Space was limited on the elevator going up, even though there were only three other people aboard. Capacity that evening was four, three in embellished red, white and blue skirts with crinoline petticoats that increased the skirts’ circumference three-fold, and left me feeling rather sheepish in running shorts and a t-shirt. The lobby was packed with this rarely seen phenomenon, ladies and gents, color coordinated and looking so fine I just could not resist complementing them on their dapper attire.
Intrigued, I set out on a run, a spying mission of sorts. I peeked covertly into one of the multiple local dance halls, observing from afar until three other onlookers invited me in to join their circle (or perhaps more aptly, their square). We watched while two groups of couples took the floor, and my newfound compatriots gave me the scoop.
I had happened onto “Freedom Swings 2013,” the 58th annual Colorado State Square Dance Festival. Over 800 square dancers filled the hotel, the walkways and just about every elevator to capacity. The attire, however, was only one small part of the event.
My new friends explained in this particular hall the dancers were moving to 73 basic “calls” randomly hollered out by the man with the mic on the elevated stage. In other venues the basic calls were augmented, and the dancers responded to more than 143 commands, memorized and performed in near perfect synchronization. For someone who has a hard time remembering seven moves in a line dance, my respect for the pastime gained momentum. They then explained just how intently the dancers needed to listen in order to avoid an unfortunate mid-floor pileup. This prompted one of the ladies to share the story of a group who came from afar where callers were in short supply, so they danced to records (yes, records) where they had memorized the calls. “They had the hardest time getting used to the live calls,” she said. A life lesson I pondered, wondering how often I only go through the motions of listening. These folks not only listen to what is said, they manage to take immediate action. Low and behold, an intricate dance follows.
Watching the dancers conjured up memories of the taped music that bounced off our grade-school gymnasium walls, back when square dancing was part of the mandated PE curriculum. We could not imagine why we modern kids were subjected to these old-timey dances, where we were sure “allemande left” meant all-men left. For the life of us we never really got in step. Still, it couldn’t have been all bad, as I also heard faint echoes of the laughter shared as we do-si-doed each other into near delirium.
Returning to the present, I shared my fascination with the dresses, and wondered how they managed move so spritely while bearing what appeared to be about 50 extra pounds of weight. One of the ladies laughed and said if I thought the elevator was an issue, I should give some thought to how hard they have to work just to get in and out of a car in one of those things. Another quickly corrected her, letting me know if I really wanted a test, going to the ladies room posed problems all its own. I shuddered. Clearly, my coordination level would have to increase by magnitudes before taking up dancing.
When I left the hall and continued on my trek, I kept running by dancers — all waves, smiles and kind words of hello. I then realized that it wasn’t the skirts, or the dancers’ incredible dexterity that caught my attention. Instead, it was rooms full of smiling people, no angry agendas or axes to grind, all seeming to find a genuine reward in just being friendly and kind, in a small northern Colorado town where that night freedom truly did swing.
Cindy Bargell is an attorney and mom who lives outside of Silverthorne and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.