A few tips for the first-time urban square dancer

With a square dance planned this Saturday at Heritage Square, The Eastsider asked members of  the string band Triple Chicken Foot, which will be performing at the Montecito Heights event,  for dance floor guidance. Banjo player Mike Heinle wrote up the following piece to help folks overcome square dance fright.

By Mike Heinle

For the past few years Ben, Kelly and I have devoted a lot of our time to organizing and playing for square dances in and around the Los Angeles area. Time and time again we’ve seen folks who seem apprehensive, nervous, or out of place wander into a dance not knowing what to expect. Maybe they were dragged along by a friend. Maybe they felt like trying something new. Perhaps they just ended up being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

After a few dances the results are, without fail, the same: people who were complete strangers an hour earlier now stand flush-faced, smiling broadly, talking and laughing with each other. The fact is that square dancing, like many forms of social dance, has a certain magically quality to it that catches people off guard and allows them to let go and interact with those around them in ways that we aren’t often able to. How often do you take hands with a stranger in L.A? How about seven strangers? You might be amazed by how easy it is and by the sense of connectedness and community you can feel at the end of great dance.

The following is a little run down of questions people often ask us before attending a dance, with any luck any and all worries you might have about coming out to dance will be laid to rest.

Do I need to know how to square dance already?”

Absolutely not! In fact, most of the people around you will have no clue what to do either. One of the great things about square dances in L.A. is that nobody has any clue what they’re doing when they show up, there’s no pressure because we all start on an equal playing field. Before each dance the Caller will explain the moves and figures that will be incorporated in the next dance. Don’t worry, they’re simple steps that ANYONE can do, many of which will be used over and over in the subsequent dances. After running through the steps the band will strike up a tune and the Caller will continue to call the steps throughout the dance. If you get it, great! More importantly, if you don’t get it you’ll look around at the folks in your square and realize that creating a little chaos is just as much fun as “getting it right.” Need proof? Look at the smiles on your neighbors’ faces.

Photo by Zach Sheppard/Flickr

What am I supposed to wear?

Wear whatever you feel comfortable in. Big hair and hoop-skirts aren’t necessary. Jeans, shorts, T-shirts, leggings, whatever. Wear whatever is comfortable. Girls often like to wear dresses or skirts with a little twirl to them because they look great while you dance. You might be surprised at how far a little twirl can go toward making you feel like the belle of the ball! No, you don’t need dance shoes, again, wear what makes you comfortable. If you’re dancing on a floor any shoe will do. If you’re dancing on grass you might want to avoid heels for the obvious reasons.

Do I have to bring a partner/someone to dance with?

No. Square dances can be a great place to meet new people. Even if you do bring a partner you will be dancing and interacting with the other people in your square. Changing partners or squares between dances is encouraged but nobody will force you to dance with anyone else. Leave the awkward memories of third grade auditorium dances behind you, you’ll be surprised how quickly you become comfortable with everyone else at the dance.

Heinle and fellow Triple Chicken Foot players Ben Guzman and Kelly Marie Martin live in Historic Filipinotown.

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