Arts Desk

It Doesn’t Get More Wholesome Than This: Square Dancing at St. Stephens

What could possibly be dorkier than square dancing? Frilly his ‘n’ hers matching outfits, endless do-si-dos, a sea of white hair—if you know almost nothing about the dance form, you at least know it just about defines cheesiness.

Enter the DC Square Dance Collective, a newish group that’s determined to turn around square dancing’s serious PR problem—and bring regularly scheduled dances to the District’s masses, including one tomorrow night at St. Stephen’s Church in Columbia Heights.

The first thing to know is this: that whole stylized, gussied-up form that comes to mind when you think of square dancing? It’s actually Western square dancing, which wasn’t developed until the 1950s and requires a fair amount of experience to do. Traditional square dancing—on the menu for Saturday night—has been around much longer and is still common all over the South, particularly in the southern Appalachians. It’s a lot like contra dancing, its northern sibling, where dancers weave in and out of various partnering formations using a limited number of steps. And no prior experience is needed: Callers walk dancers through the steps before each song.

Bradley Kennedy, one of the collective’s founding members, said the group got its feet wet with some one-off dances and house parties last year that wound up being very popular, “so we knew there was a demand.” Indeed: the first official dance this past February garnered some 200 attendees, and others since then have been similarly crowded.

The best part might be the accompaniment, which is reliably a live band playing southern Appalachian old time music, the precursor to bluegrass. Saturday night will feature the Capitol Possum Hunters, a five-piece band that includes two fiddlers and a banjo player.

And yeah, you can break out those denim overalls if you’ve been itching for a chance to finally wear them. But according to Kennedy, don’t sweat the sartorial stuff: It’s really just about the dancing.

The Great American Square Dance Revival is Saturday night at 8:30 pm at St. Stephen’s Church, 1525 Newton Street NW. $5.

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