In Cary, square dancing isn’t so square

twanbaugh@newsobserver.comJuly 14, 2014 

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    The Cary Cross Trailers dancing group offer two 12-week classes for people interested in learning how to dance. For more information go to carycrosstrailers.org.

— Bev Sherron twirled in the middle of a church gymnasium, her long blue skirt swinging to the music. She briefly linked arms with her husband, Curt, before spinning through the crowd.

For the Sherrons, square dancing with the Cary Cross Trailers is a way to get out of the house and let loose. Their grown children moved out a few years ago, and the couple wanted something to do.

“Once the kids are gone, it’s a way to have fun,” Bev Sherron said.

Square dancing was popular in the mid-20th century, when people would gather at dance halls for a night out. But the art has lost some of its appeal over the years, especially for young people.

The 2013 National Square Dance Convention in Oklahoma City had 4,185 attendees, according to the convention’s website. The event drew nearly 40,000 people in 1976.

Although the art has lost some of its appeal, about 50 members of the Cary Cross Trailers meet every Thursday at the First United Methodist Church in downtown Cary.

They gather in the church gymnasium, some wearing country-western clothes, and a caller tells them to promenade and twirl.

Members say the club has been around since about 1960. It’s one of 58 square-dancing clubs in the state, according to the North Carolina Folk, Round & Square Dance Federation.

Patt Cowder, president of Cary Cross Trailers, said the average age of members is probably 60 or so. It’s tough to recruit younger members, he said.

“I used to be surprised when people said they were 80, but now I’ve gotten used to it,” said Rhi-Shea Schlitter, a club instructor. “Maybe it’s a fountain of youth.”

For many club members, dancing is a fun way to spend time with friends. But there could be health benefits, too. Senior citizens who take part in leisure activities lower their risk of dementia, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

Some Cross Trailers members said they think the coordination and problem-solving skills required in square-dancing could help keep the mind sharp.

“It’s like a moving puzzle with dance and camaraderie,” said class coordinator Chris Schlitter.

In an attempt to attract younger people to the art of square dancing, the Triangle Square Dance Alliance sponsors dances on Saturdays in downtown Raleigh. People of all ages and skill levels are invited to learn a few square dance moves.

The event promises an evening absent of fiddles.

Not just country

In the old days, many people square danced to folk or country music.

The Cary Cross Trailers mix it up. Sometimes Michael Jackson music plays over the speakers. Other times “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips provides the soundtrack.

“People think it’s all country music, but you can use any kind of music for square dancing,” said Cowder, 77, who has been square dancing since he was a child in Pennsylvania.

“We did the old barn dance kind of square dancing,” he said. “It started off as a way to meet girls and to have something to do.”

He fell out of touch with square dancing for a while before his interest was sparked again in the late 1970s when he married his late wife. It was a way for them to enjoy time together, and to get away from the hustle and bustle of Cowder’s job at IBM.

Since then, Cowder has danced in 21 states and has been to six national conventions.

Cowder said he loves square dancing because he can feel the rhythm travel from his ears to his feet. But more importantly, he’s found a place to call home.

“You get into a tremendous family that you would have never known otherwise,” Cowder said.

The caller

Vance McDaniel is a part of the family at Cary Cross Trailers.

McDaniel, 62, first started “calling” square dances as a 13-year-old in Germany, where his father served in the Army. He’s been the caller for the Cross Trailers for the last 20 years.

He’s traveled around the country, calling for different square dancing groups and hosting special parties where he teaches novices how to dance.

“I love seeing people having a really fun time,” McDaniel said. “I love singing, so sometimes I’ll sing out the calls instead of just saying them.”

Wanbaugh: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @TaylorWanbaugh

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