they call themselves The Lemonaders. Everyone liked the name so that’s who they became. On Facebook, they’re The Square Dance Lemonaders. (Please check out the page and share questions or comments, requested Angus. Maybe even post some delicious lemon-based recipes.)
Now, just how do you square dance at home with only two people, or even alone? Well, ingenuity and imagination are key. First, imagine invisible co-dancers in the square. Next, do each step as callers Callaway and Olivieri request. They also must imagine phantom dancers.
“There’s a lot of laughing and improvising,” said Angus, “and we love it!”
Not everyone dances the entire hour. Sometimes they merely sit and enjoy the variety of music or just being part of the group.
Angus added reassuringly, “That’s what we are here for: To provide comfort and entertainment in whatever way our dancers need.”
Although square dancing is experienced and enjoyed worldwide, the step calls are always in English. Thanks to Zoom technology, it’s now possible to travel without leaving home, thereby visiting with folks from across the United States, as well as in Australia, Germany and elsewhere.
In the past few weeks, The Lemonaders have enjoyed taking virtual tours in all those areas through the common bond of square dancing. Angus just can’t say enough good things about the Zoom experience.
She proclaimed, “It’s been so wonderful to gather together during this challenging time to dance, visit, and enjoy ourselves for a while! Teamwork has made this project a reality that has been extremely rewarding.”
Besides through Facebook (address noted above), you’re invited to contact a member of The Square Dance Lemonaders for further information. For Sheree Angus, call (970) 590-1851 or email at SqDanceFun@gmail.com. Bill Callaway can be reached at (970) 397-8093 or Blynn974@aol.com. Mike Olivieri’s number is (303) 489-0407, or email him at email@example.com.
And, until square dancers can once again come together old-school, in-person, face-to-face…
“Alamand left, alamand right,
Have a great time tonight!
Swing your partner to and fro,
Right grand, left grand, Zoom do-sa-do!” ❖
— Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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