On a recent trip to Washington, I was confronted by a member of the audience about my claim that it was difficult to find young square dancers. She had watched “Square Dance Story” at the DC Asian Pacific American Film Festival, and perplexed by my claim. It happens that she was friends with organizers of Square Dance Collective. The Collective is a local DC group that hosts a square dance in the sanctuary of a local, social justice-oriented church (St Stephens) every month and is changing people’s Saturday night going-out plans. Yes, square dancing, contra dancing and many traditional folk dances have a public relations problem, but it does not mean that they are not fun! It also means that they can be open to re-interpretation, and what generation to do this than the youth.
I asked Anne Uebelacker, an established caller, what makes an outfit western and she just said western boots. They could wear mini-skirts, tank tops, spaghetti straps, but in order to make it a western outfit, they’ll need boots! This gave me room to experiment, and I even bent some by having my lead character, the outsider, wear black ballet shoes while the rest of his outfit remained “western”.
She also shared an interesting insight and that’s many square dancers dance with the same gender because of the disproportionate number of women to men in clubs. It’s a matter of survival and many square dancers don’t even blink at this notion. As a result, traditional terms like “boy” and “girl” are now non-gender specific. Children are taught square dancing and equality with it. Dancing has always been a fun way to meet new people, exercise and learn new skills. I relearned the dance in a same-sex square dance club, Square Across the Border, and found the calls to be challenging enough that one required to be free of distractions. You get to take a break from web surfing, typing and texting, and most importantly it is relatively inexpensive.
A few weeks later, I received an email from that audience member in DC showing me how popular square dancing is with the youth there. At least I know now where to go when I make my sequel.