Square dancers swing into 50th year

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 28, 2001

&uot;Do-si-do, and away they go.

Sunday, October 28, 2001

&uot;Do-si-do, and away they go.&uot; Ballroom dancing in area pavilions may have nearly faded away; yet there’s one form of this musical activity which is still an important part of life for area couples and singles: square dancing.

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This month the members of the Grapevine Twist Square Dance Club are observing their 50th anniversary. And during the past five decades the club members have held their lively dances at several locations in and around Albert Lea.

A club history in the 1988 Freeborn County Heritage book written by Mrs. Elwood Hestness says Grapevine Twist was organized by employees of the Universal Milking Machine Division. This part of National Cooperatives had been moved from Milwaukee to Albert Lea. In the late 1940s and early ’50s square dancing, a type of American folk dancing based on four couples in a square formation was very popular. The company sponsored several square dances for its employees.

Ray Wendel, a project engineer for the Universal firm, was the caller. He was the person who controlled how the couples moved around the floor for these dancers and other groups in the area. Several dances were held in Hollandale, Hayward and the Morin Park tennis courts.

On Sept. 12, 1951, a meeting at the Wendel home resulted in the formation of the Grapevine Twist Square Dance Club. The first club officers, according to Hestness, were Dutch Van Proosdy, Eva Hill, Harry Schuyler and Bob Feeley.

From 1951 to August 1956 the club members held their dances at the Riceland Township Hall in Lerdal.

Hestness wrote, &uot;They danced every Saturday night until April 1952 when they established first, third and fifth Saturdays. Square dancing was relatively new in the area and the members learned the hard way, for there were no classes at that time. … The club outgrew its quarters at Lerdal and moved to the sixth floor of the Lea Center Building in August 1969 and changed to second, fourth and fifth Saturdays. They moved to the YM-YWCA (Family Y) in March 1977 …&uot;

Present officers of the Grapevine Twist Square Dance Club are: presidents, Allen and Millie Paulson of Ellendale; vice presidents, Bud and Doris Janssen of Northwood, Iowa; and treasurers, Floran and Connie Peters of Albert Lea.

For the past four years or so the club members have been doing their square dancing at the Sons of Norway Lodge. These events take place on the second, fourth and fifth Saturdays of the month from 8-10:30 p.m. There are no dances the weeks of Christmas, New Year’s and Easter.

This type of dancing is based on the formation of four couples in a square with two head couples and two side couples.

The dancing consists of MS, or main stream, which consists of 50 to 60 moves based on the caller. Near the end of the evening a &uot;one plus&uot; adds another 20 moves. There are also line and round dances.

After the dancing sessions are completed, the evening ends with a potluck, pie night, or several variations of food and/or refreshments.

The Grapevine Twist club is a member of the southeast division of the Square Dance Federation of Minnesota, This division consists of six clubs in Rochester, two clubs in Owatonna, and clubs in Faribault, Kenyon, Dover, La Crosse, Wis., and Albert Lea.

Earl and Irene Christensen of Albert Lea have been square dancers since 1984. He says there are about 40 couples presently participating in Grapevine Twist organization activities.

&uot;You take lessons for about four months to learn the calls and moves,&uot; Earl explained. &uot;Then when the caller calls a move, you just do it.&uot;

Millie Paulson adds that this reaction to whatever the caller calls just becomes automatic for the couples.

Music for the square dancing, plus line and round dances, is provided with recordings. The callers at the Grapevine Twist events include Les LaLone of Hawkeye, Iowa, Wayne Kubicek of Owatonna, and Mary Mehus of Northwood, Iowa.

Clothing worn by the square dancers have reflected several fashion trends through the years. For the women, skirts with petticoats and full dresses serve as distinctive dance wear. The men tend to use western-type shirts, denim pants and bolo ties.

Both Christensen and Paulson said couples and singles are welcome to participate and should come to the Sons of Norway barn west of Albert Lea on dance nights to get more information.

The club promotes square dancing with demonstrations at malls, fairs, in retirement homes, at fraternal organizations, and with their special float which appears in at least six parades a year in south Minnesota and north Iowa.

And as one sign on the float proclaims, members of this 50-year-old club continue to &uot;Swing Into Shape With Square Dancing.&uot;