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Calling All Square-Dancers

Californians Make Their Case Today for Selection of Anaheim to Host National Conference in 2001

June 28, 1996|TAMMY LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For square-dancers, it's the ultimate call: The entire country do-si-do-ing into their own backyard.

Each year, the National Square Dance Convention attracts thousands of dancers and who-knows-how-many miles of ruffles and lace. This weekend, San Antonio is in the spotlight.

But, for hundreds of Californians, this year's Texas get-together is merely a staging area for a bigger, grander convention five years down the road in their city of choice: Anaheim.

Traveling by plane and in a caravan of nearly 70 motor homes and autos--which made dance stops in several cities along the way--300 Orange County square-dancers joined more than 1,000 other California twirlers in San Antonio.

There, today, they are making the case to bring the 50th National Square Dance Convention to the Golden State in the year 2001.

They will use a video, booklets bulging with information and their show of numbers in a grand costumed entrance to help seal the deal. The truth is, there's little doubt that the effort to bring the national convention to Anaheim in 2001 will be successful.

But who's taking chances?

The California dancers have spent eight years planning this and are prepared--no, make that counting on--spending the next five making it happen. The Democrats and Republicans have got nothing on these guys when it comes to staging a convention show.

"The more people you have there from the bidding state, the better your chances," says Kirk Pielow of Huntington Beach, who dances with the Lariats, one of about 40 organized square-dance clubs in Orange County. (In Southern California, there are more than 200 clubs.)

When the California dancers make their bid presentation today, they will be decked out in the black and gold custom outfits--many stitched by Ruthe Johnston of Mission Viejo--that they expect to become the uniform of the 50th anniversary show.

"Each state wears a special matching outfit during the grand march of every convention," says Johnston, 70, who--except for breaking to dance every Tuesday night with the Casta Twirlers of Mission Viejo--has been working on them nonstop for months.

One after another, she's been sewing up the blouses of black and gold ruffles and skirts of black lace over gold panels trimmed in gold braid and finished with a rolled hem of gold thread.

"This outfit is exceptional in that it will be worn not only to this year's convention but again in 2001," says Johnston, who has created thousands of square-dance outfits over the past 45 years.

"The national convention is by far the most exciting event of the year," says Lariat dancer, Del Crane of Fountain Valley. "You can meet people from all over the world and reconnect with friends you've made at other dances in various places over the years. It's four days of dancing and enjoying after-dance parties, dinners, fashion shows, contests and tours of the area."

Crane and his wife, Connie, direct 22 clubs that make up the Orange County district of the Associated Square Dancers, an umbrella organization representing a large group of independent clubs throughout Southern California.

Not only is the dance socially engaging, they tell you, but it is also mentally stimulating. And it's excellent exercise. In a recent fitness study, the American Medical Journal came up with these facts: Square-dancers travel about five miles in the course of an evening's dance, burning about 1,200 calories. In fact, the activity surpasses aerobics in terms of its fitness and health-related benefits.

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Square-dancing--or "friendship set to music" as it has been described--has enjoyed an enduring popularity.

"Nobody can really explain how much fun it is," says Jane Hadley, a Laguna Beach square-dancer belonging to the B-Sharps of America, the largest private square-dance club in the United States (its headquarters are in Van Nuys, with chapters nationwide).

"Square-dancing is really a whole lifestyle very few people know anything about," Hadley says. "Even if you're a beginner, you can expand and contract as you go along and find your niche."

Square-dancing at its most basic is choreographed instructions designed to bring the four couples in a square simultaneously through complex patterns and, ultimately, back to their starting positions, where the caller asks, "Are you home?"

"It's a game between the caller and the dancers," says Bronc Wise, a caller from the Sacramento area. "The caller is the only one who knows what's going to happen ahead of time, while the dancers have to figure it out as they go along."

Larry Ward, founder and director of the B-Sharps of America, contends that square-dancing can and should be as graceful as ballroom dancing. "The dance has come out of the barn and moved into the ballroom," says Ward, who is considered one of the top callers in the world. He is known for his approach to the dance, in which he emphasizes smoothness and styling.

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