Across the train line the lads in the Elliot pub are winding down (or perhaps winding up) after a stressful week, and on a hot summer’s night you can hear the waves roll in, but down The Strand in the Port Elliot Institute – PEI – there are those who are in another world of their own.
There’s a chap on the stage of this character-enriched hall seemingly talking gibberish…. “way through two-by-two…” we think he’s saying, and men taking the hands of the girls whizzing through with their frilled petticoats flying through the air.
Over-melodramatic? Not really; square dancing gets you like that. In the 60s and 70s we had a legend, Colin Huddleston, a member of the Australian Country Music Hall of Fame, calling the moves on Reg Lindsay’s Country & Western Hour on Channel Nine on Saturday at 6.30, and later that night the ballrooms were packed with couples in groups of four or eight square dancing.
Those were the years, some of us murmur, and perhaps a far cry from the 20 people or so here at the PEI every Friday night 7.30 sharp for the call. But if the love of square dancing and the enthusiasm in their turns and swings comes into the equation, then this different form of dancing is still very much alive.
Welcome to the Paddle Streamer Squares, which on October 11-12 will celebrate its fifth anniversary. Strange name of the club in Port Elliot, you may suggest, but it shifted from Goolwa, and in this dancing caper every time a club celebrates a birthday in fives it’s a big deal; another subtle reason why it’s different.
The big event will see callers grace us from Adelaide – renowned international performers Jeff Seidel and Graham Elliott, plus others also with the gift of the voice box that put auctioneers to shame… Les Tulloch, Ivan Cooke, and Ian Rutter.
The Paddle Steamer Squares is among 10 clubs in the South Australian Square Dance Society – six in the metropolitan area and another three in the country (two in Mount Gambier, and another in Naracoorte). Not many compared with the ‘good old days’, but the interest in this formation dancing first established in England in the 17th century and later an amazing craze across the United States of America seems to be on the rise.
Local club member Penny Collingwood began square dancing in Queensland 30 years ago, and has been an avid fan in SA for the past 25.
“I could dance all night,” Penny said, and for a moment there we thought she really meant it. “A lot of people get square dancing confused with country and western or barn dancing.
“Square dancing encompasses basic moves together and you grow from there. It’s not a sequence of moments, but moves created by the caller. You need to learn the moves, and the more you know the higher advanced or skilful you become, from basic mainstream dancing to ‘A’ level – there is only one person in this category in South Australia – and right up to C3.”
The dancers are in groups of four and mainly eight, and move to the beat of the music. The caller may ask for something like a “circle family” meaning the dancer joins hands with adjacent dancers to form a circle and move the circle in the indicated direction, or to the left if no direction is given. The amount to circle may be a specified distance until the next command is given, like circle left; circle right. Of course, watching the girls’ petticoats fly means a bloke loses concentration and is caught out.
Penny believes square dancing is special because it challenges the mind and is great exercise.
“We’re a friendly group,” she insists. “And we’d love to have a few new members.
“Square dancing is something for everyone at any age, and from any part of the world. No matter where you are the calls are all in English, and when we had 50 Japanese here for a convention they clearly understood the dance commands but did not understand any other English.
“We are fortunate to have a good caller in John Casey, but at some clubs people learn from CDs. You have to spend a lot of time learning, and it may take eight months before you know the basic routines. We’re a forgiving bunch, and we encourage and try to help each other; it’s all about having fun and enjoying square dancing.”
If you want to know more about this dancing caper, go along to the Paddle Steamers’ fifth birthday celebrations and watch some classy performers on Friday, October 11 from 7.30-10pm, or on the Saturday from 2.30-5pm, and 7-11.30pm.
Otherwise, have a go any Friday night at the Port Elliot Institute from 7.30. Heck, there are heaps of blokes across the road who go home and tell their partners they’ve been square dancing all night.
If you are interest in square dancing, call Penny: 8552 3879.