It’s not what you did in high school.
The allemande, promenade and ocean waves are far beyond the “Oh Johnny” traditional square dancing we were all forced to do with our classmates.
But that’s no secret to the more than 165 members of the Surrey Square Wheelers Club — one of the largest square dancing clubs in Canada.
The group, which does modern western square dancing out of the Brookswood Senior Centre on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, was founded by Don Nelson in 1960, and has seen thousands of people of all ages come through their doors ever since.
“We have somebody from (age) 23 to 93 dancing,” said Roiane Evans, president of the club.
“I think there’s a curiosity about it first. Usually knowing somebody that does it and the enthusiasm that builds from it — it’s pretty contagious.”
Led by international caller Steve Edlund, who has been calling square dances since he was 16 years old, the evenings consist of dancers being guided through a variety of moves.
“If you can walk, you can square dance,” said Irene Wright, a longtime member of the club.
“When Steve gets up there, or any other caller for that matter, they do a tip, which is comprised of two parts. You get a patter call initially, so it could be whatever upbeat music you get. And he, or she, will put you through your paces of different moves and configurations — and you don’t know what’s coming. And if you try to presume to know, they’ll call something different because ‘Aha! Don’t anticipate.’”
The patter call is done first, followed by the singing call, which can be done to a variety of styles of music. Members have found themselves dancing to Top 40 pop, hard rock, or even hits from the 1940s.
Dancers then take a quick break with refreshments before a choreographed ballroom called a round dance starts.
“There’s research that shows that square dancing is not only great for exercise, but it’s good for the mind as well,” Wright said.
“You’re listening to the caller, remembering the moves, performing the moves not knowing what’s coming next. You have to be ready for whatever that may be.”
Many people also chose to wear costumes to the dances, which are often hand-sewn. Marj Kenny has become known as the “recycle queen” in the club for her work in refurbishing old outfits.
In January, the club holds a recycle sale of costumes, and proceeds are given to the Child Development Centre, an organization they have been supporting for 47 years.
Evans began square dancing with the group when she was 19 years old, and took a 40 year break before returning to the group five years ago.
For her, square dancing has been “rejuvenating.”
“When I came into it, my mom was in the last stages of cancer, so I was a caretaker for her,” Evans said.
“On a day when we had been out doing chemo or something like that, she would be like, ‘Go, go and dance.’ She would send me off here, and it didn’t matter what kind of a day I started out with, when I got in with my friends, I had to leave it behind. I had to be in the moment with it.
“Very seldom anyone said anything to you, but there’s just a squeeze or a hug or a ‘How was your day?’ Or ‘How was your mom? That just kind of welcomed you in and you knew you could regain and fill up the cup again.”
Wright, too, began dancing at a young age. She was in a teen club in the 1960s, and was the secretary of the Buttons and Bows club in Murrayville until 1975. She also took a break, and came back to square dancing 11 years ago.
“There’s a huge sense of community, we are a very social group,” Wright said.
“And you meet a vast array of people from every walk of life and profession. It’s so interesting to get to talk to people at break or at a picnic or something and find out, if they’re retired, what they used to do, and some of the professions are amazing.
“I’ve met people from Istanbul, Turkey that dance all over the world. It’s amazing, you don’t realize how big it is until you become part of the community of it.”
Teen clubs are also still very popular, with two currently operating out of Cloverdale and Burnaby.
Those groups see dancers as young as six come through, and hundreds from Canada and the United States gather for the Pacific Northwest Teen Festival each year.
“The general public doesn’t know that we’re out there,” Evans said.
“What you did in high school is not what we do here — big time — it’s not what we do,” Walker added. “The teen fests have really ramped up, it’s nothing you’d expect.”
For the month of September and first week of October, the Surrey Square Wheelers are doing an intake of new dancers. This is the only time of year new dancers can join.
The lessons are on Wednesday nights and cost $5 per session, plus a membership fee that includes all activities at the Brooskwood Seniors Centre. Each night also includes a variety of refreshments and snacks.
Graduation of dancers happen in May, leading to the next level of dancing — mainstream/plus — which takes place Tuesday nights. There are five more levels of dancing beyond that, which are offered at other clubs in the Lower Mainland.
For more info, visit the website surrey.squaredance.bc.ca or call 604-534-0863.