In the 1930s, educator Dr. Lloyd “Pappy” Shaw realized that America would soon lose one of her greatest traditions, a tradition whose proponents were quickly dying off. Pappy took it upon himself to travel the country and document all the square dance versions he could find. He then began to teach students and teachers this new collection of steps. Pappy published “Cowboy Dances” in the 1950s right when returning WWII veterans were starting to pair up, and a boom was born (coincidence that the square dancing boom overlapped with the baby boom? I think not).
It’s because of ol’ Pappy that square dancing was a unit in my gym class from 1st-3rd grade. One time I got paired up with my crush, Noah, and it was only during a promenade that I realized Noah had peed himself. End of crush. Thanks, Pappy.
Last night at the Rustic Pine Tavern we filed into a dim, sweaty room for the weekly square dance. While most of the attendees were under 12 or over 50, there were a few cowboys in full getup along the wall. At 17 I would have desperately wanted one of these boys to ask me to dance the first square with him.
As it happened, though, I’d come with 7 family members which meant we formed a full square by ourselves. All capable of discerning right from left, we didn’t need any extra help from the caller. The same caller, I’ll note, was leading these dances 9 years ago when I lived on the ranch just up the road. The songs haven’t changed since 2003–or, I’d guess, 1973–either.
While we were quite competent, I did notice that the cowboys added a lot more flourishes to their dancing. If you want to impress that lady, you better twirl her more times than she’s ever been twirled. You also better not pee your pants.