Croakers Square

The world is changing. America is changing. Our culture and way of life is changing. That’s what happens, over time; it’s the way of the world.

In many instances, this is a positive change; in others, the jury is still out. Progress can be a double-edged sword. Take technology: with just a few clicks, we can talk face-to-face with people on the other side of the planet … but we don’t know the name of the guy who lives across the street. All the information in the world is right at our fingertips … but there’s so much data that more and more, we’re not sure how much of it we can trust. We can phone our kitchens and get dinner started while we’re still at work … but every item we add to the so-called “Internet of Things” adds another vulnerability that can be exploited by hackers.

With so much changing, things are bound to be lost–in some cases, forever. Like the white rhino: the last male known to exist died last week. It’s no longer endangered … it’s effectively extinct. Not trying to be depressing here, just stating the facts.

Maybe it’s nostalgia, but when so many things are in flux, it’s easy to want to return to a simpler, slower time. Problem is, the simpler time that exists in most folk’s memories is a whitewashed–or maybe “rose-colored washed”–of the way things really were. In many cases, things were less complicated only because we didn’t bother looking at the full picture: we happily drove our gas-guzzling dinosaurs because we weren’t thinking about long-term effects on the environment. We trusted–more or less–our leaders, not because they were any more trustworthy, but because that’s what we were taught to do. And we didn’t gather around the TV in the evening believing it was quality family time … we just didn’t have that many other entertainment options.

So what does this have to do with square dancing? Glad you asked.

Square dancing has a reputation for being quaint and, well, old-fashioned. It would be easy to just dismiss any interest in it as basic nostalgia, a reminder of the “good old days,” and something that has no real relevance in the modern world.

In some ways, that’s true.

As an art form, square dancing has been around for a long time. While of course there are variations, and almost any part can be traced to a similar, earlier dance style, what makes square dancing unique is the combination of other styles that blend together and become more than the sum of their parts. What we know as square dancing is a truly American cultural mainstay. That, in a nutshell, is what makes it worth preserving.

But.

Preserving, in this case, does not equate to freezing it in amber like a prehistoric mosquito. Square dancing is a dynamic thing, much like any other art form. If we regulate it simply the few steps we were forced to learn in elementary school gym classes–or worse, to the bright choreography of a Technicolor Rodgers & Hammerstein musical–we are doing ourselves and our culture a massive disservice.

There are, for example, those who only accept one definition of square dancing. Hiding behind the faux-nobility of “purism,” they hold that it can only be called square dancing if it is limited to certain steps, or uses a live fiddler, or what-have-you (oddly, even the purists can’t always agree). And make no mistake: there is certainly a place for that type of strongly traditional dancing.

But locking it into that style, saying it is the only acceptable version? That’s self-defeating. We bemoan the perceived irrelevance of a moribund artform, when in reality we are creating the perception ourselves.

As stated above, everything changes; to not change is to die. The world has changed, and it is perfectly acceptable–in fact, necessary–for square dancing to evolve and adapt. We may need to use recorded music. We may need to design routines around current music. But we definitely need to accept that square dancing can be more than what it has been in the past. Obviously, we want to hold on to the most basic elements; we cannot, however, be afraid to let it grow in new directions.

Square dancing is a wonderful thing, but who knows? It might end up being something even better.

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