Submitted by John Brant

Ramona Sentinel (approx. Nov. 1998)

This is an article that appeared in our local newspaper called the Ramona Sentinel, in Ramona California.

The news is not in the content of article, the news is that a Square Dance article was published in the local paper. Newspapers just don't write articles about Square Dancing without a little help from a Square Dancer.

I went to the newspaper about a year ago when the editor did not use a notice I sent him about an upcoming dance. In a very nice way I asked him why he published notices of other events. I explained how the Ramona Squares are important to the community. We supply good clean fun and contribute to the community with our charity efforts. Also the club built our own dance hall that serves the community in other ways. The editor I believe was impressed. He had no previous knowledge of Square Dancing in our community. I sent him an article I wrote about the club a couple of months ago. A reporter called me last week and interviewed me for the article.

This gives me hope that our hobby can be publicized with persistence.

I am disappointed the reporter emphasized the average age and the decline statements I made, but publicity of any kind is better than none.

A bunch of 'Squares' help keep dance heritage alive

by Brian Hazle

For 23 years the Ramona Squares dance club has kept an all-but-lost American art alive and well in Ramona. Despite what John Brant, the club's publicity chairman, calls a steady decline in popularity since the 1980's, square dancing can still be found on a weekly basis at Ramona's Bernice Hall.

Each Tuesday the Ramona Squares hold square dancing workshops and lessons at the San Vicente Road facility. On the second Saturday of each month the club has dance parties where people can dance the night away in a clean wholesome environment. "On party nights, everyone brings food and stuff and no alcohol is consumed during the dancing," Brant said. The club has about 35 members now, but that number is down from over 100 members in the mid-to-late 1970's, said Brant.

Square dancing has suffered a decline in popularity," he said. "All group activities seem to have gone down in this country." Brant attributes the decline in group activities to the computer age. "In the '70's people wanted out of their homes for relaxation, now they want to stay home," he explained. "It has to do with the electronic age pretty much taking over leisure time." "I'm a big computer buff, but you can't dance with a computer." But that hasn't deterred Brant and the rest of the dance club from continuing their efforts to preserve what he says in a important part of American heritage. To appreciate square dancing , he says, one must understand a bit of its history.

Brant said modern square dancing has been around for about 50 years and evolved through a mix-and-match puzzle of various forms of European dancing styles. "Square dancing is very typical American," said Brant. Early American, he added, "took several different forms of dancing and put them all together." Square dancing involves dozens of different moves that each dancer must learn. A "caller," typically on a stage facing the dancers, calls out moves for them to execute. Brant said the Ramona club has seen some of the top callers in San Diego County perform for them, but has a regular caller in Norm Kersh, who usually works to pre-recorded music rather than with a band. "It's a puzzle-solving dance," explained Brant. "It keeps you sharp." Yet Brant says one really doesn't have to be an exceptional dancer to a good square dancer; you just have to move your feet to the music and work with the other dancers to complete the moves. "It's exhilarating to dance with a good group of people (who know all the moves), " Brant beamed. "You can't match the happiness and companionship group dancing offers."

Though many Americans may have lost interest in the art form their ancestors developed, the style is gaining popularity in certain other countries. "Now it's more popular in Canada and Europe," says Brant. "Eastern European young people have picked it up and are making it popular again."

Many people think square dancing is for older people, but he said there is a simple explanation for that. Since fewer young people are participating in square dancing these days, the average age of the dancers continues to rise steadily. The average in the Ramona club, according to Brant , is about 60 years old. The club members are a cross section of people, ranging from engineers to truckers and even a World War II pilot, who also worked as a professional boy scout for the Boy Scouts of America.

One common interest the Ramona group seems to share - besides square dancing - is horses. Brant said he estimates that 20 of the 35 members own horses. With that in mind, one might expect to spot many of the club members at the Ramona Country Fair. Well they were there, but they were dancing in an effort to show people what this art form is all about. Though Brant said fair goers seemed enthusiastic at the time, it was difficult to reach many people with just a two-hour demonstration.

Over the years, the Ramona Squares have enjoyed solid grounding in Ramona. The group helped to entrench itself in the community when it spearheaded the construction of Bernice Hall in the late 1970's in conjunction with then executive director of Michael's House, Bud Murphy. Murphy also owns the land on which the hall sits. The Hall, completed in June of 1980, was built by volunteer labor from the dance club and other organizations such as the National Association of Women in Construction. It is named after Murphy's mother, Bernice Murphy, who donated countless hours to Michael's House, a home for mentally disabled adults. It serves primarily as a recreation hall for Michael's House, as an adult day care center and is also used by the Hope Vineyard Church. Bud Murphy donated the construction materials and dedicated the use of the property to help the disabled and for the good of the community. Bernice Hall boasts a large dance floor, a stage, kitchen, covered patio, fireplace and an above-below ground barbecue. Brant said he encourages people to come out and join in the dancing and good clean fun at the club's gathering. "It's a good activity for meeting people and having fun," he said, adding that it's "a perfect activity for a small country town like Ramona." For more information about the Ramona Squares, contact John Brant at 788-9101

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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16-November-2006 12:36:35