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Features Presentation Updated Tuesday, 20-Oct-98 00:43:18

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Square dancing isnテせt for squares

By BILL BLANKENSHIP
The Capital-Journal

To hear square dancers talk about their pastime, one would think regular doses of do-si-dos will cure everything but the common cold.

テさIf thereテせs a better family entertainment, Iテせd like to see it,テご said Danny Carter, who with his wife, Karen, chairs the Northeast District of the Kansas Square Dance Association.

Alan Schultz, one of the areaテせs square dance callers, chimed in to extol the activityテせs virtues.

テさItテせs a low-impact aerobics, so it doesnテせt hurt your knees like jogging or running, and itテせs not boring like going for a walk,テご Schultz said.

Since dancers have to pay attention to the calls then execute the corresponding moves on the dance floor, Schultz added, テさItテせs as much of a mental exercise as it is a physical exercise.テご

Virginia Yerta, another square dance caller, extolled square dancing as a great social equalizer.

テさYou do not meet a stranger,テご she said of meeting people in square dance attire across the country. テさNo matter where you go, they welcome you into their square.テご

テさThere are a lot of people here Iテせve danced with for 20 years, and I donテせt know where they work, and I donテせt know how much money they make, but I consider them a friend,テご Yerta said.

While some square dancers are introduced to the pastime as children, itテせs also the perfect activity for empty-nesters or retirees.

Gene and Peggy Latter, who are this yearテせs presidents of Top-Kan Twirlers, one of the cityテせs square dance clubs, didnテせt start square dancing until about three years ago when they retired.

テさItテせs great fun and a way to stay active,テご said Latter at his clubテせs Oct. 10 dance at the Croco Square Dance Hall, 1520 S.E. Croco Road.

Croco Square is where most of the square dancing happens in Shawnee County.

The original hall was built in 1974 but was destroyed by fire in 1986. The current hall was erected in the 47 days after the fire, but it soon will be razed to make way for the massive interchange that will link the Kansas Turnpike, Interstate 70 and the Oakland Expressway.

A new Croco Square Dance Hall is under construction at 6115 S.E. US-40 highway. The new 6,864-square-foot building will mirror the current hall but will have a larger partial basement, larger womenテせs restroom, redesigned kitchen facilities and a new maple hardwood dance floor.

Schultz, who serves as president of the seven-person board that operates Croco Square, said the new hall should open by December.

Croco Square is busy most nights with dances, workshops or lessons. Attending a dance is a good way for those interested in square dancing to get involved.

テさAll the clubs welcome guests,テご Latter said. テさSo any dance night, they can walk right in here and watch and make their wants known and somebody will set them up with lessons.テご

Lessons run around $1.50 to $2 a person.

Square dancers learn a set number of calls, which are known as the mainstream program. That means a dancer can go to any mainstream dance and join right in.

There also are different levels of square dancing, such as plus, advance and challenge. They incorporate new moves and calls for a square of dancers, which consists of four couples.

At the higher levels, square dancing can get complicated.

テさThey go all the way to a level I call C-7,テご joked caller Alan Schultz. テさThatテせs when you stand there and see seven others do it.テご

Once dancers learn their mainstream moves, they can join a club. Dues vary. For example Top-Kan Twirlers charges $60 a couple in annual fees, but it doesnテせt charge members to get in club dances, said J.B. Peters. He and his wife, Dorothy, serve as vice presidents of the Twirlers.

Other clubs might charge lower annual dues then ask club members to pay admission to dances.

Most area clubs are for couples, but some offer family memberships, such as the Strato-Jets and Wheatheart Squares. The Cap-Teens club is one for youths up to age 19, and the Shawnee Swingers caters to square dancers without partners.

Nearly all dances are open to any square dancer who wants to attend.

テさYou can get as involved as you want,テご said Schultz, a square dance caller. テさSome people like to dance every night of the week. Some people like to dance twice a month. Some people like to dance once a month.テご

The Topeka Capital-Journal as part of the In the Spotlight column on the Weekender page of its Friday editions publishes the next weekテせs square dances.

Another way to learn about upcoming dances is Travel On, the quarterly publication of the Kansas Square Dance Association.

The editors of Travel On, Forrest and Pat Haskins, said the magazine lists the 92 member clubs in KSDA, which also has around 5,000 individual members statewide.

Those square dancers have tried without success so far to get the Legislature to declare the square dance as the official state folk dance of Kansas.

They consider it a reasonable request as lawmakers in recent years have passed legislation that makes the ornate box turtle the official state reptile, designates Harney silt loam as the official soil of Kansas and puts the barred tiger salamander above all other amphibians in Kansas with its official status.

An advertisement in Travel On, reminds its readers during this election year to remember at the polls which lawmakers supported the square dance bill and which ones didnテせt.

Square dancers also strive hard to maintain the wholesome environment of their dances.

Just as with driving, drinking and square dancing donテせt mix and for the same reason. Just as an impaired driver can cause a wreck on the highway, a tipsy square dancer can cause a collision on the dance floor.

テさThereテせs no drinking before and thereテせs no drinking during. What you do when you leave here, thatテせs your business,テご said Gene Kreipe, who with his wife, Florence, has square danced since 1962 when friends asked them to help out when they were short a couple at a dance.

テさWeテせve been helping ever since,テご said Gene Kreipe. The Kreipes and Dick and Dee Sawyer are the only remaining charter members of the Top-Kan Twirlers, which was formed 26 years ago.

You also need some lung power to do-si-do, so smoking is discouraged and not allowed at all inside Croco Square.

Most of the square dancers said they were introduced to the activity either as children in 4-H or other youth groups or as adults by a friend, neighbor or other square-dancing acquaintance.

Betty Huss, who serves as the Top-Kan Twirlers secretary along with her husband, Marvin, said he was reluctant to try square dancing at first.

テさHe kind of dragged his feet,テご she said of her husband, who added once he got his feet on the dance floor, he was hooked.

Once hooked, square dancers need to dress the part with most women wearing outfits with short puffy skirts with petticoats underneath them. Their male partners usually are attired in shirts coordinated with the color and pattern of the female dancers.

In Topeka, the place to buy square dance attire isnテせt far from the dance floor.

Sarah Schirmer operates Skirts, Shirts & Such in Croco Square. Her shop is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays, 7:15 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and most other nights when there is a square dance.

Schirmer said the biggest change in square dance attire in recent years is the acceptance by the American Square Dance Association of longer skirts, known as prairie skirts, as proper dress for women.

At most square dances, members bring treats to share. Most square dance clubs also have some kind of philanthropic effort, staging a dance to raise money for some charity or another.

As a pin on one dancerテせs shirt said, テさSquare Dancers Are Well Rounded People.テご

So when it comes to preserving marriages, fostering families, promoting good health, serving the community and just having fun, square dancers say the prescription is to take a few square dance lessons and see them on the dance floor.

And as for curing the common cold?

Well, square dancing canテせt do that, but dancers say youテせll be having too much fun to pay attention to your runny nose.

Copyright 1998 The Topeka Capital-Journal

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