Square dance brings participants together in American tradition, community collaboration

As a college student, it may seem out of the ordinary to find yourself square dancing on a Saturday evening surrounded by people of many ages, but that unique charm is what made the Geneseo String Band Square Dance so enjoyable. 

Sponsored by the Department of Music, the biannual dance held on Saturday Nov. 4 attracted an audience of many participants ranging in age, skill and background. The MacVittie College Union Ballroom was filled with children, college students and senior citizens, all with varying experiences in the art of square dance. 

The Geneseo String Band Square Dance has been tradition at the college for quite some time, and has been held for nearly 30 years, according to lecturer of music and leader of the Geneseo String Band Jim Kimball. 

Like in the past, the band welcomed a guest caller to the stage to help Kimball with organization of the dance. Geneseo alumna Carol McClellan called a part of a song and brought along her two children to help the string band play some of their tunes. 

The event has been so successful for such a long stretch of time because of its open atmosphere; anyone can join in and dance regardless of their knowledge of the style. 

“This kind of square dancing is free in the sense that mistakes don’t matter, improvisation doesn’t matter,” Kimball said. “But it is organized in a sense … it’s just a friendly, fun way to spend a Saturday evening, and of course it is so much a part of American tradition.” 

Square dancing was popular back in the mid-1800s during the Civil War, according to Kimball. It remained prominent until the early 20th century, when it eventually became less frequently practiced, especially by college students. 

Americans in the rural countryside kept the dance alive and it “never quite disappeared,” returning in a major way leading into World War II because of the influx of American patriotism, according to Kimball. As opposed to the “bar scene” that may seem intimidating, “people were discovering [square dancing] is a nice, wholesome sort of activity for anybody,” Kimball said. 

After World War II, square dancing became exceedingly popular in Central and Western New York. A large part of the audience on Saturday evening was made up of people who were also a part of the mainstream square dancing audience of the 1950s and 1960s, according to Kimball. There were some attendees, however, who were not as skilled at square dancing as others.

English major junior Jonah Goldstein attended the event for the first time and was surprised he never previously explored the art more in depth. 

“Square dancing brings people together in a way that no other shape of dancing really can,” Goldstein said. “The only time that I can really remember square dancing was in elementary school, and if I’ve square danced before, I guess it wasn’t that memorable.”

Another exciting part of the night was the blending of different cultures amongst the dancers. 

“This particular event is different from many on campus in that it actively mixes up people with different ages and backgrounds,” Kimball said. “You get the old-time dairy farmer over here and a physics major over here and they’re all dancing in a square together.”

Childhood special education and piano performance double major junior Taylor Chiola was a first-time attendee and enjoyed the friendly atmosphere. 

“The variety in the audience makes it so much better. I like it so much because it feels like a real community thing and it’s more fun in my opinion,” Chiola said. “You have people who really know what they’re doing, but you have people who don’t have a clue what they’re doing and I like the mix. It fills up the room.” 

Despite some conflicting hockey games or bad weather, Kimball noticed that people prevail and come back year after year. 

“It continues to have an attraction for a certain group of people and we try to attract more,” Kimball said. 

As shown by the high attendance and engaged audience at the event, the Geneseo String Band Square Dance continues to be a lively tradition loved by the Geneseo community.u

 The biannual Geneseo String Band Square Dance was held on the evening of Saturday Nov. 4 in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom. Members of the community and the college were all drawn to the event and danced the night away. (Hannah McSorley/Staff Photographer)

The biannual Geneseo String Band Square Dance was held on the evening of Saturday Nov. 4 in the MacVittie College Union Ballroom. Members of the community and the college were all drawn to the event and danced the night away. (Hannah McSorley/Staff Photographer)