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Hip to be Square, Dancing, That Is

Cathy Duchamp
04/02/2007

When was the last time you square danced? Chances are it was back in elementary school, when the LAST thing you wanted to do was hold hands with a member of the opposite sex. Fast forward to today. A new square dance scene has emerged in big cities of the Northwest. It's driven by Generation Y–ers, who put their own spin on the traditional dance. Correspondent Cathy Duchamp takes us onto the dance floor in Seattle.

MUSIC: "Hold your hands and circle to the south. Put a little moonshine in your mouth."

THIS IS A ROCKIN' PARTY. FULL OF HIPSTERS, TATTOOS, AND BEER:

MUSIC: "Chase the rabbit, chase the squirrel. Chase that girl around the world."

BECK: "Square dances, they have a sort of stigma for being lame for lack of a better word, but there's totally the ability to make them cool. And that's what we try to do."

CHARLIE BECK PLAYS BANJO IN A SEATTLE BAND CALLED THE TALLBOYS. THEY PLAY OLD–TIME MUSIC: SONGS THAT WERE WRITTEN AND PERFORMED BEFORE ELECTRICITY OR PHONOGRAPHS. CHARMAINE SLAVIN PLAYS GUITAR IN THE BAND. ALL THE WHILE SHE DANCES THE RHYTHM WITH WOODEN TAPS ON HER SHOES. SLAVIN ORGANIZED THE BAND'S FIRST SQUARE DANCE GIG A COUPLE YEARS AGO:

SLAVIN: "I used to square dance as a kid back in Montana. I'd go out with my parents. It would always be this kind of lame sort of happening. I broke away from those cultures and got into punk rock. Then my dad passed away. I kinda felt drawn to go back and listen to that music and explore that. Just kinda, 'who was my dad when he was a young guy?' There's a big square dancing scene in Portland and went to a huge one where there's all sorts of young people and I was like 'why can't this be happening in Seattle?'"

IT'S HAPPENING NOW. ONCE A MONTH. AT A BAR CALLED THE TRACTOR IN THE BALLARD NEIGHBORHOOD.

SCHWARTZ: "My name's Bill Schwartz and I'm 6 feet 9 inches tall."

SCHWARTZ TOWERS ABOVE THE OTHER DANCERS. ESPECIALLY DURING ONE SONG. HE'S IN THE MIDDLE OF A BIG CIRCLE OF PEOPLE AND JUST KIND OF PO–GOES AROUND:

SCHWARTZ: "You can't be embarrassed or feel awkward about things because it's all about meeting people and interacting with people you don't know. And I think that's what I really like about it is even if it's really brief, it's a lot of connections."

THOSE CONNECTIONS ARE MADE WITH THE HELP OF THE SQUARE DANCE CALLER.

SILVERA: "So here's how it works. Put your right hands into the middle and make a right hand star... "

PAUL SILVERA EXPLAINS THE MOVES OF ALL THE DANCES–MOST PEOPLE HERE ARE BEGINNERS AFTER ALL. SILVERA'S 25, BUT MASKS HIS AGE WITH AN OLD–TIMER BEARD AND LITTLE ROUND GLASSES. THE PORTLAND NATIVE SAYS HE NEVER IMAGINED HE'D MAKE A LIVING AS A SQUARE DANCE CALLER.

SILVERA: "People have a couple of drinks. They come out to the dance floor and they're really happy to have someone tell them what to do, so they don't have to figure it out for themselves.."

SILVERA SAYS SQUARE DANCING ISN'T JUST ABOUT CUTTING LOOSE. IT'S PART OF A BIGGER CULTURAL SHIFT UNDERWAY IN A NUMBER OF CITIES. AMONG PEOPLE SILVERA CALLS THE DO IT YOURSELF CROWD. THE ONES WHO KNIT, OR MAYBE RAISE CHICKENS IN URBAN COOPS:

SILVERA: "I think one of the great things about D-I-Y culture is it's really nerd culture. Because it's all about getting interested and doing something instead of being cool and detached. "

THE SQUARE DANCE ENDS ABOUT TEN P–M. SWEATY PEOPLE SPILL OUT ONTO THE SIDEWALK. ONE OF THEM IS CHRISTINA CONNELL. SHE'S GOT WHITE BLOND HAIR, TATTOOS ON THE FRONT AND BACK OF HER LEGS. SILVER STUDS EMBEDDED IN HER CHEST. THIS IS HER 3RD TIME SQUARE DANCING:

CONNELL: "What other situation, you go to bars and you all ignore each other and you get your drinks and you look down in your glasses and you don't talk to anybody. Here.. you have no choice, so I really really like it. And also you get moving. I mean.. "

DUCHAMP: "Am I ever going to see you in a petticoat skirt, polka dots.."

CONNELL: "If you can find me one at a thrift shop for a good price, yes, yes you will. "

IN SEATTLE, I'M CATHY DUCHAMP REPORTING.

℗ Copyright 2007, N3 News

01.17.18

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