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It's Hip to Be Square : The Valley is a hotbed of country-Western dancing. Enthusiasts find it great for exercise and camaraderie.

June 12, 1992|MARYANN HAMMERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Hammers is a frequent contributor to The Times

"Seesaw your honey," square-dance caller Larry Ward sings out in a deep, mellow voice. "Swap around. Pretty girls, do your part."

The Robert Wilkinson Senior Center in Northridge explodes in a rainbow of color and a whirl of ruffles. Women kick their legs, coyly revealing lacy "sissy pants" under full skirts and stiff petticoats. They link arms with men who sport silver belt buckles and boloties. The dancers circle each other, clasp hands and stomp on the wood floor, all the while intently listening to Ward for instructions on their next move.

A country-Western version of an old Beatles tune fills the room, and Ward taps his pointy-toed white cowboy boot.

"Ob-la-di, ob-la-da," he sings. "Wheel and deal with the girl in front. Girls circulate. Boys circulate. Couples cir-cue-late. You got it down!"

Before the night is over, the dancers in Ward's advanced class will have put four or more miles on their dancing shoes. They will have done enough wheeling and dealing, circulating, swapping and sashaying to burn about 1,000 calories. Many, such as Maxine Brauer, 65, a first-grade teacher at Anatola Avenue Elementary School in Van Nuys, hit the wood floor every night of the week.

"I come home from school exhausted," she says, "and then I go out to dance."

According to Ward, 55, the San Fernando Valley is home to dozens of square-dance clubs and more square-dance aficionados than any other part of the world, including at least one club for teens, which dances at Hale Junior High in Woodland Hills. The B-Sharps, formed by Ward in 1962, is the largest square-dance club in the United States with 5,000 members throughout the country, half of them in the Valley.

Some enthusiasts, such as Madeline and Roy George of Woodland Hills, take their hobby on the road--and into the sky. "We square-danced under the London Bridge. We square-danced in Spain. We square-danced in Hawaii. We square-danced in the back of a plane," announces Roy, 74, who is decked out in a lavender-checked shirt decorated with fringes and appliqued cowboys. "This summer, we'll square-dance in the Netherlands."

"We even square-danced in Japan," Madeline, 66, adds. "The dance calls were the only English the Japanese knew." (Because the square-dance is an American folk dance, the steps are always called in English.)

At beginner classes, dancers learn about 50 basic steps, or calls, that are combined into ever-changing patterns by square-dance callers. Dancers usually master the basic calls in less than a year. Then they are ready to join the square-dance clubs, or they can move on to advanced classes to learn new calls and more intricate dance patterns. Lessons cost about $4 each.

Getting outfitted is costlier.

At Boot Hill, a Van Nuys square-dance apparel shop owned by the Lavins, women can pick up a ruffly dress ($100 or so), square-toed shoes (about $50) and the de rigueur petticoat (another $100). Aprons (worn over the skirt to create a whole new look) go for about $30, and the all-important sissy pants are $10.

Men's wardrobes are simpler--and cheaper. Most gents can get by with bolo ties and big belt buckles.

Your First Step

Square-dance classes for couples and singles are available throughout the San Fernando Valley. A comprehensive guide to square-dance classes and events is listed in the Open Square, a monthly publication sold for $1.25 in square-dance shops.

Here are a few clubs that offer beginner classes:

* Double-R-Squares, North Hollywood, (818) 994-6327

* Fun Level Squares, Reseda, (818) 705-8417

* Farmers & Charmers, Northridge, (818) 901-9544

* Lads 'N' Lassies, Northridge, (818) 709-1533

* New Haulers, Newhall, (805) 259-6447

* San Fernando Valley B 'n' Bs, Northridge, (818) 761-7119

* Silver Dollars, Woodland Hills (818) 887-2207

* Twisters & Blisters, Van Nuys, (818) 341-0633

* Valley Trailers, Northridge, (818) 347-6783

* Western Weavers, Burbank, (818) 846-1470

* Woodstackers (for teens), Woodland Hills, (818) 344-8860

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