Oklahoma and Square Dancing

It's all Folk Dancing, Folks...

Long lines of dancers, with your partner across from you, perform a series of movements up and down the column of dancers. There are three items that make a successful contra dance: dancers (that would be you), a caller and a band. As with other dances, the music generes are merging and blending to form a 'techno-contra' movement. The interesting item about contra is that the caller explains the dance just before performing it. For example, before performing the Diagonella, the caller explains the Petronella turn. It may sound scary but contra incorporates some of the same movements found in square dance and round dancing. Think of clogging...think of Tap. Today there are subtle differences between the two and given time, you might learn to clog and tap too. Both are derived from 18th century European folk dance, clogging developed in rural America; tap is an urban artform. Cloggers use modern rhythms and borrow from tap to add to their 'alphabet' of moves. It looks plenty strenuous and cloggers can perform solo or join a group.
I have always heard that Modern social round dancing is choreographed and cued ballroom dancing. The planned arrangement of movements before the dance separate round dancing from freestyle ballroom dancing. In round dancing, a 'cuer' calls the movements and the dancers execute the movements. Consequently all the dancers are performing the same moves together. If you have ever had the chance to observe a large group of round dancers, you know how pretty it looks. I believe round dancing instills grace and timing even though it is not as strenous as square dancing or clogging. Today's Modern Western Square Dance is not the 16th century dance you performed in grade school. Modern square dance is fun, engaging, and stimulating. The music today is upbeat and modern...everything from Elvis to Monty Python to Beethoven. However, there is still a little twang for good measure. Folks are wearing more relaxed clothes. We're seeing more families involved as a group activity - kids from 8 to 80 are square dancing!.

So, What is Square Dancing...Really?

First and foremost, Square Dancing is people; socializing, dancing, playing music, and having an experience together, but for the most part it’s about having fun. Friendship set to Music. It is a centuries-old social dance form with European roots, alive and growing in many parts of the world. Square Dancing has changed over the decades to fit the needs of the people doing it; this evolution tells a fascinating story, and points to a bright future for this flexible folk-art form.

Traditional Western Squares

The quadrille and Appalachian mountain-style square dance forms traveled with the settlers of the American West, and a new style of Square Dancing slowly developed combining elements of both forms. This new form of Western Square Dance (now named, by some, "traditional Western") eventually captured the attention of the American public, through the efforts of a young educator in Colorado named Lloyd Shaw. Motivated in part by Henry Ford's book, Good Morning — which was written to help revive the "old-fashioned" American quadrilles, contras, and couple dances that had been, by the early 20th century, largely replaced by the jazz-inspired fashions of the ballroom — Shaw set out to publish a book of traditional American square dances with a particular focus on collecting and documenting dances found in the American West. The book, Cowboy Dances.

Modern Western Square Dancing

This extraordinary interest in Square Dancing gave birth to the branch of the activity now named "modern Western." Many callers learned from Lloyd Shaw, then took their newly acquired skills and interpreted them for use in their own local communities. The 1960s and early 1970s saw a flood of new calls appearing as callers tried to outdo each other in creativity. It became difficult for dancers (and for other callers) to keep up with the vast number of new figures that were being invented; clearly, some effort at standardization was essential to support the continuing widespread growth of square dancing. As a result, the governing organization for modern Western square dance leaders, CALLERLAB, was founded in 1974. The original stated goals of the charter were: "To put the dance back into square dancing; establish standardization for calls; and provide adequate training for callers."

Oklahoma Square Dancing

In 1947 the Oklahoma State Federation was formed. The first Presidents were Guy and Sue Gentry of Oklahoma City. The years followed and Oklahoma became one of the First places to hold the National Square Dance Convention in 1955 Howard and Peggy Thornton were the General Chairman’s of that convention. Oklahoma City has gone on to host in 1978 Pete and Ester Hughes General Chairman, 1989 Chet and Billie Ferguson General Chairman, 2003 Harry and Pat Nelson General Chairman, 2013, Gene and Barbra Morton, General Chairman. All of these folks have been great influences in Oklahoma and Nationally. It has been my pleasure to know all of these dancer/leaders in our great hobby of Square Dancing.

What is a Caller?

The role of a caller in Modern Western Square Dancing is not only to provide the dance steps which all of the dancers on the floor should be able to follow, but also to provide entertainment through a combination of factors, including programming, showmanship, singing ability, and choreography. Oklahoma has been blessed over the years to have some of the best Callers in the country. Two of them even attended Mr. Shaw’s school way back in 1947/48 Gerald McWhirter and Jim Howard Sr. Gerald and Jim have both passed. They left a legacy that will last a life time. Both have been inducted into the Square Dance Caller Hall of Fame. Gerald called for the same club for more than 60 years.

Official State Folk Dance of Oklahoma

Oklahoma designated the Square Dance as the office state folk dance in 1988. Many other states have also adopted Square Dancing as their state dance. More than 30 bills have been introduced to make Square Dancing the National Dance.

In summary...

  • 1800s - Westward Expansion - Louisiana Purchase - lots of European Quadrilles and Appalachian foot-stomping dances
  • 1907 - Oklahoma Statehood
  • 1925 - Henry Ford published "Good Morning"
  • 1939 - Lloyd Shaw published "Cowboy Dances"
  • 1941 - Circle Eight Founded
  • 1947 - The Oklahoma Square Dance Federation, Inc was formed
  • 1948 - Norman Silver Spur Founded
  • 1949 - Kalico Kapers Founded
  • 1955 - Oklahoma host the 4th Annual National Convention
  • 1958 - Fun Timers Founded
  • 1960 - Swinging Rebels Founded
  • 1964 - Single Squares Founded
  • 1965 - Shawnee Square Eights Founded
  • 1966 - National Cowboy Founded
  • 1969 - Visit 9 program introduced statewide
  • 1974 - Callerlab was founded to "put the dance back in square dance
  • 1975 - Spirit of '76 Founded
  • 1978 - Oklahoma host another National Convention
  • 1980 - Heartland Dancers Founded
  • 1983 - Metro Founded
  • 1984 - Double Nickle Founded
  • 1985 - Aristocrats Club Founded
  • 1987 - Dancing Shadows Founded
  • 1988 - Oklahoma became the 8th state to name square dance its state folk dance
  • 1989 - Oklahoma host another National Convention

    - "Promenade" statue dedicated at State Fair Park, Oklahoma City
  • 1990 - Happy Tracks Founded
  • 1991 - Teacup Chains Founded
  • 2003 - Oklahoma host another National Convention
  • 2007 - Centennial Squares Founded
  • 2013 - Oklahoma host another National Convention

Oklahoma Central District Square Dance Association - Past Presidents

John and Opal Bowlware1947-1949
Alan and Vera Sue Miller1949-1950
Ross and Dorothy Robe1950-1951
Jimmy and Dorothy Richards1951-1952
Bill and Nita Lee1952-1953
Cecil and Tillie Lanier1953-1954
Howard and Peggy Thornton1954-1955
Mauri and Naomi Schneider1955-1956
Paul and Edwina Gravette1956-1957
John and Camilla Johnson1957-1958
John and Rosemary Mattingly1958-1959
Dick and Joyce Goldsby1959-1960
Del and Nita Tiemann1960-1961
Olan and Helen Todd1961-1962
Fred and Skeeter Bonner1962-1963
RC and Polly Raulston1963-1964
Gene and Faye Price1964-1965
Jim and Jean McManus1965-1966
Don and Nellie Davis1966-1967
Bernard and Jo Briscoe1967-1968
Bearl and Joyce Britton1968-1969
Jack and Bette Culbertson1969-1970
Bill and Arlene Dunbar1970-1971
Darrell and Margaret Luttrell1971-1972
Dick Chandler and Sandy (Chandler )Johnson1972-1973
Ray and Barbara Rash1973-1974
Bill and Rita Reeves1974-1975
James and Wilma Cooper1975-1976
Bob and Betty McLaughlin1976-1977
Dee and Imalee Wynn1977-1978
Brad and Susan Bradbury1978-1979
Jim and Carmen Raines1979-1980
Jim and Shirley Fowler1980-1981
Bill and Sybil Newcomb1981-1982
JT and Jeannie Rupe1982-1983
Paul and Wanda Kittredge1983-1984
Jim and Hazel Evans1984-1985
Jean and Joann Calhoun1985-1986
Bert and Kathy Wheeler1986-1987
Dick and Dorothy Manley1987-1988
Tom and Elaine Swanson1988-1989
Raymond and Ann Ballard1989-1990
Kenneth and Wanda Carman1990-1991
Den and Becky Deal1991-1992
Vic and Jeana Stead1992-1993
George and Joyce McBryde1993-1994
Joe and Oreda Henry1994-1995
Dwight Musser and Euna Warren1995-1996
Ronnie and Alva Ford1996-1997
Marshall and Becky Hammer1997-1998
Harry and Pat Nelson1998-1999
JD and Joyce Winfield2000
Robert Orman and Billie Davis2001
Steve and AJ Venz2002
Tom and Vicki Geis2003
Bill and Reatha Schlegel2004
Jim and Linda Fuller2005
Jim and Ruth Ford2006
Jim and Linda Fuller2007
Ronnie and Shirley Jackson2008
Jim and Ruth Ford 2009
Ernie and Carol Palmer2010
Ron and Ruby Kuhlman2011
Vernon Willis and Vicki Eslick2012
Jim and Ruth Ford 2013
Bill and Angel Baker2014-2015
Steve and Terri Denton2016-2017

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Oklahoma and Square Dancing

A little essay about the veiled beginnings of Square Dancing in Oklahoma. A timeline to put items in perspective. A listing of Central District's Presidents (1947 - present).

Visit 9

The visit 9 program and Central District - short but informative.


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