No one knows exactly how many square dancers there are, or exactly how many RVers there are. The American Square Dance Society estimates at least 6 million Americans actively pursue the nation's official folk dance, and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association places the number of RVers at over that number. Both claim to err on the conservative side, confident that many more aficionados actually exist than can be documented.
But one thing is certain: A great many people are combining these two leisure-time activities to square their RV fun.
One couple who got into RVing as a direct result of the love of square dancing are Clyde and Barbara Drivere. The Driveres, of Green Valley, California, are well know to Southern California square dancers. Clyde has been a professional caller for 25 years.
The Driveres bought their first RV about 17 years ago, when their children were small, in order to take the kids along when they went to various square dances. It was an ideal solution, eliminating the need for babysitters, but it quickly became more than a means to an end.
After their very first RV trip, Barbara says, they became died-in-the-wool RVers -- and have been ever since. Currently they own a Tioga 22-foot mini motorhome, which serves as their home-on-wheels for more than half of every week. On Sunday mornings, they leave home to drive from one dance site to another, from one city to another, returning to Green Valley on Thursday. Clyde is teaching several beginners' classes during the week, plus calling for weekend dances, and as a consequence, they're simply too busy to join group camp-outs, much as they enjoy such get-togethers. As a matter of fact, they formed their own club, called Clyde's Camping Squares, in 1971, the year they led a caravan of RVing dancers to New Orleans for a special square-dancing event.
Although Clyde has had no formal training, there are many schools for callers these days, as well as a professional organization called Callerlab. Formed 10 years ago, Callerlab promotes uniformity of calls, which allows standardization of square-dance steps. This means today's square dancers can join almost any square dance wherever they happen to go in the United States or Canada, even some places in Europe. The many regional differences that used to confuse dancers when they moved to another location are therefore dwindling, while the fun and fellowship is multiplying. Dancers now can enjoy an evening of square dancing among total strangers, feeling confident that they can follow the caller and knowing they will be welcomed warmly be fellow enthusiasts.
Many square-dance clubs in Southern California -- and elsewhere -- include a number of RV owners who often form their own unstructured RV groups in order to enjoy camp-outs regularly. One such club is the Roll'N Hobos of Orange County, California. All 18 couples own RVs and are avid square dancers. And although they may not be unique in the pursuit of these twin interests, the Hobos do feel theirs is a unique organization in several respects.
For one thing, the bylaws provide for no president, vice president or secretary. The only club officers is the treasurer. All other duties are performed on a rotating basis. Find a campground, making campsite reservations, locating the nearest open square dance and so forth are all done by the couple serving as wagonmaster for that month. And since there are 18 couples in the club, and the club meets eight times a year, each pair serves as wagonmaster only once every couple of years. In between, the other members don't have to life a finger -- and they love it that way!
Don and Dorothy Hansen, of Stanton, who formed the club in the spring of 1795, laughed out loud when this reporter commented that things seemed to be very well organized. "There is no organization!" Don protested, adding that the reason why things run so smoothly is the fact that they're such a close-knit group.
The Hansens and a few friends who were (and still are) members of a Stanton square-dance club called the Pine Cones, decided to organize their own RV club so they could enjoy regular camp-outs together. Over the years, membership has increased as various charter members have brought close friends into the group, friends who may or may not be members of the Pine Cones. In fact, there is no official connection between the two clubs, don Hansen was quick to assure us. But, "We're such a compatible group," he noted, "that some of the Pine Cones actually bought RVs in order to join the Roll'N Hobos."
Within the Hobos' ranks are several circles of friends who do other things besides RVing and square dancing. For instance, Jerry and Adele Lyle, Bruce and Edna Lane, and Bob and Marge Long (affectionately known as "the Three L's") have taken several trips together, including a two-week Panama Canal cruise last year. Another group gathers every Christmas with various members of their families to celebrate the holidays in the desert near Palm Springs. And yet another group of nine couples has for many years enjoyed monthly brunches.
Among their diverse occupations are teachers, engineers, real estate brokers, plumbers and a county appraiser. although not all are retired, all have reached that stage in life when the kids are either grown and gone, or are doing their own thing, leaving Mom and Dad free to do theirs. Several couples said they had enjoyed square dancing when they were young, but had given it up when the cost of babysitting and the hassle of rearing children seemed to make it too difficult. Now, they've renewed their favorite pastime, squaring their fun with the added freedom of wheels.
Another of the traditions enjoyed by the Roll'N Hobos is their cocktail hour, which usually lasts closer to two hours. They insist it's not a potluck (potlucks are prohibited by the club bylaws), but is only inches from it. Held on the campground picnic table in the late afternoon, or inside a big rig if the weather is uncooperative, the various edibles range from sandwiches to chips and dip. This so-called snack provides energy for super square dancing later in the evening. The serious eating takes place at the local pizza parlor after the dance.
Since the Roll'N Hobos have no callers on their roster, they drive to the nearest open square dance to join members of other square-dance clubs in a fast-moving three hours of fun and fellowship. Included in the nominal admission fee ($2 to $3) are refreshments, cakes or cookies plus coffee, tea and water. Refreshments are an essential part of every square dance, and are especially needed after a caller calls an "eight-chain 64" or some other complicated maneuver that keeps dancers on their heels and toes.
When we joined them in February, the Hobos were camped at the East Shore Recreational Vehicle Park in Frank G. Bonelli Regional County Park in San Dimas. The park, overlooking Puddingstone Lake, supplied the amenities including an adjacent championship-caliber golf course, Mountain Meadows, for the pleasure of the dozen or so golfers in the group.
Saturday night everyone piled into three vehicles for a 15-minute drive to Monteclair, where a dance given by the Saw Dusters featured a caller named Shelby Dawson. The Hobos made an impressive showing, the gals in their blue skirts and red-and-white-checked blouses, the guys in matching blue outfits. Approximately 200 people (25 squares) from various local square-dance clubs wore a colorful assortment of costumes.
Participants' costumes are an important factor in this activity. Men wear Western apparel, bolo ties, belts and buckles, while the ladies wear very full dresses or skirts, special low-heeled shoes and huge petticoats boasting as much as 100 yards of material. All enjoy dressing up for their dancing, and adding all kinds of glittering badges representing attendance at various functions or service as club officers. The variety of costumes and badges accents the beauty in motion any square dance provides.
And square dancing is a healthy exercise for people of all ages. A recurring statement heard from many different quarters is that one night's square dancing is the equivalent of three miles of jogging. However, Bob Osgood, editor of Square Dancing Magazine, official publication of the American Square Dance Society, would not confirm this.
"It sounds good," he admitted, "but when you realize how calorie-laden those refreshments are, it seems obvious that the most we can claim is that dancers are maintaining the status quo." He added: "The eating time is as important as the dancing, because you have to have a friendly atmosphere for square dancing to flourish." In addition to the refreshments served by the hosts at each square dance, there's the "after party," which is another excuse for food and fellowship that takes place at a nearby restaurant.
Because dancing requires moving around on one's feet, leaves one a bit breathless, and raises the body temperature, a few minutes of rest between tips is appreciated, regardless of one's age or condition. And that refreshment break in mid-evening is thought by many participants to be absolutely essential. By the way, refreshments cannot be alcoholic. One of the rigid rules of square dancing is that alcohol is not permitted on the premises.
Undoubtedly the current interest in physical fitness has added impetus to participation among middle-aged and older folks, aware of the need to exercise their hearts and lungs. And no matter how tired some may feel after a day's work, once the dancing begins, they soon feel fine again. That expenditure of energy plus irresistible country music and friendly fellowship simply lifts one, spiritually as well as physically.
Osgood's organization sponsors several special awards and events, including a square-dance institute called Asilomar at Carmel, California and the Square Dance Hall of Fame and scholarships. There are now hundreds of institutes, but his, begun 30 years ago, was the first. The purpose of square-dance institutes is to allow hundreds of people to dance from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. all types of square dancing are featured, as well as contras (which use the same basic steps, but are danced in lines instead of in squares), and round dances (similar to ballroom dancing, but cued step-by-step like square dancing).
If you're not familiar with square dancing, you may want to attend one the next chance you get. Many RV parks bring in callers for Friday- or Saturday-nigh dances. Or if you meet RVers whose rigs sport square-dance decals, ask them where they're going to dance next. Perhaps you can go along as a spectator, to see what you're missing. But you won't be able to join them on the dance floor until you've completed a Basics/Mainstream class. Usually they begin in the fall, run for eight months (30 lessons), and are held in city recreation centers or local junior or senior high school auditoriums.
Those who enroll this year would be eligible to attend next year's National Square Dance Convention. The biggest national even of the year is held at a different location every summer. This year's convention is being held this month (June 28 to 30) at the Convention Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Some of the scheduled activities include exhibition dancing, educational seminars and local tours, as well as all levels of square, round and contra dancing. As many as 30,000 people from all over North America attend this annual event, some of whom drive there in their RVs. This month, RVers will camp at Fort Smallwood, 25 miles from the city of Baltimore. If you're already a Mainstream dancer and are interest in attending this event, write for full information to: 33rd National Square Dance Convention, P.O. Box 1112, Glen Burnie, Maryland 21061; or call (301) 255-4657.
In addition to the national convention, there are state conventions, regional festivals and other special square-dance events that allow enthusiasts to meet other dancers and to explore other areas of the country. Square-dance groups also are eligible for a host of special cruises, tours to Hawaii, Mexico and other exciting locations around the world, Surprisingly, they do succeed in find square dances in which to indulge their favorite pastime nearly anywhere they go. Square dancing is now found in more than 50 countries around the world, having been carried over by American servicemen and others living in foreign lands for various reasons.
And it's appropriate for Americans to export their nation's folk dance overseas, because that's where its roots lie. Immigrants brought to the New World an assortment of 15th- through 18th century dances such as French quadrilles and English country dances. These traditional dances from various sources melded into uniquely new versions on the Eastern Seaboard and in the Appalachian Mountain region, eventually resulting in regionally individualized dances.
This rich European heritage was beginning to fade at the beginning of this century, when it was rescued by automotive genius Henry Ford. Ford and his wife set up a square-dance caller in their hometown in Michigan during the early '20s and hosted weekly dances for many years.
In the 1930s, an educator from Colorado, Dr. Lloyd "Pappy" Shaw, probably did more than any other man to cement America's interest in square dancing. After collecting old-timers' notebooks and transcribing their memories, he taught his high school students the old-fashioned dances. In 1937, he formed an exhibition team that toured throughout North America, generating a revival of interest across the nation.
Two other factors helped matters tremendously. The widespread use of public-address systems and phonograph records made it possible for square dancing to be enjoyed by much larger groups. In the past, they had been limited to a caller's vocal range. Undoubtedly the emergence of modern highways across the country also helped to spread square dancing as enthusiasts could drive to dances in other areas in their modern cars -- and RVs. Today's dancers continue to combine their wheels and their dancing, at home and on the road.
If you're not yet into square dancing, why not give it a try? It's a great American pastime -- one that can be enjoyed by the whole family. For information about upcoming classes and events in your area, contact: Sets in Order American Square Dance Society, 462 North Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles, California 90048; or American Square Dance Magazine, Box 488, Huron, Ohio 44839.
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