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Light On Their Toes: Square dancers spin the evening away

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY  / Bessie West spins gracefully out of her husband Doyle West's hand at the Jimmy Furlough Senior Center Friday night. Meanwhile, Joyce Hughes (center, right) shows the other square dancers how it's done as the appropriate dancing music (below) filled the air at the senior center. Friday night's square dancing class featured a graduation ceremony for participants who had learned all the steps of the dance.

DAILY LEADER / JUSTIN VICORY / Bessie West spins gracefully out of her husband Doyle West’s hand at the Jimmy Furlough Senior Center Friday night. Meanwhile, Joyce Hughes (center, right) shows the other square dancers how it’s done as the appropriate dancing music (below) filled the air at the senior center. Friday night’s square dancing class featured a graduation ceremony for participants who had learned all the steps of the dance.

Square dancing combines physical and mental activity that can help participants stay healthy and fit. It can also be a whole lot of fun, according to the participants at Friday night’s senior square dance graduation at the Jimmy Furlow Senior Center.

Fun was on display in full force, and smiles lit up the room as dancers swiftly and gracefully “do-si-do’ed” their way across the dance floor. Leo Maciaz, the square dance “caller,” enthusiastically bellowed out dance moves.

Five young-at-heart square dancers were on hand to receive square dance diplomas, and to affirm the square dance “pledge,” a code of ethics that the dancer should follow not just on the dance floor, but in life.

The master of ceremonies, square dance instructor Jerry Stringer, took the microphone after the first round of dancing ended, to honor the graduates.

“You shall square dance for fun … You shall be a good listener … You shall be exuberant, but do not be overzealous in helping others who may hesitate by pulling, grabbing or pushing them or by speaking loudly to them,” Stringer said.

Close to 30 senior dancers (age 50 and up) showed up in Brookhaven, including participants from surrounding towns such as McComb, Monticello, Liberty and Smithdale. The dancers have been meeting at the Senior Center every Friday night for the last six months, to practice and perfect all of the moves that the square dance caller might call out during the dance.

Moves such as “allemande left, allemande right, corner, do-si-do, honor, promenade, half promenade, set and swing” are all part of a square dancer’s vocabulary, and before the dancers can graduate, they must commit them to memory and be able to perform the moves upon command.

Far from bingo, square dancing provides cardiovascular conditioning, constant movement and quick, directional changes. While the dance is considered a “low impact” physical activity, it demands the use of the brain and body at the same time, which keeps the dancer alert.

Studies using pedometers have shown that throughout the course of the night, in roughly two hours, the square dancer will have covered about five miles, according to Stan Burdick, co-editor of American Square Dance magazine.

“It’s an incredible way to work out the brain and the body. You might be surprised at how much stamina it takes to square dance,” said dance participant, Doyle West.

Square dancing can be therapeutic as well, according to Maciaz.

“If you have any problems, they disappear on the dance floor. It’s a good way to take your mind off of things,” he said, adding, “It’s also a great way to develop a lot of friendships.”

While square dancing is a worldwide activity, it’s affiliation with the “cowboy,”, or the “Old West” of the United States, makes the dance distinctly American in many ways. This helps explain why the dancers wear a wardrobe consisting of cowboy hats, western shirts, glossy belt buckles, and prairie blouses and skirts with petticoats.

A square consists of four couples, with one couple stationed on each of the four sides of the square. Everyone starts facing the center of the square. The man stands to the left of the woman. Couples are numbered one, two, three and four, starting with the couple closest to the caller and moving counterclockwise.

The square dance caller is responsible for calling out the instructions to the dancers.

The square dance is the official state dance of Mississippi and 18 other states.

In the future, Stringer says the group will continue to utilize the Senior Center for square dancing as well as other dances such as the round dance.