Square dancing is a kind of terpsichorean geometry. Eight people turn into four couples, who create a square by facing each other on two axes. The music starts and a caller directs the couples’ moves, using formulas — dosado, pass the ocean, sashay left, circulate, ferris wheel, and dozens more. People who were motionless moments before swing into action using the formulas as a map, and the dance floor comes alive.
But it’s a lot easier to think of square dancing another way, said Beth Rohrer: “I can’t think of any other activity that has so much laughter.”
Rohrer, of Wilmette, knows what she’s talking about. She’s a member of the North Shore Squares square dance club, which began with just 29 members in 2017. Since then, and despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, it now has 90 from throughout the North Shore, and offers dances in Evanston, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Highland Park and Skokie.
Dan Kaberon, North Shore Square’s current president, said the club welcomes new members, and offers classes for those who want to enter the world of square dancing.
Club members held their final summer dance on Aug. 8 at the Kenilworth Assembly Hall. As they celebrated with an ice-cream social before the dance, veteran and freshman club members talked about the draw of their chosen hobby.
Evanston resident Laura Lash and her husband Jim are founding members of North Shore Squares. Jim likened the lure of square dancing to the satisfaction of solving a puzzle with the collaboration of fellow dancers, while Laura said square dancing is “A great way for adults to play and to have fun.”
Fellow Evanstonians Katherine and Gary Peterson are at the other end of the square dance spectrum, having just completed 19 weeks of instruction, but they fully agreed.
“It was challenging to learn. But it’s fun when it’s working,” Gary Peterson said, before adding, “And it’s fun when it isn’t working.”
Kathy Kaberon concurred: “Not only is it fun, it’s nice when you do it well, and it’s a lot of fun when you mess up.” That has a lot to do with the sense of community within the club, she said.
Messing up is by no means rare, even among longtime dancers. Learning and dancing both require participants to pay attention to what the caller directs them to do, and to pay attention to what members of their square are doing. Kathy Kaberon likened that to the discipline of meditation, saying, “You can’t be thinking of anything else.”
On paper, square dancing — in the case of many local clubs, including North Shore Squares, that means a branch of the art known as modern square dancing — might look a little daunting.
Dan Kaberon explained that beginning dancers learn 50 basic calls that they can then obey for the most basic level of the pastime, generally called social square dancing. Enthusiasts can then learn about 50 other more elaborate calls, which lands them in so-called “plus” territory. The number of calls to learn increases at higher levels, and the learning curve takes time.
Despite that seemingly intimidating framework, including some old-fashioned terms (like calling couples “boys” and “girls”), modern square dancing is extremely relaxed, North Shore Squares members said. Dancers don’t need to come with a partner, because they can find partners at the dance, and couples can be of any gender.
Therrin Ricks, of Chicago, a friend of the club and member of the Chi-Town Squares, is a caller as well as a dancer. He compared calls to a language and said every club develops its own way of using the calls.
On Aug. 8, Ricks acted as a brief guest caller. He and regular caller Dave Mischler, of Evanston, alternated between social square dances and plus dances, giving everyone in the club a chance to swing their partners.
Above his calls, and the music accompanying them, was the laughter of people having fun.
North Shore Squares offers beginner lessons twice a year starting in August and January. This year, sessions start Aug. 29 at the Levy Center, 300 Dodge Ave. in Evanston, and on Aug. 31 at the Community Recreation Center, 3000 Glenview Road in Wilmette.
For people thinking of taking up square dancing, North Shore Squares offers one free class; the next free sessions are Aug. 20 and 24, at the Wilmette Community Recreation Center, and Aug. 22 at the Levy Center. Once dancers have graduated, they can join in the club’s monthly dances, held the second Saturday of every month, from Sept. 9 to May 11, 2024, at St. John’s Church, 1235 Wilmette Ave. in Wilmette.
Learn more about North Shore Squares and square dancing at www.northshoresquares.com.
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Kathy Routliffe reported in Chicago's near and North Shore suburbs (including Wilmette) for more than 35 years, covering municipal and education beats. Her work, including feature writing, has won local and national awards. She is a native of Nova Scotia, Canada.