Square dancing alive and well in Northern Nevada

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealCharlie Brown calls the square dance the Capitol Cutups at the Carson City Senior Center on Friday night.

Shannon Litz/Nevada AppealCharlie Brown calls the square dance the Capitol Cutups at the Carson City Senior Center on Friday night.

Whether its an alaman left or a do-si-do, Charlie Brown keeps the calls coming every Friday night in Carson City.

Brown, 73, has been the caller for the Capitol Cutups for six years. He can be found Fridays in the Nevada Room at the Carson City Senior Center, and the square dancing culture is a huge part of his life.

The rhythmic shuffle of 16 pairs of shoes keeps time to the lively western music as Brown calls out the dance moves, skirts and petticoats twirl, and smiles gleam on the faces of dancers.

Not every move is precise, but there is plenty of laughter to mask any imperfections.

"I'm retired from the (California) Bay Area where I called for 35 years for two clubs, one in Los Altos and one in San Leandro," Brown said. "It gives me my musical outlet. It's very intricate, it keeps my mind active, it's one of the greatest social activities, and dancers learn cooperation through it."

Square dance clubs are ranked according to degree of difficulty from Basic, using 25-30 calls with corresponding dance moves, to Mainstream with another 40-45 calls, and Plus with another 32 calls dancers must know, in addition to two Advanced levels and four Challenge levels.

"It gets really complicated at the challenge level - it's big at the colleges like Stanford and MIT.

"We do modern square dancing at the Plus level, and you have to progress up to each level," he said. "If someone shows up to dance with us who wants to learn or isn't at the Plus level, we direct them to the clubs in the area that they can dance with."

Of the squares - each comprised of four couples - dancing with the Capitol Cutups, usually one or two squares are members of the club and the rest are from other clubs - those who want to dance at the Plus level.

"Dayton is a Mainstream club, but we get lots of dancers who come to us because we're a Plus level," he said.


But the person who pulls every dance together and brings the dancing to life is the caller.

"The caller puts together a sequence of steps. The dancers have no idea what's coming because he's either just planned it or he's creating it on the fly - what's known as sight calling," Brown said.

"As the dancers are moving, a lot of times the caller doesn't even know what's coming, so the dancers are reacting to the calls," he said.

Brown said a lot of clubs are getting away from the old-timey stuff.

"We have a lot more modern music such as 'Black Horse and the Cherry Tree' and 'Dance Til You Drop,' and we're getting away from things like the banjo and the fiddle," he said.

Generally, for an evening, a caller makes about $200, but it can be more in places like the Bay Area. The cost varies from club to club, he said.

Cost for dancers is by donation with a suggestion of between $5-7.50 per person, but club dues covers dancing for Capitol Cutups club members.

Brown also teaches a plus level class for 10-12 weeks every fall for dancers who want to progress to a new level.

"I was supposed to be retired when I moved to Nevada, but they twisted my arm," he said.


Another aspect of the club is social. There are club activities like picnics and campouts, and a few festivals around the area.

Brown is the square dance coordinator for the Silver State Square and Round Dance Festival in Reno on the second Saturday in May. There is no charge for spectators, and this year's event will be at the Grand Sierra Resort in Reno. For more information, go to www.squaredancenevada.com.

"We advertise in square dance magazines so we get callers from all over the nation and Canada," he said.

Aside from the festivals, Capitol Cutups often have out-of-state and -country visitors.

"Dancers coming to Northern Nevada also will get on our website, so when they're here to go to Tahoe or Reno, they'll attend our group. We've had visitors from Germany, England, Australia," he said.

The square dance group is made up of people of all ages from their 40s to 70s, and Dayton has a family group so kids can be involved. Fallon also has a new family group, Brown said.

"We have a dancer in Reno who is 91. She drives herself back and forth, and she's a little ball of fire," he said.

"We have people in all shapes and sizes, tall, short, broad and skinny, and from all lines of work. At our Los Altos club, we had airline pilots, university professors, lawyers, engineers, carpenters and PG&E workers. There was one guy in Walnut Creek who had his own K-7 school, and he called square dancing his therapy," Brown said.


In addition to his calling nights, Brown and his wife Linda participate in three or four dance groups.

"It's an activity for everybody. We like to dance - it keeps us busy and active," he said. "It's a good social activity, and square dancers are very friendly. They know how to cooperate with the people in their group."

Not as many people participate as they once did, he said, but everyone has fun.

"Square dancing was really big in the '70s and '80s, but as the Internet got more popular and people started having to work two jobs, it has dropped off a little," Brown said.

"It's a healthy activity. It keeps the mind working, it's musical and it's relaxing. You end up walking about five miles every night you square dance, but it's soft aerobic exercise. And, it's social because you're interacting with other people," he said.

Brown said the costumes also are a lot of fun, especially for the ladies.

"We're getting a little bit away from the costumes, because they're so expensive, but a lot of the gals are seamstresses, so they like the skirts and petticoats," he said.

"Some people just wear blue jeans and a shirt or traditional country clothes with boots, but it's best to wear a leather boot so you can shuffle your feet, so your feet won't get tired," he said.


The Capitol Cutups meet in the Nevada Room of the Carson City Senior Center every Friday from 7-9:30 p.m.

Rich Weigel, club president, said the club has been in existence since 1968, but has seen fluctuation in size.

"It's been around longer than I have," Weigel said. "It went up to 60 members in the early 80s and dropped down to 8-10 members in 1993. We have 16 members now, but normally we dance 24-40 people every Friday. People come from clubs in Dayton, Reno and a few from Genoa."

And sometimes romance can be found at club dances, he said.

"I met my wife at that club 24 years ago," he says, as a big grin creeps across his face.

At one point in their lives, they danced five times a week, but now they dance about seven times a month, only because of the distance they have to drive from their home.

"Once you learn the basic responses to the calls, you don't have to have rhythm. You don't just dance with your partner, you work with the whole square, and you get to hug a lot of other people," Weigel said, laughing. "And there are the friendships, too."

GET INVOLVED: For more information, contact Brown by e-mail at dancingndogs@yahoo.com or by phone at 775-267-5422. Information is also available at www.squaredancenevada.com concerning area clubs and instruction.

FAST FACTS: Square dance is a folk dance with four couples arranged in a square, with one couple on each side. There are two broad categories of square dance:

• Traditional square dance, which is also called "old time square dance," is not standardized and can be subdivided into regional styles. The New England and Appalachian styles have been particularly well-documented; both have survived to the present time. There are several other styles; some have survived or been revived in recent years, some have not. Traditional square dance is frequently presented in alternation with contra dances or with some form of freestyle couple dancing. One ancestor of New England style square dances is the quadrille, and older New England callers occasionally refer to their squares as "quadrilles."

• Modern Western square dance, also called "Western square dance," "contemporary Western square dance," or "modern American square dance," was established during the 1930s and 1940s by Lloyd Shaw, who solicited definitions from callers across the country in order to preserve traditional American folk dance. Since the 1970s modern Western square dance has been promoted and standardized by Callerlab, the "International Association of Square Dance Callers." Modern Western square dance is sometimes presented in alternation with round dances.

Source: Wikipedia.org


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