Croakers Square

Do your really hate square dance?

Not as in, “I really REALLY hate square dance,” but more like “Is it really square dance that you hate?”.

As Americans, we have love/hate relationships with a lot of things, it seems: credit cards, immigrants, health care, social media … one writer went so far as to proclaim that America has a love/hate relationship with itself. In reality, I suppose, human beings as a whole have trouble deciding how they feel about things at any given time. That’s the way we’re wired.

Of course, there are somethings we absolutely love, for the most part: ice cream. Puppies. Three-day weekends. And there are things we hate, too, by and large: Snakes. Funerals. Traffic.

And square dance?

Is it the dance itself? Or is it the memories attached to it? If you’re Of A Certain Age, you remember: Fourth or fifth grade. Cold gymnasium. Clammy hands. Dry throat. Girls lined up on one side, boys on the other. Switching places with Bobby Whatshisname, so he would be partnered with his girlfriend.

If the numbers didn’t come out even—and did they ever?—the last few got stuck with a same-gender partner. Girls didn’t like it, but they could get away with it. If there were too many boys, though? Let’s just say this was long before the age of rainbows and pride parades.

And then it was tripping, slipping, giggling with embarrassment … and even for those of us who ended up as aficionados, there was a lot of praying for class to Just. Be. Over.

More than a few of us, I’d venture, felt a little traumatized by mandatory elementary square dance lessons. But stop and consider for a moment: exactly what part of phys ed DIDN’T have at least the potential for humiliation?

Certainly, there were those who were blessed with athleticism. Or grace. Or simply the ability to take their weak areas and turn them into entertainment (hey, if you make people laugh, they’re not laughing at you, right?). But for the rest of us, PE was kind of a formal recess with a whistle-blowing dictator.

So why blame it all on square dancing?

OK, sure, square dancing did have that forced-partner thing going on…that did make things worse, I’ll admit. But again I ask: was it the dancing itself? Or is it more that when you think of square dancing, it throws you back to a time where you’re standing against a bland block wall, waiting for the record player to start and trying to dry your palms on your t-shirt?

I apologize.

I mean, it wasn’t my fault: I was a victim, too. But on the behalf of hundreds of coaches across the country—none of which gave me permission to speak on their behalf, and a great many of which I assume are dancing with St. Peter by now—I’d like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you were traumatized. I’m sorry that there wasn’t an equal gender divide in your class. I’m sorry the gym smelled so bad.

Mostly, I’m sorry that your experience has soured you on the idea of square dance. There were actually good reasons TO have square dancing as part of a PE curriculum: if handled correctly, it could help teach grace, stimulate the mind, encourage (not force) social interaction … and it really is good exercise.

But it wasn’t handled correctly, most of the time. Handling children correctly wasn’t even a thing back then: we were kids, we did as we were told, end of story. I’m glad that for the most part, we’re coming out of that way of thinking. It was a harsh way to grow up. It was.

Sadly, our experiences as kids have all too often caused us to miss out on things as adults. Think about that the next time you tell someone you hate square dancing. Do you? Do your really hate square dance?

Think for a moment about the question. The answer might surprise you.

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