By Dawn Aerts
Iron County Today
More than 35 people swung their partners and promenaded round the open floor during the Hey Cedar Square Dance gathering at the local Senior Center. It was open mic-night for longtime callers and cuers Ralph and Linda Rawlinson, along with Pat Matthews.
As the do-si-do music fills the room, Rawlinson begins his introduction to the lively folk dance that invites you, with your partner to join into a square: That is, even numbers work best. And with this mainstream dance, it’s okay to make mistakes.
“We were all beginners at one point,” says Pat Matthews, who has been doing the classic promenades with his wife since 1997. “I think for most of the dancers, it’s about the social interaction and the many friends you’ll meet along the way, not to mention the exercise. There is always something new to learn.” Matthews came to share his parent’s enthusiasm for square dance dating back to the 1950s and ‘60s in California.
Over the past 30 years, Matthews and the Rawlinsons have ‘cued’ hundreds of dancers who come together to enjoy a folk dance that became all the rage at East Coast resorts in the early 1900s.
The earliest Contra style arrived with immigrants to America, while Western and Mainstream styles gained popularity into the 1930s and ‘40s.
“There was a time, all over America, when rural families would gather together in someone’s barn for music and socializing,” said Matthews. “It was their entertainment, their past time, and most likely, as a way to feel connected with other neighbors and families.”
Tonight, it’s up to Matthews to cue dancers through a series of steps using a microphone and the harmonic quality of basic cadence.
“There are variations to learn, from the line and round (combinations) dance to the square and the Contra,” said Matthews. “So we devote some time to beginners in the first hour, with various rounds of dance alternating with the time-honored prompts.”
Grab your partner, do-si-do, swing ‘em ‘round, and don’t let go.
He says his parents danced three nights a week and his family was all about playing instruments and enjoying music together.
“My wife and I have been part of a square dance group for just about 20 years now. When we moved to Cedar City, I started by forming a small youth dance group, and was eventually invited to become a caller 9 years ago.”
Their youth dance group, Rubik’s Cube, practice weekly for events as well as to prepare for the State Festival coming up this June in Kansas City.
“According to physical fitness experts, we should all be taking about 3,000 steps a day – In a typical square dance, you likely to do around 5,000.” As a both a youth instructor and caller, Matthews said that young people experience a wide range of benefits from square dance.
“We know that it greatly improves listening skills. So the dancers have to anticipate the calls, alternate patterns, change their steps. They do bring a certain kind of energy to the dance, and over the years, I find that many of these young people want to learn how to become a caller as well.”
Matthews said that his return to square dancing began when his wife noticed a local advertisement inviting people to join the Hey Cedar group. “It was actually pretty easy for me to get back into square dancing. (Unfortunately), my wife Hazel, had no rhythm at all, but we decided to try it anyways — and to my surprise, she picked it up pretty quick.”
It’s all about the prompts and the promenades.
“In the first year there were five couples who had never danced before,” said Matthews, “So we were all learning (or re-learning) steps together… But as a couple, we decided that before we became empty-nesters, square dancing was going to be a way for us to enjoy a past-time together, something that would last through the years.”
His square dancers can range from age 10 years old up to 90. Matthews, along with Hey Cedar Square Dance president, Allan Jackson, hopes that the next generation will seek out more ‘real world’ interactions with others. “I would say that young people get caught up into a lot of media with video games, and technology… But square dancing makes it real. They can talk to their friends, develop their interests and that’s pretty cool.”
The Rubiks Cube Youth Square Dancers will be featured in an evening of Competition ‘singing calls,’ an open house and youth-square dance event on March 10, which will include judging, raffle and prizes for winners.
“I find a lot of enjoyment in square dance and spending time with people,” says Mathews with a smile, “And I get to hold my wife’s hand every week!”
Caption: More than 35 square dancers come to enjoy the promenades and do-si-do cues of callers (left to right) Ralph and Linda Rawlinson, and Pat Matthews, (Saturdays) at the Cedar Senior Center.