Square dancing is the state of Tennessee’s official folk dance. Modern Western square dancing is known throughout the world and is the form of dance learned in this area. After graduating from a class, a dancer can dance anywhere in the United States and the world as long as it is called in a language the dancer understands.
The Calico Squares dance club has been in Cleveland for many years. At one time there were three clubs here in Bradley County, but Calico Squares is the only survivor, according to Gail Gray, president of the dance club.
For many years, Calico Squares danced at the South Cleveland Community Center where, during special dances, there would be up to 20 squares on the floor at one time. Then the American Legion provided a home in their old facility on Henderson Avenue. Although the new facility was a great place to dance, it was too small for the club’s purposes and, for several years, the club danced in the Garden Plaza’s Community Room.
The Calico Squares club now dances in the Tennessee Christian Preparatory School’s cafeteria. It is perfect for its needs — the atmosphere is very welcoming and warm, and the location is easy to find.
Calico Squares has been fortunate to have had great callers: Dwight Burger, the club’s first caller (according to available information); Jim Wood of Knoxville, who called the next 2 1/2 years; Don Rush of Ringgold, Georgia, who called for the next 23 1/2 years; and Alan Hall, also from Ringgold, who called for 8 1/2 years.
Currently, callers are rotated, including Ray Donohoo of Cleveland, Ronnie Langley from Calhoun, Georgia, and Johnny Chambers from Sparta. Hall and Rush fill in when needed. A good caller must also be a good teacher and make dancing a fun experience and these men seem to have an easy time doing just that.
A typical Tuesday evening at the Calico Squares begins with class at 7. The dancing begins at 8 p.m. A class began last September. There were several new club members from that class. The club has a family driving all the way from Turtletown, a young couple from Charleston and several students from Walker Valley High School. A couple from Lee University went through the class last year as friends and are now married. There is a father/daughter couple, also, in the current class, and the father is a high school teacher.
Modern Western square dancers have generally worn traditional square dance attire. In years past, this meant the dress code being enforced in some parts of the world and the states. However, this code has greatly relaxed in more recent times. Traditional attire included the full skirts and petticoats for the females and Western shirts and jeans for the males.
With the advent of more liberal attire and pants for women, many now wear Western shirts, long or short Western skirts and jeans. Cowboy boots are still quite prevalent for both men and women. Men have generally worn long-sleeve shirts because women don’t like touching sweaty
arms. This has also become more optional.
The current position of most square dance clubs — as to attire — is mainly to come, have a good time, and wear whatever makes one comfortable. Younger dancers were not accustomed to traditional attire and may not feel at ease dressed in that manner. The main thing all dancers want is to have as many younger dancers as possible come to the club and have a really fun time.
Calico Squares is part of the Chattanooga Area Square Dancers Association, which enables the members to dance at various clubs in the area and to have them attend Calico Squares dances, particularly the special dances, which are usually scheduled every two months. A good supply of finger foods, along with more substantial dishes, is served at these special events.
Calico Squares usually visits other clubs prior to specials and “steal” their banners, which ensure they will bring a square to our dance in order to reclaim that banner. This is all done in the interest of promoting fun visitations between the clubs.
CASDA meets periodically to decide if new rules are needed, to run the association in general and to publish a quarterly newsletter, the CASDA Chatter, which is available to all member clubs to advertise their news and upcoming events.
The Calico Squares has taken large numbers to other areas around us — to the Tennessee State Square Dance Conventions usually in August, to the Georgia State Square Dance Conventions in the fall each year, and to the national conventions in the summer each year. The nationals are held in various parts of the United States.
All of these activities are great opportunities to dance with national callers and cuers, with callers and cuers from other areas, and from across the state.
Gray said, “Square dancing is about having fun and learning a family-oriented activity that one can enjoy for a lifetime.”
What the Calico Squares have discovered over the years is if someone comes and watches, the next thing they want to do is learn to square dance. They see how much fun the dancers are having, how friendly everyone is and how clean and wholesome an activity square dancing really is.
Modern Western square dancing is totally different to all other dances, as there is no “hanging on” to your partner or complicated footwork or timing with which to deal. If you can walk, you can square dance . . . even if you have two left feet.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The invitation to join the Calico Squares is always open — the next class is in September, which is advertised in the Cleveland Daily Banner.