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SOUTH-CENTRAL : The Hoedown Goes Uptown

February 14, 1993|ELSTON CARR

Forget about haystacks, barns, pickups and small-town folk hooting and hollering on a weekend night at the local square-dance in some backwater town. It's right here in the big city.

On the first Friday of each month, a group of energetic senior citizens streams into a church or senior center in South-Central to kick up their heels, prance, promenade and send their partners a-twirlin' amid the twang of country music, the rhythm of clapping and the occasional yahoo!

"You say square-dancing, and a lot of people think that's a white Southern thing--hillbilly. But a lot of blacks are square-dancing now," said Don Nelson, a square-dance caller who directs dancers through the intricate patterns with commands such as do-si-do, allemande left and promenade single file.

Just to keep things interesting, Nelson doesn't always stick to traditional fiddle music. The crowd often dances to tunes such as "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" and "Pink Cadillac."

On a recent Friday afternoon, more than 50 people gathered for the monthly square-dance at the Estelle Van Meter Multipurpose Center at 606 E. 76th St. With cheerful faces and a spring in their steps, group members seemed as intent on having a good ol' time as high school seniors on prom night.

And they were dressed for the occasion. The men wore Western pants, decorative belts with gleaming buckles, long-sleeved shirts and neckerchiefs. Several had matching towels clipped to their belts to wipe their brows after the strenuous dances.

The women wore red, white, blue, gold and silver lame skirts, matching blouses, petticoats and pettipants, the ruffled undergarments that protect modesty when skirts fly up during a twirl.

While square-dancing is good exercise, the dancers said above all, it is a social activity. "Square-dancing is nothing but friendship put to music," said James Green, 65, the president of the Van Meter Squares, a square-dance club. "The only square-dancer that is a stranger to me is one that I haven't met. It's a common bond, and it has no color barriers."

"We're just like a family," said Willie Shepard, 71, a retired seamstress. "You can see when everybody comes in, we always hug and kiss each other. It's just that we enjoy each other so much."

Green said he and some of the others often spend as many as five days a week taking square-dance lessons and attending dances organized by the six square-dance clubs in South Los Angeles.

Before the festivities began, the dancers stood quietly with their right hands over their hearts, faced an American flag in one corner and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as sunlight flooded the room.

After the pledge, Nelson called out for a prayer to bless the event.

"God help us to be better dancers," said Timothy Melton.


Among the local square-dance clubs that offer classes are:

Van Meter Squares: (213) 778-9733; Daniels' Dudes and Dames: (213) 292-6863; Dudes and Dames Inc.: (213) 778-3936; Guys and Dolls: (213) 299-0545; Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church: (213) 758-7836.

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