Petaluma, CA
June 1, 1993

Petaluma swingers

Square dancers step into action

by Dianne Reber

Every Tuesday night, Margaret and Mel Todt deck out in fancy western outfits and head out for an evening of fun and recreation.

The Petalumans aren't into cowboy hangouts or the rodeo circuit. They are devoted square dancers who've been swinging and sashaying with the Adobe Squares square dance club for nearly a decade.

"It's fun and the companionship and people you meet are friends you could never find anywhere else," said Margaret Todt, a grandmother of four who works for a local insurance agent.

"It really is fun."

The couple are among some 80 members of Adobe Squares, the local square dance club that meets for weekly dances and workshops at the Kenilworth Recreation Center.

The membership includes adults of all backgrounds who come together to share a common interest. The men typically show up in plaid cowboys shirts, the women in ruffled blouses and full skirts enhanced by petticoats and lace.

"They aren't a special breed," Todt said, "They're regular people."

The club has been hosting workshops, lessons and hoedowns since 1970, when the PhD's and the Whirlers, two Petaluma square dance clubs, merged together.

Nowadays, caller Nate Bliss can be found leading the dancers through a series of fast-paced moves, rhythmically calling out such directions as "weave the ring" and "tea cup chain."

Cotati dentist Richard McKenna has been dancing with Adobe Squares for 14 years, do-si-doing with his wife, Marjorie.

"If you listen to the caller it's easy and it's fun and it's attractive," McKenna said. "As a group function it's great."

McKenna said the choreography of the eight-person squares form entertaining patterns for dancers and spectators alike. And while the moves may seem complicated to outsiders, they're all just a matter of practice.

Todt says square dancing is an ideal way to exercise, with the group's two-hour sessions the equivalent of walking three miles.

The square dancers agree it doesn't take a great deal of talent or athletic prowess to master square dancing, but with well more than 100 separate calls directing dancers, it's essential to learn the basics. A good memory doesn't hurt either.

"All you have to do is listen," Todt said. "That's the first rule of thumb. The second thing is, you really do need to know your left hand from your right hand."

The active club typically draws about two-thirds of its membership to weekly gathers, forming five, six or even seven squares.

Square dancing has been around for more than a century, with such calls as "bend the line" and "onto the next" dating back to the railroad chants of the 1860s, McKenna said.

Today's dancers promenade and glide to a variety of tunes, each with a tempo especially suitable for square dancing.

"If the beat is appropriate," said McKenna, "even some of the popular (contemporary) songs are appropriate."

Caller Bliss keeps dancers moving to a wide variety of songs and calls, with the squares swinging away into the night.

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