Square Dancing and Banjo Playing

Murphy Henry

Murphy Henry

I’ve discovered square dancing (modern square dancing—circle up four couples) and have fallen in love with it! I started taking lessons last September and at first it was no big deal. Fun, but I didn’t obsess about it.

Then, in December, my new square dancing friends Marion and Tony pestered me into going to a real dance. OMG (as we say now), it was so much fun! So then we went to a dance the next weekend, and soon we were going every Friday and Saturday night. This on top of the now THREE lessons we were taking every week. Obsessed? Just a little bit!  (I even wrote a gospel Square Dance Song that you can listen to right here and download for free!)

So what does this have to do with learning the banjo?

Well, with square dancing, once again I found myself in the role of student. Sure, I knew some of the basic moves (from a college PE class!): do-si-do, allemande left, right and left grand, head ladies chain. But “make a wave”? “Boy run around the girl”? “Allemande Thar”? (What’s a “thar”?) “Flutterwheel”? And their definitions of “shoot the star” and “cloverleaf” weren’t anything like what we did in Georgia where we circled up just four people (two couples) and buck-danced like crazy the whole time.

So, I’d learn something at the Thursday lesson, go home, not think about it all week, come back the next Thursday only to find I’d completely forgotten it! (Does that sound familiar?) And believe me, I don’t like not knowing how to do stuff. I want to be the one in the square who is helping everybody else! Luckily at the classes we have seasoned dancers (“Angels”) who help pull us through when we have a brain lapse.

Then Tony, a new dancer who seemed to really know what he was doing, told me he was studying the calls on line and learning the definitions of the calls. So I went on line and started studying, too. I’d fill up notebooks with the definitions of calls. I even made diagrams! But that, for me, was about like trying to learn to play banjo from tablature. I could quote you the definition of Spin Chain Through [turn half by the right, ¾ by the left, centers trade, ¾ by the left], but I couldn’t dance it. On the dance floor, there was no time to think! (Does that remind you of jamming?)

The only thing that helped me was—guess what? Getting out and dancing with other people. And the repetitions that come with that. By the time a two-hour dance was over, I had done “Pass the Ocean” so many times that I finally figured out I needed to grab the oncoming girl by the left hand and—hello!—Make A Wave! And the definitions? They are finally starting to make sense now—but only because I can (usually!) dance the moves.

You can see where this is going, right? It’s the third P. PWOP: Play With Other People. Or for me it is DWOP: Dance With Other People. You just have to get out there and do it. It helps if you’re obsessed....and if you have some friends like Tony and Marion to urge you along and join you on the journey.

3 thoughts on “Square Dancing and Banjo Playing

  1. Travis Cook

    As a young caller (and beginning Banjo Student) from KY, Welcome to the world of Square Dancing! Glad your enjoying it! We really need more people in the hobby, at least in my area. It’s beginning to die out, unfortunately.

  2. Steve Fehr

    Hmmmpfff….And I thought DWOP was for Drink with other people! Boy…I would’ve felt totally out of place showing up with beer and everyone was square dancing instead.

  3. Patty

    And, in the role of student, you seem to be experiencing great joy in learning (and succeeding at) a new hobby. Any other banjo students experiencing that joy? I know I am!

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