Continuing the square dancing tradition in Pine Plains
PINE PLAINS — Most people have tried square dancing at least once in their lives, usually during their elementary school years. However, square dancing is not just an activity for children. At the Seymour Smith Intermediate Learning Center on Academy Street in Pine Plains square dancing is a popular pastime for adults. The Tri-Mountain Western Square Dance Club has been gathering at the school for dances and classes longer than most members can remember. Every Tuesday night anyone can attend for square dancing classes, and then the first and third Friday of every month the club has dances where participants can test their skills. The dances are from 7:30 to 10 p.m., and all club members bring refreshments. One can either pay to become a member of the Tri-Mountain Western Square Dance club or they can pay a fee per dance, usually around $5, which pays the dance caller and for refreshments. “It’s the most inexpensive thing you can do,“ said Nancy Finkle, who has been square dancing with her husband, Gary Finkle, since 1976. The couple of 55 years is from Red Hook, and has square danced in Hawaii, Bermuda and aboard cruise ships in the past. “This is western style square dancing,” said Nancy. “The old-time dance, what they call the eastern style, you didn’t really have to go to lessons for because you started with one couple and then the next couple did the same thing, so by the time you got to the fourth couple you knew what you were doing. Here everyone kind of moves at the same time so you have to go to a year of classes [to learn the steps].”Nancy said the club usually has two or three squares at their dances. In square dancing there are eight people per square and each person has a partner. The caller is the person who announces the choreography and has a microphone to announce which moves to do in synch with the music. Internationally, square dance calling is always in English. During the dance dancers may switch partners and squares as they go along, however by the end of the dance one almost always ends up at their original square with their original partner. “The funny thing I’ve been finding out after all these years is that there are a lot of square dancers and callers that either are or were involved in teaching math,” said Sandy Corey, caller and teacher for the Tri-Mountain Western Square Dance Club. “They teach mostly high school math because of the symmetry of the square, which is what happens on one half of the square and then it happens on the other half. That’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to be a high school math teacher.”Corey is from Hopewell Junction and has been calling for square dances for 27 years; she started in 1985. “My parents started to square dance the year before I did. I went with my husband at the time as a thing to do to help our marriage,” said Corey. It didn’t help her relationship and she stopped taking lessons, but her parents continued, said Corey.“I went back the following year on my own and I loved it; I thought it was great,” said Corey. “About six years later callers in the area were getting older and many were moving south to the warm weather. Plus, there were not any new callers coming up since everyone was getting older. A local caller decided to have a class to teach some of us who were interested how to call.”From that group there is only one other caller who is still calling today, said Corey. It’s no secret to the members of Tri-Mountain Western Square dancers that the club is struggling to bring in new members.“It’s a dying thing. We used to have a good 15 squares years ago,” said Ethel Anderson from Hyde Park, who has been square dancing for 35 years.The majority of the club members are senior citizens who have been members for many years. None of them are from Pine Plains.Gary said he remembers when square dancing was extremely popular there would be 35 squares and the caller had to stand on an 8-foot ladder so he could see everyone and make sure they made it back to their original squares. “I hate to think it’s a dying thing,” said Corey. “What I think is the younger people are too busy. Either they are married; they are living up here and maybe working in the city; or they are just too tired. I think it’s also not really known that square dancing is out there. People think, ‘Well, I did that in high school.’ It has some of that negative connotation. But then there are some who liked it in high school and had so much fun and wish they could do that again. And then some people have never heard of it.”All of the club members said they look forward to their gatherings. “It’s a lot of fun, it’s good energy, good weight reduction and good exercise,” said Nancy.At the dances both the men and women dress up in costume. The women wear long skirts called prairie skirts and men usually try and match the color of their partner. Nancy says the club has tons of costumes from past members and she lays them out if people want to wear them at the dances. It’s a sight to see the members dressed up in their costumes, with bright smiles as they dance around the room, but joining in is even more fun. The Tri-Mountain Western Squares encourages anyone who stops by to try it out. “It’s just fun, it’s not hard and it gets easier as you go along,” said Nancy.