If you enjoy country music and want to get your body moving this spring, you might consider trying out square dancing with the Greene Cloverleafs. With weekly lessons at the Jefferson Area Board for Aging (JABA) Stanardsville Senior Center, monthly dances at Nathanael Greene Primary School and regular opportunities to dance socially with other area clubs, there’s lots of fun to be had in this unique local community.
“You make a lot of friends in square dancing,” said Sam Freeman, club president. “You get to know people in Waynesboro, people in Nelson or Fluvanna, and then they come and visit you.”
“There’s almost two dances every week in the area,” said his wife, Donna Freeman. “We go and visit other clubs, that’s how they make their money.”
The club does not operate for profit, but does need to pay for the rented space and for the services of the caller. They charge a fee for visiting dancers at every dance to maintain their expenses.
Square dancing is so called because it is done by groups of four couples who begin by facing one another as if standing on the sides of a square. During each song, a caller will call out the different moves and the couples will work together as a group to keep the square intact while turning, moving and doing any combination of the 69 traditional calls they have learned.
“So, basically for square dancing, there are a number of defined calls,” said Jean Byerly. “Caller Lab is the organization that maintains the definitions, and the definitions are the same for every square dancing club throughout the United States and internationally. So that way if you went to Germany to square dance, you would be doing it exactly the same as them.”
Larry Winegard of Elkton is the caller for the Cloverleafs. He attended classes at James Madison University in 1975 and again in 1978 to learn how to be a caller, and has been calling for the Cloverleafs since 1983. He also calls for three other area square dance groups and teaches line dancing at public and private events. Winegard celebrated his birthday on Wednesday during the demonstration, and all in attendance sang and enjoyed cake after the dancing was done.
“You start in square dancing and you enjoy what you’re doing and want to see people having fun, so you start becoming interested in the aspect of calling,” Winegard explained.
While he learned a lot on his own and from other callers, he went to a three-day school at James Madison University in Harrisonburg to learn how to become a professional caller.
“Each call has a specific number of beats or steps to it and you have to know where one call ends in order to do the next call,” Winegard said. Square dance is not choreographed ahead of time, but callers will put together their own favorite calls and music as they get more comfortable with the organization of the dance. You can read more about square dance calling or book his services for an event on his website, larrywinegard.com.
A wide variety of music can be used for square dancing, provided it has the right tempo, but traditionally country western songs, western swing or fiddle tunes are associated with the dance, as are the wide skirts that flare when turning. Although not required for classes, many dancers choose to dress up for social dance events and demonstrations.
On Wednesday, Jan. 29, the Cloverleafs performed a demonstration of square dancing at the Piedmont Virginia Community College Eugene Giuseppe Center in Stanardsville. The senior center membership was in attendance and able to join in the fun after the initial demonstration with some line dancing, circle dancing and learning a few basic square dance calls along with the Cloverleaf club members.
Square dancing is a fun activity for people of all ages, and no prior dance experience is required to learn. The moves will get your heart rate up but are not as physically demanding as some other forms of dance. Instead, it challenges your mind to stay active as you learn to follow the calls and work together as a group to have a smooth and fun experience. Partners are also not required, as club members are happy to partner up to learn and make sure everyone can participate.
“We had always liked dancing, but my work kept me from being able to commit to anything because I traveled a lot,” said Sam Freeman. “We were limited until I retired. We started square dancing and then I started round dancing. My wife is very busy, but I’ve been able to take classes and I’m learning tango, waltz, two-step.”
The Cloverleafs will be starting a new semester-long session in March and will host one or more open houses for those new to the idea to try it out. Lessons are on Monday nights and members attend dances nearly every weekend with other area clubs to stay active and make friends. The Cloverleafs also host other groups every third Saturday and are a member of the Shenandoah Valley Square and Round Dance Association (SVSARDA) along with the Blue Ridge Stars (Amherst), Circle Eight (Waynesboro), Fluvanna Flutterwheels, Grand Squares of Nelson, Just For Fun (Edinburg), Plains Promenaders (Timberville), Rivermont Ramblers (Front Royal) and the Virginia Reelers of Charlottesville. Visit squaredancers.org/svsarda.html for a list of all upcoming Friday and Saturday dances.
To learn more or to sign up for a class, contact Sam Freeman at (434) 989-9988 or visit them on Facebook at facebook.com/Greene.Cloverleafs.