Jacob Bloom asked:
How would those of you who enjoy both squares and
describe what you get out of dancing square dances?
First off, I'll offer an opinion about this whole "contras vs.
squares" discussion that keeps popping up from time to time
on this list and elsewhere:
I think the likelihood of convincing someone, purely by
force of argument, to fall in love with a particular
dance form is similar to the likelihood of convincing
someone, purely by force of argument, to fall in love
with a particular other person.
That said, I can tell you that what first got me hooked on
both contras and squares (at my first evening of traditional
dancing, which included both) was surely the friendliness
of the people, together with the exuberant energy level
and the fact that I somehow muddled through without making
a complete fool of myself (or at least without being told
that I had).
It couldn't have been the swings, because I'm sure my swing
footwork was a stumbling, bumbling mess until I learned to
do a buzz-step swing several months later. Similarly it
couldn't have been the cool choreography or other things
that I wouldn't have been able to appreciate as a new
Five or six years later, after I'd moved from a (then)
square-centric community to a contra-centric community, a
thing I realized I missed about my former home was dancing
squares in the manner shown here:
( also at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fAKT_PT-DSs
( also at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BH9eozGRfpg
Some notes on these videos:
1. For best effect be sure to watch with a fast connection.
If you get a lot of compression artifacts and/or pauses for
buffering, it'll really water down the excitement level.
2. I've never danced in the hall where these videos were made,
at Lovely Lane Church in Baltimore. Alas, I don't know of any
videos showing traditional square dancing in Pittsburgh, PA,
from when I lived there in the 1980s. These videos are the
ones that come closest to capturing the kind of dancing I
remember. Larry Edelman, the caller in these videos, was one
of the regular callers in Pittsburgh when I lived there. He
moved to Baltimore around the time I moved to California, and
he now lives in Colorado.
3. The music in the videos is darn fast. When I asked Larry
about it, he wrote "... there wasn't any way to put the brakes
on that band - I tried!!" The usual tempos for square dances
in Pittsburgh (and probably also in Baltimore) weren't as fast
as that, though they were faster than typical contra tempos.
While the tempos that night may have been higher than usual,
it's clear that the dancers in the videos were up to dancing
at that speed.
4. Larry assures me that the videos are not from a special
event or weekend, but from a regular open-to-the-public dance
with a program that included a mix of squares and contras.
Bob Dalsemer, who made the video, did tell me that he was
focusing on squares with the most skilled/experienced dancers
When I try to look carefully at the squares in the background,
I do seem to notice occasional glitches, but they don't happen
often, and the dancers seem to recover quite quickly.