Square dancing has been around since enthusiasts first started kicking up their heels in England during the 17th century. And several dedicated Las Vegas participants are determined to keep the activity strong locally.
Las Vegas’ contingent of dancers is telling everyone who will listen that square dancing is good emotionally and physically and is a good way to make new friends.
Cathy Demars, a Pennsylvania native who moved to Las Vegas after being stationed at Nellis Air Force Base 30 years ago, has worked for the Metropolitan Police Department for 13 years.
She says she loves her job but has found square dancing an excellent escape over the past five years.
“It’s very mental,” said Demars, president of the Las Vegas Square and Round Dancers. “There is a learning curve, but once you get it down, it’s almost like riding a bicycle. There never are any negative memories about the experiences of square dancing. It’s a very positive atmosphere and I cannot imagine a better way to end my day.
“It’s very inexpensive and it’s also very clean entertainment. You can learn to square dance with us for as little as $5 a lesson. It was $3 back in the late 1960s.”
There are three square dance clubs in Las Vegas, as well as a club that dances only “advanced” moves. Classes start in September and two of the square dance clubs in Las Vegas have two classes a year each. Once dancers graduate, they can shop around among the clubs, which are based in different parts of the city.
Club dances are generally $5 a dance and last for two hours, with refreshments provided. One can dance every night of the week if desired. Couples and singles are welcome at square dance classes and club dances.
Jim and Jeanie Breeden of Las Vegas both left behind stressful jobs several years ago. She was a biller and collector for a physical therapy company, working all hours of day and night. Jim spent 28 years with Continental Airlines, handling the interior and exterior appearance and servicing of the planes.
The couple, now married for eight years, sets their schedule around square dancing. They dance as often as five times a week, more if there is a festival in neighboring states or a large combined club dance on the weekend.
“My youngest daughter had leukemia and it was a very stressful time for my late wife and I,” Jim says of his first experience with square dancing. “Square dancing was a great relief for us. I can still have a hectic day and I will forget what was bothering us 20 minutes into the dance.”
Jim, formerly from Torrance, Calif., feels square dancing is good for people of all ages. A combination of talented callers who lead the steps and colorful clothing make for memorable times, he says.
“Square dancing was very big back in the early 1970s,” he recalls. “They had more than 20,000 for a national square dance convention in Anaheim, Calif., and they should have 1,200 to 1,500 dancers in at the Riverside County festival in Indio (Calif.) in November.
“We are, however, only expecting 5,000 or so dancers at the United States national square dance festival in Little Rock, Ark., this year, for a 75 percent reduction.”
Society, he says, has changed dramatically over the past few decades.
“Square dance was very popular at a time when most women did not work outside the home and it represented an inexpensive and fun night out,” he says. “Nowadays, in many cases, women are the breadwinners while trying to raise their kids at the same time, and not only money but time is at a premium.”
Many couples involved with square dancing travel to gatherings, leading to new friendships and memories.
‘This is like one big happy family,” says Jeanie, who retired from her job in 2011. “We support each other no matter what the challenges that our friends are facing.”
Acquiring the attire may seem daunting at the outset, she says, but the dress code of big skirts and crinolines has been relaxed. Several women wear long prairie skirts to dance.
However, as Jeanie says, “once the experience of that crinoline swishing and billowing out in the dance hits you, you get hooked on it.”
Demars says her group is planning to reach out to homeschooling parents along with the local Christian private schools to spread the word about square dancing, and attract new, younger dancers.
“They all need activities,” she says. “Once kids discover square dancing, many of them will stay involved.”
One of the most active local square dancers is 95-year-old Jay Dredge, a former sheet metal worker who moved to Las Vegas in 1951. He still dances as many as four times a week and isn’t afraid to travel to Reno, St. George, Utah, and Phoenix.
Dredge and his late wife, Lucille, started square dancing in the 1950s.
“Square dancing basically mixes you with the public and with friends,” Dredge says. “You’re not just holding hands with one person. You’re dancing with seven other people including men.
“Square dancing is a better aerobic exercise than anything they put in the gymnasiums. You have to think as well as do. Your hands, feet, mind and body are working constantly. If you’re a caller, you have to be very talented, too.”
For much of the year, square dance groups use schools such as Snyder Elementary and Roger Bryan Elementary, along with The Meadows Mobile Home Park.
During the summer when schools are closed, dancers will use mobile home park clubhouses, the Veterans Memorial Leisure Services Center, or just have pool parties to continue their socializing.
There is no smoking or alcohol permitted at any of the square dance events.
“It’s the cleanest possible form of recreation you’ll ever find,” Jeanie Breeden says. “It’s fun and it’s friendly. We are all the greatest huggers.”
For more information, visit www.lasvegassquareandrounddancers.org or call Jeanie Breeden at 702-301-9280 for class schedules in a particular area.