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Spin the Windmill!

Autumn is the perfect time to step into square dancing
The Spin City Squares at Trinity Church
The Spin City Squares at Trinity Church

“Spin the windmill,” yells out Tim Matteson, the caller for Eugene’s Spin City Square. He adds, “Flip the hourglass,” “Horseshoe turn” followed by “Split the outside couple.” As he calls out steps, eight dancers move about the floor, switching partners and sharing laughs. 

With the fall dance season entering full swing, calls of “pair off” and “do-si-do” are beginning to echo throughout the Willamette Valley, which is home to over a dozen square dancing clubs from Sweet Home’s Squarenaders to Springfield’s Whirl-a-Ways. The Emerald Square Dance Center in Springfield begins offering classes for new dancers Oct. 12, and the Spin City Squares meet every Sunday evening at 5:30 pm at the Trinity Church in Eugene. So grab a partner and dive into this age-old, musically rich, cheap and healthy tradition originally brought over by the Pilgrims. 

“It’s one of those timeless things,” says Brandon Olzewski, another local caller. “It never gets big but it never goes away.”

“When people hear of square dancing, they think, ‘Oh, I did that in middle school,’ but this is modern square dancing,” says Christina Corelli, a dancer from the Spin City Squares. Square dancing has split off into two forms: traditional and modern. What differentiates the two is that in the modern form of square dancing, the dancer learns around 60 moves (or calls) in a class, while the traditional form has the dancer learning the calls at an event before each song. With an understanding of a wide range of dances, modern square dancers can partake in large sequences choreographed by a caller who chooses calls on the spot. “It can be an intellectual challenge,” says Sue Nelson, who has been dancing for 13 years at the Emerald Square Dance Center. 

“The dance and the music go hand in hand,” Olzewski says. The sounds that fuel the dance are often a combination of quick banjo plucking mixed with a cheery fiddle. Typically played up-tempo, the accompanying music gives the dancers a rhythm and a beat to follow while the caller signals the position changes.

Square dancing can be compared to the game of golf in the sense that age isn’t a factor. “If you move somewhere and you don’t know anyone, it’s a great way to make friends,” Corelli says. Olzewski has been teaching dance for over nine years (working with Eugene Lindy Learning Activists Swing Dance Club) and notes the romantic factor that sways within the dance. “It’s a good way to keep things spicy,” he says. “You can fall in love five times a night.”

For many clubs, finding new members to join their group has proven to be a challenge. “We live in a busy town and every Friday and Saturday night there’s a lot to do here,” Olzewski says. “It’s hard to get people to come out. Most people in 2013 don’t feel comfortable dancing with other people.” For Terry Nelson and Christine Beneda, who help organize the Emerald Square Dance Center, participating in dance lessons is how you build a strong group. Nelson says, “One thing we have found is if you can get them to the lessons, they’ll be less likely to quit.” 

Beneda chimes in, “Probably because there’s single women.”

The Kentucky-based T-Claw will be calling the square dance at 8:30 pm Friday, Oct. 11, at Plank Town Brewing Company, Springfield; $5 suggested donation. Go to www.emeraldempiredance.com for a listing of square dances at the Emerald Square Dance Center.