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Swing your partner

Every Monday evening, barring inclement weather conditions, a group of spry dancers gather at the First United Methodist Church in Mountain City. The members of the Young at Heart Square Dance Club eagerly await the lively foot-tapping music to begin.
In 1980, Tennessee legislation was passed that made square dancing the Tennessee official state folk dance. Chapter 829 of the Public Acts of 1980 states “Among the traditions (of our ancestors) that have survive intact is the Square Dance, a uniquely attractive art form that remains a vibrant and entertaining part of Tennessee folklore.” At this time, 22 other states have also officially made square dancing their own state folk dance.
Square dancing has its roots in medieval Old England and folk dances that immigrants to the United States brought with them from their home countries. Square dancing is now considered an American folk art. In early years, square dancing was referred to as barn dancing. Music was provided by musicians playing the fiddle, accordions, harmonicas, as well as homemade instruments. Most importantly, the dancers all had a caller who would help the dancers through the steps.
There are two types of square dancing, Traditional and Western. The Young at Heart members dance the Western version of the square dance, which became popular in the 1960’s. Western square dancing is divided into seven levels. These include: Basic, Mainstream, Plus, Advanced I, Advanced 2, Challenge I and Challenge II. Each level has their own distinctive moves. The basic level alone has 68 movements. Western square dancers typically have a caller who calls the various movement set to music. The dancers typically follow a combination of both patter and singing calls. Dancers learn to do-se-do, promenade, along with both right grand and left grand. All around the world, Western square dancing is called to English. The square dance begins with four couples in a square, with space being the only limitation on the number of squares at a dance.
Currently, there are a total of 48 people involved in the Young at Heart Square Dance club. While dancers sometimes come in street clothes, often you can find the men dressed in western wear, complete with long-sleeved shirts, string ties, cowboy boots and hats. The women typically wear either gingham or polka-dotted dresses complete with wide skirts to allow room for the many layers of crinolines and petticoats. It’s not unusual for the women wearing boots. The Young at Heart members meet each Monday. Typically, there are parties throughout the month that these dancers also attend.
DeLite and Derek Becker joined the Young at Heart club in 2006. They began dancing in 1967 in California. According to DeLite, the cost is $4.00 per attendee. If you do not come to the weekly dance, you do not pay. The monies collected goes toward a monthly donation to the church for the use of their hall, as well as paying the caller. DeLite was pleased that another square dancing group, The Gemstones, have recently joined their club. According to DeLite, local dentist Dr. Ray convinced the Gemstones to join in with the festivities with the Young at Heart dancers.
Frieda and Russell Pickett, who now live in Carter County, began square dancing in Texas during the 1980’s. They had not danced in 20 years, but while Russell was working in China, Frieda decided to search for some form of dancing. According to Frieda, she searched the internet for “dancing in Beijing” and square dancing popped up in her search. “The Chinese people were very nice,” Frieda said, “They were so very nice to me.” Western square dancing as been described as “friendship set to music.”
Each week, caller Ron Buchanan starts the calls and the dancers swing into action. Buchanan and his wife, Betty, began square dancing themselves in 1962. Now retired, Buchanan enjoys both teaching and calling the dances. “All you need to be able to do is pat your foot to the beat of the music and you can square dance,” Buchanan said. According to several dancers, you can learn to dance in Mountain City and square dance anywhere in the world. It takes about 20 weeks to learn the basics of square dancing. A beginners square dance class will begin on Monday, September 13 from 6:00-7:30 pm. The first two lessons are free, all you need is a partner. The dance lessons run from 6:00-7:30 pm. Mainstream dancing begins at 7:30 until 9:00 pm. New members are always welcome with male dancers in demand. From a health perspective, square dancing may reduce blood pressure and heart rate, improving your cardiovascular health, along with strengthening bones in your legs and hips. Studies have also found that social interaction, which stimulates the mind, may help reduce the risk of dementia.
The dancers started tapping their feet and clapping their hands as the music began. With skirts swishing and swirling and broad smiles on their faces, the dancers swung their partners, do-se-do and promenaded. As the evening progressed, their energy did not wane as the clapping, hollering and hooting continued. It was obvious that this group of people were thoroughly enjoying themselves.
Pausing to take a short break before resuming dancing, Patti Green and Dr. Ray put in a pitch for new square dancers. According to Green and Ray, you don’t have to be a dancer before you learn to square dance. They both claimed that if you can move your feet and shuffle, you’ll be able to dance. “This is the most fun I’ve had in 35 years,” said Ray, “This sure beats pulling teeth.”
If you are interested in further information, contact DeLite Becker at 727-7131.