By Mary Ellen Green
Grab a partner and do-si-do your way down to St. Andrew’s Kirk Hall for a hoedown Halloween with the “Boo”grass Scare Dance.
A group of young oldtime and bluegrass musicians in town are trying to scare up support for the square dancing movement, beginning with a Halloween dance for all ages.
“I think people have these memories of being a sweaty-palmed 16-year-old in the school gym for their first square dance, but we want to show young people that square dancing is really fun,” says event organizer Damian Ritchie, fiddle player from local bluegrass/oldtime band The Stowaways.
Ritchie, along with bandmate Colin Boland (vocals, guitar), attended the Portland Oldtime Music Gathering where the traditional folk dance is a major part of the week’s events. The square dancing scene is alive and well with young adults in the U.S. Pacific Northwest, says Ritchie.
“There were hundreds of people and pretty girls everywhere,” says Boland. “And so many of them had that old-timey sparkle in their eyes.”
Ritchie was inspired to organize the event after attending a dance at the B.C. Bluegrass Workshop in Sorrento with Shanti Bremer, banjo player with the Sweet Lowdown. “We were talking about how great it would be to revitalize the square dancing scene in town and one of us said ‘boograss,’ then the other said ‘scare dance.’ Then we realized that with a name like that we just had to do it.”
The evening will feature live high energy acoustic music by four local bands; The Stowaways, The Moonshiners, The Sweet Lowdown and The Sirens, as well as an open jam. Callers from the mainland and the Island will be in attendance to teach each dance before it begins.
“The movement is fun and not too serious,” says Craig Marcuk, who’s been calling dances for the last year. “If you screw up, no worries, just wait and it will start all over again.”
Marcuk says square dancing is also good for the body, mind and spirit. “You get your body moving, your mind is challenged and your spirit is lifted when you’re dancing with people from all generations.”
Ritchie agrees. “Once you’ve been in a square, suddenly you have seven new friends. It’s kind of like riding a chairlift together, but totally different,” he says with a chuckle.
But square dancing is no stranger to Victoria. In fact, the oldest continuously dancing club in Canada is right here and is about to celebrate its 60th anniversary, says Lorne Clayton, caller for The Mavericks Square Dance Club. “There are about 10 clubs in town and dances happening at least a couple nights a week.”
Bert Buckley, treasurer of the established Country Cousins Square Dance Club says membership is on the decline. “One of the problems we’re facing right now is that there’s no club in town for the 30-year-olds. If you look at most of the clubs in town, the membership is mostly in their 50s, 60s and 70s.”
But that is about to change. Ritchie and his cohorts are working to establish the Young Oldtime Dance and Music Association, which is hosting jams at the Solstice Cafe every Wednesday night from 6 to 9 p.m. all winter long. They’re hoping to raise enough money with the scare dance to host three dances a year. M