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Littleton

Be there and be square

Square dancing club keeps dance alive and keeps it lively

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Ask a group of square dancers what impact their passion has had on their lives, and you’ll get one answer over and over: “I met my spouse square dancing.”

It’s not hard to see why — how many opportunities does one get to laugh and twirl with dozens of other people for an evening?

Square dancing, a folk dance that has taken on innumerable variations since its origins in 16th-century Europe, lives on in the footloose and lighthearted members of the Mountaineers, a Littleton-based square dancing club, one of about a dozen such clubs in the Denver metro area.

The Mountaineers held an intro to square dancing class in Lakewood last week to drum up interest in their upcoming beginners’ classes.

In a traditional square dance, four couples face each other in a square, and perform synchronized movements to the instructions of a “caller.” The effect is a mesmerizing spectacle of coordination that looks simultaneously complex and effortless.

In practice, square dancing takes a sharp mind, a keen ear, and a fleet foot.

“You don’t know what they’ll call next,” said Janet Boys, who’s been square dancing for decades. “You have to pay attention. You’re experiencing music is on a whole different level in your brain.”

A sense of humor doesn’t hurt.

“We don’t always get it right,” said Jan Hormuth. “You’ll see people going every which way. But we just laugh it off and keep going.”

The Mountaineers boasts a membership of about 70, and can be seen performing at various local events. They’re often a star attraction at Greg Reinke’s annual Turkey Leg & Wine Hoedown in Downtown Littleton.

The most fun way to learn is by doing, said Bill Heiny, who’s been calling dances for 17 years, though he said there are any number of books and YouTube tutorials to provide an intro to the shy.

Calling, however, is a skill that can only be passed down, he said.

“You have to apprentice,” Heiny said. “I started singing along to the callers in my club, and one took me under his wing and mentored me.”

Heiny said calling clicks in his brain, because as a retired computer programmer, “it’s all about patterns.”

“This is like puzzle solving,” he said. “I’m moving people, keeping my eye on them, and thinking about where I’m putting them.”

Square dancing has a Colorado connection: From its origins in medieval Europe, square dancing took on new popularity in colonial America, and over time, dozens of local iterations — with unique and untranslatable calls — formed in regions around the country. By the early decades of the 20th century, though, the dance was dying out.

Enter Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw, a Colorado Springs high school teacher, who roamed the country in the 1930s, learning the variety of styles and consolidating them into a standardized form.

Shaw spent decades teaching his new style, and trained a new generation of dancers and callers credited with leading a postwar revival of the dance.

For dancers, though, square dancing isn’t so much about preserving a legacy as it is about blowing off steam.

“It completely takes you away from your work,” said Jim Taylor, a Mountaineer with a lengthy list of titles in the club. “If you’re square dancing, you have no time to focus on your stress.”

And there’s plenty of room on the dance floor, Heiny said.

“We’d love for more people to come dance with us.”

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