Get hip: Strut with the (square) beat
PCC offers a square dance class at the Aloha Grange, and there’s no shortage of dances in the area
You don’t have to go to a sock hop to dance to “Locomotion” and groove to other 50s favorites. Just head to a square dance.
Anything with a good beat, including pop tunes, such as “Pink Cadillac,” the Neil Diamond hit “Beautiful Noise,” and old-time fiddle and Western tunes, makes ideal square-dancing music, said Norm Yoder, a square dancer and caller from Hillsboro. Yoder also teaches the square-dance class offered at Aloha Grange beginning Saturday through Portland Community College’s Community Education program.
Yoder and his wife, Marci, learned to square dance nearly 30 years ago.
“I was one of those who was kind of insecure about it,” said Norm Yoder, 64. “I was never a dancer, but to square dance you only have to be able to walk.”
Square dances are made up of about 15 basic moves, such as the do-se-do and the circle left and right, and scores of figures, Yoder said. There is no fixed choreography. Once dancers know the steps, they simply follow the caller.
“The dancing is just a lot of fun,” said Heidi Petrowsky, 37, of Rock Creek. Petrowsky and her husband have been square dancing at the Hillsboro Hoedown, a weekly gathering in the Aloha Grange, for two years. She will assist Yoder with some of the PCC classes. “Having someone tell you about the moves and what moves to do makes it a lot easier.”
Every figure has a certain number of steps, Petrowsky said. “Basically, you are walking from one place to the next,” she said. “You know where you’re supposed to end up, and it doesn’t matter so much how you get there or how pretty it is.”
It takes about a year of dancing to learn the steps well enough that they become second nature, Yoder said. The biggest challenge, he said, is memorizing the moves. But practicing is fun, and other dancers are patient and helpful. With dozens of clubs across the Portland area, those who want to can dance about every night of the week.
It’s not just the dance that draws people, Petrowsky said. “More than anything, it’s the kind of people that are attracted to square dancing. They are good-hearted people. It’s the whole culture of square dance and being there with your friends that makes it fun. It’s a community.”
People of all ages and backgrounds square dance, and the dances are relaxed. Jeans, long-sleeve shirts and tennis shoes have replaced fluffy petticoats, skirts and ties at many events. Classes are casual, and you don’t have to have a partner to participate, Yoder said.
The Yoders and Petrowsky say once people try square dancing, they’ll be hooked.
“It’s gotten the reputation as something old-fashioned or hick town, but I think square dance should be considered modern dance,” Petrowsky said. “It’s right up there with swing or hip-hop. It’s energetic and fun and good exercise, and it should be up there with any other modern dance.”