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by Hartmut Heiber

This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Square Dancing in Germany. Americans played a vital role in the creation of Square Dancing there. It is amazing how the dance grew in Germany and is still thriving today. A dancer from Cologne Germany was very kind to research and write an article about the history of Square Dancing in his country. I hope you find it as interesting as I did.

50 Years of Square Dancing in Germany

by Hartmut Heiber, Cologne Germany

Before World War II and during war time, Germans did not know about Square Dancing. They certainly had other occupations than dancing during these difficult and sorrowful years that followed 1945. When the American GIs came to Germany they brought with them hope and courage, followed by the Marshall Plan that encouraged many Germans to restart a "normal" life. They also thought of amusement, of entertainment and of dancing again.

In the American military zone of Germany, i.e. roughly the areas of Hesse, Bade-Wurttemberg and Bavaria, the population had close contacts, since 1945, with American military persons. They had exchanged cigarettes, chocolate and other nice things, or even received gifts from those GI's, and so a relationship had been developed. After some distrust in the beginning, good and friendly contacts developed with those new rulers.

It was not in the American zone, but in Bremen that arose the occasion of the first Square Dance in Germany. Paul Hartman was an American serviceman who came to Germany as the others to help in the rebuilding of Germany shortly after the war. Paul Hartman's ancestors had come from Germany one generation ago, was an American Square Dance caller, and he looked for an opportunity to hold a dance. So he found a facility of the United Service Organization (USO), known as Country Club, at Bremen, where was held the first Square Dance on Saturday, July 16, 1949. Five squares attended this first dance. Most of them were American military servicemen who had brought some German guests who also danced. Organizing a live music band had been the biggest problem, for at that time there were no public address systems nor records, certainly not in postwar Germany, and so he had to improvise. The dance was a great success and, as a result of the enthusiastic response of the attending five squares, Paul Hartman decided to hold dances on a regular basis.

Paul Hartman began to travel around Germany organizing clubs at other US Service Clubs. So he found interested people in Hamburg (British Zone), in Berlin (four Allied sectors) and in Augsburg (Bavaria, American Zone). To these cities, Paul traveled more or less regularly during weekends in order to call square dances.

When Paul Hartman and his wife Fran had to go back to the States in December 1950, the Berlin group was particularly sad and dismayed and arranged with the AFN (American Forces Network) management to make recordings with music and calls that they could use after the caller's departure. Paul made two large records at the last dance in November 1950 which were used for quite some time at the Service Club for Square dancing.

Paul Hartman visited Germany and his German friends several times after his departure. He came back often in the 50s, but also in the 60s and 70s. He worked as a caller living in Wheaton, Maryland, and when he came to Germany, he always traveled with his wife around the country and called as often as he was able, always being invited by the local German clubs. In 1991, he passed away in his home town of Wheaton, MD.

The first and now oldest club still existing is the Beaux & Belles' founded in September 1954 by an American couple in Frankfort, Harold and Thelma Deane. They first danced to records together with some other couples from the 10th General Dispensary.

One year later they hosted the first Round Up in Bad Wildungen (Hesse). At that event the idea of forming the European Association of American Square Dance Clubs (EAASDC) was presented. Harold was elected the first President in 1955. That was the start of the club founding boom that is still going on today. Nowadays the EAASDC has about 460 clubs in eight nations: The big majority are German clubs, the rest are Dutch (12), Belgian (6), Swiss (7), Austrian (3), Czech (2), Italian (1), and Spanish (1) clubs. The majority of them are Mainstream clubs, but we also have Plus clubs and high level clubs dancing A1 to C3a.

The problem during the early years was the turn-over of the American callers and dancers. When the military person also being a caller, were reassigned, he left his square dance club leaderless. But those callers also taught interested German dancers to learn the calling job and become experienced callers. This process began in the fifties, and so it was possible to substitute the American callers leaving Europe and maintain the German clubs and dancing activities and prevent them from folding.

Nevertheless there were some American military men who took German brides, stayed long or forever, resigned from military jobs, or took civilian jobs with the military. Those Americans who also were callers are well known and loved by our German dancers. Best known certainly is Al Stevens (with his roots in Virginia) who also retired from his military job some years ago and is a famous caller, well known and seen everywhere at German Square Dance festivals.

Another one is Kenny Reese from Houston, Texas who has been dancing in Europe since 1974 and calling for his club, the Darmstompers', since 1977 and for the other club, the Frankfurt Beaux & Belles', since 1984.

Most of the German clubs are rather small (20 to 30 dancers), but there are also huge clubs as the Munich Dip-n Divers' with about 250 members. Most German square dancers (estimated about 8 to 10 thousand) are willing to travel to visit one another for special events. They often organize club visits, banner raids, campouts, and particularly Special Dances that happen about once a year in each area.

In Germany we have not one singles club, as we accept couples and singles in any club. In every club, normally everyone dances with every other member. Sure, there are couples who are dancing together all or most of the time, but this is not a big problem, as there are enough singles normally to dance with the other singles.

Even if the 50th anniversary of Square Dance in Germany is not celebrated officially, we remember that date of July 16, 1949, and we think with gratefulness of Paul Hartman who began to introduce this cultural heritage from America back to Europe, and of all the American citizens who made it possible and who helped us to develop our dancing skills and to find pleasure in Square and Round Dancing.

This article may be reprinted with no further permission from the authors and/or publications.  Permission has been granted in advance for the reprinting with the stipulation that credit be given to the contributing author/publisher.

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