The square dance music and callers’ chant filled the choice hotel lobby of Westin Chicago Northwest, where for three days more than 800 enthusiasts gathered to learn, dance and socialize.
With square dance club names like Chi-Town Squares, Acey Duceys and Sashay Strutters, 40 groups attended the 31st Illinois Square & Round Dance Convention Friday to Sunday.
Dancers came from Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Arizona and North Carolina, as well as participants from Japan.
Janice Cha, head of lessons for the 65-year-old Glenview Squares, said square dancing was “soduko for your feet.”
“With seven other people in your square, it can get really complicated, but if done right like you’re supposed to, you end up in the same starting place,” said Cha, who learned the moves in the early 1990s while teaching English in Wokohama, Japan.
Three levels of dance steps of complexity were in square dancing — basic, main and plus, — she explained, and getting to plus required knowing more than 100 steps from a person calling them.
“Calls are like a football quarterback calling the plays, telling the players what to do like allemande left and allemande right, relay the deucy, load the boat and box the gnat,” said Cha, of Morton Grove.
The-three day convention included classes, workshops and instructions on line dancing, contra dancing and calling.
Carolyn and Bob Lopez of Park Ridge joined the Glenview Squares in 2007.
“I was into square dancing years ago in South Chicago it its heyday in the late ’70s and early ’80s. It was really popular back then because of the movie “Urban Cowboy” and country western singers,” Bob said.
Several dancers said the fun of joining clubs was new and long friendships.
“There could be 15 squares of dancers on the floor and I’d know most of them,” Carolyn said.
The convention’s featured caller was Tony Oxendine, co-owner of Maggie Valley Square Dance Vacations at Pride RV Resort, Maggie Valley, North Carolina.
On Saturday, the State Council of Illinois Square Dance Associations met for its annual meeting.
Many dancers attending the convention belonged to the 1,100-member Metropolitan Chicago Association of Square Dancers that organizes events for 22 clubs in five Chicago area counties.
Evanston resident Bruce Holmes has taught folk dancing, as well as English and Scottish country dancing, but said square dancing was the most fun.
“Square dancing is misunderstood, like it’s dancing to ‘Hee Haw’ music,” he said, referring to the 1970s country music and comedy television show on CBS-TV.
“It takes intelligence because it’s complex. People don’t know how cool it is,” he said.
“When you succeed at doing a dance, it makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something in a group, and the square dancing community is very friendly,” added Mary Jo Frankel, of Deerfield.
A dancer for 30 years, Karen Dilley has competed in ballroom dancing contests in Florida, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Las Vegas.
“Square dancing is all in 4-4 rhythm, but within it can be highs, lows, emotions and musicality, which is the expression of dancing,” said Dilley, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin.
At the convention, Dilley taught a “smoothing workshop,” that helped people enjoy and feel more comfortable about dancing.
“Above all, you can take a non-dancer, introduce them to square dancing and the music and it becomes so infectious. You can instill musicality in them and they become alive.”
She also emphasized the music for square dancing had changed in recent years to more contemporary, such as rock, as dancers in her workshop stepped and swung to Michael Jackson hits.
Shozo Isobe first square danced as a student in Japan, and he’s been to the Chicago area three times for square dancing events.
“I’ve been dancing for 54 years, and the popularity of it in Japan is about the same as the United States,” he said.