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by Karl Arnold Belser
(From the April 2003 issue of The Prompter)

The square dance caller sang, "Allemande left with your left hand. Right to your partner, right and left grand." About 160 people in twenty squares sprang to action, guys and gals rotating in opposite directions hand over hand, each man and woman passing with eye contact and a smile or pulling apart with right hands held and kicking a leg, making dresses flair and colorful petticoats whirl. The 48th CIRCUS CIRCUS square dance hosted by the Rafter Rockers Square Dance Club was held this year on March 22 at John Muir Middle School.

The club members arrived about an hour early with wooden animals like elephants and tigers, dozens of hand painted circus posters of circus scenes, festive ticket and raffle booths, scores of raffle prizes, and a club banner. The air pumps buzzed as the costumed dancers filled dozens of red, yellow, blue, green, orange and purple balloons that would be tied to wires stretched across the hall by men on orange and silver ladders. Everyone in the club worked, some in the kitchen, others covering the dining room tables with colorful plastic, adding clown figures to weight down helium filled balloons, and putting out containers of icy water, lemonade, and fresh brewed coffee. The final touch was an arch of helium balloons on the stage that would frame the caller.

The club member couples also brought lots of their favorite dishes to share. A delicious smell came from the kitchen: smoky links in a spicy tomato sauce, fried chicken, fresh baked cookies. The club members could not resist the smell and sampled some of the goodies before the other dancers arrived.

A traditional square dance like the ones described in The Grapes of Wrath had only square dancing. Today square dancing is alternated with choreographed ballroom dancing, called round dancing. A round dance cuer tells the round dancers what sequence of steps to perform, and the choreography guides each couple in the same graceful swirls and synchronized foot movements that professional dancers achieve.

The round dance cuer, Jim Chico, started the dance, and after the initial advanced rounds, the square dancing began. By then most of the square dancers had arrived.

Gary Carnes, a silver-haired Kenny Rogers look-alike in a crisp pearl-buttoned shirt, black pants and black vest, walked to the edge of the stage under the colorful arch of balloons, welcomed everyone, and said, “I’m going to call a bit differently tonight. I like songs that tell an interesting and maybe bawdy story, so we’ll have two singing calls in every tip.” The crowd applauded in anticipation.

A tip usually consists of two-parts, first the patter in which the caller challenges the square dancer to follow his unexpected sequences and then a singing call that is always danced the same way.

Gary began with the song Geraldine, and the dancers repeated the name every time Gary called it. The energy was explosive.

After two tips, the laughing and perspiring dancers began to form a long line to the kitchen. Friends now connected, talked, and finally sat in the quiet teacher’s dining room. The rest of the evening was a mixture of dancing, eating, chatting, and listening to Gary’s provocative songs.

Shortly before the dance ended, the winning raffle numbers were displayed. People crowded around the table of prizes: homemade planters containing luxurious plants, pots of flowering azaleas, wrapped bottles, surprise packages from places like Trader Joes and Safeway. The raffle table was heaped with prizes. There were many winners, but here and there a groan of disappointment occurred.

A star tip for the advanced square dancers ended the evening. Before starting this final tip Gary announced an after-party at the nearby Mountain Mike’s Pizza Parlor. Many dancers began to leave, picking up directions at the door, and the club members took down the decorations. The club members quickly cleaned up the hall and headed for the after-party with ladders in pick-up beds and decorations tucked into car trunks and utility vehicles.

Gary set up his sound system on a corner table in the pizza parlor and began to sing old standards and country tunes. People danced in the aisles, now a little tipsy and relaxed from beer or wine. Alcoholic beverages aren’t allowed at any square dance. The dancers have to be alert if they want to follow the challenging calls without breaking down the square.

The evening ended with the club members saying to the friends or guests as they left, “See you next Wednesday,” or “Please join us next Wednesday at Campbell Middle School.”

Lessons are required to learn square dancing. It takes about 35 weeks to learn the calls and there are clubs for everyone, among the largest are: Rafter Rockers (couples club www.rafterrockers.com ), Sunnyvale Singles (singles club www.mixed-up.com/sss/ ), and Bows and Bows (mixed singles and couples club www.bowsandbeaus.home.att.net).

Classes start in September and in January. Anyone interested is welcome.

Circus Circus 2003

Dance chair-couple, Jackie Daemion and Karl Belser, stand with club members Chuck DePalmo and Tillie Tillman (left to right).

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Last updated October 13,, 2005
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