If your new year’s resolutions include physical activity, social engagement and improving mental health, the Greene Cloverleafs may be just what you need. The Cloverleafs is a modern square dance club that meets monthly in Stanardsville, as well as offering classes each spring and fall—with a new 14-week course starting soon.
“Most people don’t know that square dancing even exists as an activity in the county,” Jean Byerly said. “I’m hoping people in general understand that it is something to do. It’s something that is for entertainment and fun but it’s also good for physical health and your brain.”
Square dancing is an American style of dance. No matter where you dance in the world, the calls (directions) will be the same and even in Japan, the calls will be in English. There is absolutely no prior dance experience necessary to become proficient at square dancing.
In square dancing you do not only dance with your partner. The caller makes up the sequence of directions on the fly, requiring the eight people to work together to keep the square intact and execute the dance actions. There are 69 total calls that can be chosen and a tip is a pattern call and a singing call together.
“Dancers have to listen, interpret and work together to execute the dance,” Byerly said. “Because it’s non-competitive and it’s simply for enjoyment there is a lot of laughter and a lot of fun.”
Researchers have been studying dementia, and how to prevent it and Dr. Norman Doidge discusses the fact that dancers are one group of people who don’t suffer dementia at the same rate as the general in his 2007 book “The Brain That Changes Itself.”
“Square dancing is so helpful in dementia prevention because it requires mental activity simultaneously with physical activity simultaneously with social activity and that trifecta produces much greater results than simply any one of the three alone,” Byerly said.
Psychologist Dr. Peter Lovatt has studied dance across the world and across time and in his 2012 TEDx Talk he notes that you always see dance and music together.
“Dancing is a fundamental part of who we are and has an impact on our ability to learn,” Byerly said.
Byerly started square dancing as a Weight Watchers challenge to try a new activity and has never looked back.
“It was a surprise to my husband that he was going to go square dance, too, but once he started the lessons and met the people involved he came to really enjoy it, too,” Byerly said.
Since that time, they duo has traveled on vacation and attended dances in Reno, where one woman was 95 years old and another was 92 years old.
“There is no age limit. It’s important to start before you’re in decline as you want to push off that physical and mental decline and remain as healthy as possible for as long as possible,” Byerly said.
Having a partner is not required in the Cloverleafs particularly there are a number of lone male dancers and lone female dancers. Byerly said the only other requirements are people need to be old enough that they can follow instructions and they need to be physically able to walk at a moderate pace for 15-20 minutes.
Loneliness is a real problem, especially in older adults, so much so that in England a minister of loneliness has been appointed to help address it. Square dancing helps combat loneliness because you touch fellow dancers in a completely appropriate way—by the forearm or hand—and you’re interacting with a diverse group of people in a social setting.
Two misconceptions Byerly wants to quash about square dancing are that it’s very hillbilly or country, and you have to wear certain attire to participate.
“Square dancing actually uses a wide variety of music depending on who the caller is and who the group of dancers is,” Byerly said. “You can dance to anything that has the right beat. There is some western music, there’s some 1950s-60s music, some modern rock and roll and even acapella music.”
Some dancers enjoy the big skirts and petticoats and pettipants, but others wear just comfortable pants, she said.
The Cloverleafs hold their dances on the third and fifth Saturdays of the month at the Nathanael Greene Primary School cafeteria. However, once you’ve mastered the calls, the Cloverleafs membership gets dancers into any square dance in the region and more. There are nearby clubs in Orange County, Harrisonburg, Charlottesville, Waynesboro, to name a few. Madison County does not have its own group, and Byerly noted a student does not have to be from Greene to sign up.
“You can dance on Friday and Saturday nights all around the community,” she said. “And they can dance with us in Greene at our dances.”
The Cloverleafs also sponsor a square dance session during the Youth Development Center’s summer camp each year.
The group will begin its latest semester course on Mondays from 7-9 p.m. at the Nathanael Greene Primary School cafeteria once there is enough interest. There is a cost to the club to use the school and hire the caller—Larry Winegard, who has called for more than 30 years. The first class is free before a student commits for the whole semester.
For more information, call Sam Freeman at (434) 989-9988. The group is also on Facebook @ Greene Cloverleafs.