Countless people have swung their partners to and fro since members of the Virginia Reelers Square Dance Club first started kicking up their heels in 1952.
Through the years, dancers have laughed uproariously when squares have turned into bumping matches. They also have smiled with glee when their steps have been as finely synchronized as a precision machine.
On Sunday, the club’s members will be celebrating its 60th anniversary with a get-together at the Charlottesville Senior Center. They are inviting all past members to drop by between 2 and 5 p.m. to join in the celebration.
“We would love to see any former Reelers attending the event,” said club member John Faulkner. “Even if you’re too old to dance, we’d like you to come by, see the club and see that it’s still going strong.”
Square dancing was enjoying a revival of popularity when the Reelers club was founded. Locally, it reached its high-water mark during the 1970s and ’80s, and then started a slow decline.
“Persistence probably deserves the most credit for the club’s longevity,” said Faulkner, who serves as the club’s representative to the Shenandoah Valley Square and Round Dance Association, which is the umbrella organization for 11 square dance clubs from Amherst to Martinsburg, W.Va.
“The club was close to folding a few years ago, but managed to squeak through. Since then it has come back a lot, and I think square dancing in general is seeing a resurgence.”
Faulkner thinks the availability of a lot more forms of entertainment is a major reason why fewer people take up square dancing these days. And there’s the fact that it has a learning curve, which, in a culture that has come to expect instant gratification, can be problematic.
Despite this fact, the club has about 50 active members. And a number of them happily help newcomers learn the calls that tell dancers what to do next.
“Classes to learn how to square dance are $15 for 15 sessions,” said Glenn Thomas, the Reelers’ president. “And if you sign up the first night you’re there, you get a $10 discount.
“We give the classes on Wednesday evening at Woodbrook Elementary School, and that’s supported by Albemarle Parks and Recreation. We help the new students along, and it’s a good refresher for us.
“And the classes are a lot of fun, too. I went kicking and screaming to my first square dance to pacify my wife. I quickly realized it’s a great activity, and I don’t know why I waited so long.”
Thomas said that as far as club members know, the Virginia Reelers is the oldest continuously running western-style square dance club east of the Mississippi River. The club holds one scheduled dance each month at the Senior Center in Charlottesville, but there’s usually a dance somewhere in the area every weekend.
“All the clubs in the Shenandoah Valley Square and Round Dance Association have predetermined Friday or Saturday night dances throughout the month,” Thomas said.
“That allows us to travel to other clubs when we don’t have a dance. My wife, Leta, and I do that because it’s just so much fun.
“It’s great mentally, because it causes you to think quickly — otherwise, you’ll break down a square or cause a square to get disrupted. And it’s extremely good socially, because we’ve made so many friends up and down the Shenandoah Valley.
“And physically it’s great, because it gives you a couple of hours of good, moderate exercise. It’s just super.”
The Virginia Reelers Square Dance Club is having its 60th anniversary dance and celebration from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday at Charlottesville’s Senior Center.
Admission for all past members and nonmembers who just want to observe is free. Admission for nonmembers who want to dance is $10. Information about Virginia Reelers and how to join is available on the group’s website at www.virginiareelers.com.