A story of how square dance culture is surviving the test of time, because nerds.
My favorite square dance t-shirt says something something like: "Square Dancing - it's not just for nerds anymore!" There's a graphic of a dancing couple ducking under an arch raised by another couple. Underneath the graphic is a paranthetical: "(still mostly for nerds)."
I know, I know -- you had me figured for a nerd at "favorite square dance t-shirt."
So yeah, I square dance and I love it. Not only do I dance but I also play fiddle for square dances, and I've started calling square dances too. Social dance is an amazing part of a strong community, with all kinds of upsides, but it's no secret that in the age of the Whip and Nae Nae square dancing carries a bit of stigma. It conjours visions of calico skirts and neckerchiefs, of...well, of nerds I suppose. It's also a bit obscure to most people, a historical bit of culture that maybe they heard about in gradeschool, but not a living tradition. The brand of square dancing I take part in might very well have become an artifact of history, but square dance nerds throughout the last century have done what nerds do best: come together over their common and un-self-conscious interest in a subject to share what they know and practice what they share. In the last decade this has taken the form of an annual event called Dare To Be Square.
I wrote a post about Dare To Be Square last year, when it was down in Oakland, CA. It's a roaming event, with a west-coast version moving through the western region, and an eastern version which was most recently in Tennessee. Dare To Be Square West was in Vancouver, BC in 2015. The format of the event is pretty simple: a couple of "old masters" of the square dance craft are brought in to teach, and a long weekend of content is built around dancing, music, and calling instruction and participation. This is an event that translates the history of square dance into a living tradition, training new square dance callers, strengthening experienced ones, and exposing dancers and musicans to new material along the way. So me and my nerd friends packed our bikes and bags and caravaned up to Vancouver to drink it all in (along with no small number of craft beers from the countless breweries popping up in East Van).
The two faculty this year were Fred Park, of North Carolina, and Sherry Nevins, of Seattle. There was also a great presentation of square dance traditions from the Métis nation, a community of mostly western Canadian mixed native and European peoples. Social dance has, for many cultures including the Métis, been part of the glue that defines a strengthens a community, historically.
In November of 2016 Dare To Be Square is coming back to Seattle. If you're even a little bit curious about square dancing you couldn't find a more joyful, welcoming, and enthusiastic community of practictioners to try it out with than at Dare To Be Square. Watch this blog for details of the event!