THE FAMILIAR piano notes open “Walking in Memphis” as four couples form a square at the Fayetteville Recreation Center on Thursday night. But instead of “Put on my blue suede shoes and I boarded the plane,” Jet Roberts sings, “Form a ladies chain across town, roll away and circle left, you roll away and circle round today, now a little left and weave…. We were walking in Memphis, walking with our feet 10 feet off of Beale, walking in Memphis, but do I really feel the way I feel.”
No, he’s not forgotten the words. Roberts is the caller for the Denim Dusters Western Square Dance Club, which meets every Thursday at the rec center from 7-9 p.m. And it’s not your grandmother’s Saturday night with Ralph Sloan and the Tennessee Travelers, known as traditional or Appalachian square dancing. It’s modern Western square dancing, and the Denim Dusters (formed in 1983) are members of the Tennessee State Association of Square and Round Dance Clubs.
Club member Judy Mann said, “We took lessons in 1985, and we’ve danced ever since.”
With over 100 calls, Mann suggests that anyone wanting to learn modern Western square dancing experience it firsthand by watching one Thursday night. There are many moving parts, but you’re ready to square up once you’ve learned the calls. And don’t forget your manners.
Mann said, “One thing about square dancing is it promotes etiquette and manners. Eight people are in a square: two head couples and two side couples. When you finish a tip (that’s when you’re up dancing, and then the caller’s finished), you always shake hands and thank everybody in that square.”
It’s great exercise and good clean fun.
“There’s no alcohol whatsoever,” she said. “You couldn’t concentrate long if you’d been drinking because you have to pay attention and not let your mind wander. When one person messes up, it breaks down the whole square. Everybody’s got to be in sync, and if you let your mind wander, bad things are going to happen.”
Things move quickly, and you have to be ready to move with it.
“You have to pay attention,” Mann said. “Usually, when he makes a call, there’s a standard call behind it. But if you’re not careful, sometimes the caller wants to make sure you’re paying attention, and you’ll need to do something different. If you’ve anticipated wrong, you’ve missed,” said Mann.
For the most part, you can leave the flouncy dress and petticoat at home and dance in your jeans and polo shirt. The traditional square dance costumes are generally reserved for exhibition dances and conventions. Lessons are available if you want to learn more and join the club.
She said, “A lot of people come for the exercise. It’s fun, good exercise, and it’s good fellowship. We’ve been dancing with some of these people for a while now.”
Mann can’t say enough about their caller’s skills.
“Jet wants you to dance, and that’s a good thing. He’s so smooth with it that you don’t want it to end. He keeps you going. He doesn’t call a call and wait for everybody to get home and start and then call another. He’s fluid,” she said.
So chase your neighbor and scatter scoot on over to the Fayetteville Recreation Center some Thursday night and see for yourself. You’ll be glad you did. GN