It’s Hip to Be Square: Square dancing relaxes its traditions and changes up the music to attract new dancers | MyWindsorNow.com

It’s Hip to Be Square: Square dancing relaxes its traditions and changes up the music to attract new dancers

Dan England
dengland@greeleytribune.com

There are many ways square dancing has evolved in the past few years. But perhaps the best way to demonstrate that comes from the music.

You won't hear "Turkey in the Straw" as much as "Bad Romance."

That's right. You're more likely to hear Lady Gaga and her "Ra ra ah ah ah" at the Merry Mixers Square Dancing Club than a longtime traditional country folk song, the kind you probably heard at a square dance for many, many years.

The moves remain the same, and honestly, the club members don't want them to change. Square dancing is fun, they believe. But they also believe the traditional outfits — some might call them costumes — the music and other things about square dancing may have been killing the party.

So now Merry Mixers, and many other square dancing clubs across the country, have relaxed those traditions. You can wear what you want, including jeans or skirts. There's more bling. Merry Mixers even hosts theme nights, which is why you might see Susan Wolford, 75, wearing Mickey Mouse ears to one of the dances.

Merry Mixers hopes to spread the word about the "new" square dancing as a way to recruit for its upcoming slate of classes this September. The club, of course, needs them. Even with a recent uptick, membership remains somewhat stagnant and aging. Another supporter and dancer, Bonnie Funk, 63, doesn't believe it's declining. Wolford, who handles marketing for Merry Mixers, said it is. Either way, it's safe to say it's not as popular as hip-hop.

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"We really just want you to show up and dance," Funk said. "It's important that we're open to all kinds of people."

It's not quite that easy. The first step to getting new members starts Sept. 8, when the club hosts its first class of a 16-week course to teach people all the moves. This is the tricky part: Square dancing doesn't require a lot of talent in terms of ability to boogie. It's not "Flashdance." But there are a lot of moves and calls, and you have to know what those are. If you don't, you'll not only be lost, you'll screw up your square. The course teaches you those terms, and once you know them, how to make your feet move to them. So even though the goal is to let people show up and dance in whatever they want to wear, well, they need to learn how to do that first.

"Even after a 16-week course, I still messed up my fair share of squares," Funk said. "People are pretty nice about that, though."

The light came on soon after she completed the classes and started attending the dances Merry Mixers hosts on the second and fourth Saturdays during the fall and winter seasons. She's been back ever since.

Wolford joined in 2014 after she moved to Greeley to help her granddaughter with her new family. Wolford moved from Hawaii, and as mentioned on South Park once, Greeley is pretty much the opposite of Hawaii. She knew no one. She got involved with Merry Mixers after someone at the Senior Center talked it up during a game of pickleball. She said square dancing saved her social life. Now she has many friends.

What keeps the newbies coming back is the new, relaxed policies on dress and music, although Funk also credits Wolford's ability to market to get them in the door. Wolford came up with the deal that gives dancers a half-price discount if they pay for lessons up front. She also put up flyers around town. It appears to have worked: Merry Mixers was lucky to graduate five newbies through the 16-week course in the past few years. Last year the club graduated 23.

Glady Cudworth, 78, wondered if square dancing was dying out, too, when she wintered in Arizona from 1993-2011. She's danced off and on for 46 years, after taking lessons in 1969 with her husband, Ken, and there seemed to be fewer people in Arizona going to the dances during square-dancing season. The young people and their love for video games and computers, they thought. But she took it up again a couple years ago, and she's noticed a bit of a resurgance, at least around here. She could dance four nights out of the week if she wanted in the northern Colorado region, she said. Square dancing may take a bit to learn, but it is universal.

She admits she enjoyed the traditions. She liked the frilly skirts. But she also admits jeans and casual clothing is more comfortable. She doesn't always enjoy the new music — she liked country better. Then again, she really likes all the callers around here, regardless of the music they play.

"The times change, and you have to change with them," Cudworth said. "We made lots of good friends through dancing, and that's probably been the best part."

These club members may not know Lady Gaga, but they want you to follow her mantra: Just Dance.

To go

Merry Mixers’ 16-week course is Sept. 8 through Jan. 12. The classes are 7-9 p.m. every Thursday at the Greeley Senior Center, 1010 6th St. They are $50 for a single person, $80 a couple and $30 for children younger than 18. You can email livelaughsquaredance@gmail.com with questions or if you want to pay by credit card.

Merry Mixers will also host a free introductory community dance on Aug. 25 at the Greeley Senior Center. Any adults or children 8 and older are welcome. The dance runs from 7-9 p.m. No experience is necessary for this dance.

Merry Mixers hosts dances from 7-9:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Saturdays of every month at the Greeley Senior Center starting in September. These dances are generally for experienced, knowledgeable square dancers.

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