CORSICANA, TX — When Charlie and Debbie Ray retired and moved to the Lake Richland Chambers area, they were anxious to meet people and get involved in their newly adopted community, so they joined Lakeside United Methodist Church. However, Charlie and Debbie did not anticipate that, following a Barn Stompers demo dance at Lakeside, they would become square dancers. “Lake people are mostly Type A personalities trying to relax and retire,” Charlie said, laughingly explaining how they became the current co-presidents of the Barn Stompers.
“When we first started learning how to square dance, there were 10-12 couples from the lake area,” said Sharon Largent, another Barn Stomper who lives at the lake. Participation by lake residents has continued to grow. “It’s a great way to meet people,” Sharon added. Her dance partner is her husband, Lee. Members also include residents of Corsicana, Mexia, Teague and Fairfield. Barn Stompers enjoy traveling to other clubs located in Athens, Palestine, Jacksonville and the Dallas area and hosting them in return. There are other reasons and benefits to joining this lively group. “It’s a wonderful sport,” Sharon said. However, a dancer does not have to be completely physically fit or especially talented. “If you can get up and move, you can square dance,” Debbie said. “We have all kinds of health situations — hip and knee replacement, heart conditions and surgical rehabs. You can wear a sign saying such things as ‘Do not spin’ if you have a health condition.” Dancers can take breaks, if needed, and line dancing is offered between “tips” (several square dances), just for a change of pace. There are no age restrictions. The club has members ranging in age from 12 years old to people in their 90s. Families and single people are welcome. “Families start their little ones early,” Debbie said. “
The kids learn fast,” Charlie added, “and they are so cute and energetic.” But he revealed what he considers four of the best reasons to join Barn Stompers. “You don’t have to be graceful. It’s inexpensive, only $6 per person for a dinner and dancing. College scholarships are available for members at the state and local levels. And when the girls sit down, their petticoats fly up!” Members sometimes wear traditional square-dancing costumes, where the man’s shirt color matches the woman’s skirt. Women can also wear long prairie skirts, and club members have “club” clothing.
“I said I would never wear a short skirt, but…,” Sharon revealed. “My granddaughter asks me now, ‘Nana, can I have your square dance skirts?’ She loves them.” Square dancing is uniquely American, having its roots in New England. The origins of the dances trace back, however, to the schottische, quadrille, jigs, reels and the minuet — dances that were brought to early America by the first settlers and immigrants who followed. Hardworking pioneers, needing rest and relaxation from their toils, as well as a way to meet neighbors, looked to the barn dance.
Over the years, the needs have been kept simple: music, a solid floor and a caller. No longer just a rural night out, square dancing has evolved with modern times into an urban activity with a Texas organization formed 51 years ago. Barn Stompers is a member of the East Texas Square and Round Dance Association and the Texas Federation of Square and Round Dancers. Members enjoy participating in conventions held by these two organizations annually. Another way square dancing has evolved with the times is the manner in which people can learn the specialized lingo and calls. There are Internet sites that explain the unique vocabulary and demonstrate calls. Saddlebrookesquares. com, www.tamtwirlers.org/tamination/, and YouTube.com are commonly used sites. Some of the younger members, especially, have been spotted using their smartphone apps even as they are dancing! “It’s pretty cool the ways you can learn now,” Debbie said. Barn Stompers also provides the traditional “learn from your neighbor” lessons.
Classes are held on a regular basis with one beginning this January. It is a win-win for potential dancers, since there is no charge for the first three sessions. “People can see if it’s something they want to continue to do,” Debbie said. For those who love to line dance, they are led by Carolyn Hinchcliffe. Square dancing lessons start with the basics and “angel” members of the club make up half of each circle to help neophytes. “Having angels gives new folks a lot more confidence. We have a lot of great angels,” Sharon said. “When the call comes, if you don’t immediately see it in your head, someone will help you.” The basic and mainstream call indices include 70 calls, while the plus call index includes another 30 calls. If the square breaks down completely, the caller will notice and straighten everybody out with the next call. “Plus lessons,” which are more advanced, are available to members who wish to try the more complicated calls. “The goal is to get back ‘home’ with your partner. When you do, it’s, ‘Yea!’” Sharon exclaimed.
Callers have danced for a while, and can get advanced training in college- level programs, such as the one located in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where the Barn Stompers caller, Kenneth Melvin, formally trained. Occasionally, members enjoy guest callers and, of course, callers from other clubs when visits are made. It was a caller, Billy Lewis from Barry, who helped start the Barn Stompers in 1973 by teaching the first lessons to a group of 36 local residents. Billy owns a dance hall in Silver City. “It has a lot of history,” Charlie said. Star Hall, in Corsicana, is an occasional host to the Camping Squares, another group to which some Barn Stompers belong. While live callers are mainly used, square dancing clubs can also use music and callers that are recorded on CDs. This enables clubs to do demo dances at schools, senior citizen centers, churches, assisted living and nursing homes and special events, such as festivals. “We welcome invitations to dance,” Debbie said. Barn Stompers’ dances are held on the second and fourth Saturday evenings each month. Members share a pot luck dinner which fuels them for both the square and line dancing.
True hospitality abounds. Visitors are welcome to eat or just watch and/or try dancing. Debbie added, “We have great cooks. We love people and love to share our passion for dancing.” Editor’s Note: For more information, contact Charlie or Debbie at (903) 874-0069.
Written by Virginia Riddle.