Back in April, Erin Crabb (of work study session 1) met me in Riner, Virginia for a Dare To Be Square (DTBSQ) weekend. The workshops and dances were held at a beautiful farm with a dance barn; everyone camped out by the pond. It was exciting and thrilling driving to a new state, to a new place, to people I had never met, to dance old time square dances. The DTBSQ community is amazing!
Dare To Be Square is a community of people across the nation who want to preserve old time square dancing. Anyone who has the passion to organize a DTBSQ event can; events have taken place in both the South and the Pacific Northwest. Veteran caller, Phil Jamison wrote an article in the late 80s for the Old Time Herald that explains the sentiment behind Dare To Be Square and has inspired this movement. The folk school has a DTBSQ event scheduled in November.
Dare To Be Square is what directly led me to the John C. Campbell Folk School. I went to Dare To Be Square: West! in Seattle back in December 2009. Bob Dalsemer (the folk school’s Coordinator of Music and Dance Programs) was one of the guest callers and main teacher of the event. I saw in his bio that he taught at the folk school, investigated the school, was amazed, and when I asked him about it, he encouraged me to apply for work study. And voila! Here I am! Thanks Bob for the recommendation!
Driving from Galax to Riner was so gorgeous. The sun was setting and the farms and hills were pastoral with golden light and billowy clouds. I arrived at the farm right as it was getting dark and immediately ran into Erin eating hummus and carrots in the parking lot. After our joyous initial reunion, we set up our tent by the pond and went to the dance barn where the first dance was kicking off.
The old red barn had been decorated with white lights, wreaths, and sweeping gauzy fabric; it was transformed into the perfect spring dance barn. The square dance was so wonderful, the music was jumping and the dances were so frenetic and fun! We danced from 9AM until the wee hours of the morning. There were campfires, jams, sing-a-longs, pot lucks, hammocks, good brew, clogging, and the great people. Good times!
The official callers of the weekend were Phil Jamison, Michael Ismerio, and Will Mentor. They took turns running the day time workshops and calling the evening dances. On Saturday evening we all had a sit down discussion about square dance history which evolved into a discussion about the difference between “dance communities” and “community dances.” This really struck a chord with me.
The difference is that community dances are for a community, inclusive of everyone regardless of whether or not you know how to dance. The dances are simple and fun and the night is as much about socializing as it is about dancing. It’s about bringing a community together and could even be thought of as community organizing.
Dance communities are communities that require attendees to know dances or moves; the dances might be intimidating to most newbies. These folks come together for the dancing and it can be more advanced and exclusive. The dancing brings them together, not the fact that they are part of a non-dance community.
The improv tribal bellydance community I belong to is definitely a dance community. There is a secret language that you must learn to be able to dance as a group with others. It is exclusive and troupes are like clubs. (BTW, I am referring to exclusive in the sense that you have to learn how to do the moves in order to join in, not exclusive in the sense that people are excluded based on anything other than basic knowledge. The bellydance community is of course very accepting of all types of people).
I was once talking to Amy Sigil of Unmata about square dancing. She asked me if I was ever interested in writing a formated dance vocabulary, like ITS, for square dancing. It hit me like a ton of bricks because there already exists a formated vocabulary for square dancing (Callerlab) and that is exactly what I don’t want to do.
I don’t want to have exclusive dances where you have to take classes and learn the moves to be able to go to the dances. I want to have square dances where anyone can walk in the door and dance to live music. It’s interesting that the very thing I love about belly dance, is what I dislike about square dancing. My different needs are met by the different groups. It might also have to do with the fact that belly dance is mostly performative and square dance is a social dance. As a caller, I love to bring folks together who would never normally dance. Even if it is just holding hands and walking around in a circle; to me, this is ultimately success! Connecting people in a basic face-to-face way is what thrills me about square dancing.
Here are two videos I took. This one is from Friday night. Micheal Ismerio is calling an Appalachian style scatter dance:
Here is Phil Jamison calling “Birdie in the Cage” during a workshop. Since this DTBSQ weekend I have called both this dance and the scatter dance:
Thanks to all the organizers, musicians, dancers, hosts, callers, and teachers of DTBSQ! It was truly a magical event!