West County Spinners – Not Your Grandmother’s Square Dance Group
On the first and third Mondays of each month, the West County Spinners host an evening of Square and Round Dancing at Trinity Lutheran Church in Chesterfield. With membership currently around 100, these bi-monthly gatherings are full of activity, music, exercise, dancing and, most importantly, friendship.The music for these dances was a little unexpected, not including a single fiddle tune throughout the evening. Club Co-President Cathy Hall advises that is by design and points out that contemporary music is used as often as possible, including hits by Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga. As Hall points out, “This is not your Grandmother’s Square Dance group.”
Founded in 1981 by two McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company employees, Earl Kinsey and Roy Winter Jr., the group began with 12 couples including the founders and their wives, Lorraine Kinsey and Ginny Winters. For 25 years the Spinners called St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church in Creve Coeur home, but as their numbers grew a larger venue was required. In 2007 the group moved to Trinity Lutheran Church in Chesterfield, located on Clayton Road at Highway 141.
The West County Spinners are the largest of 10 groups of Square Dancers in the metro region. All of these groups take great care to coordinate and interact with each other in an effort to offer dancing on as many nights of the week as possible. All groups are members of the St. Louis Metro Square and Round Dance Association, as well as the Missouri Federation of Square and Round Dance Clubs.
Doors open at 7:00 p.m. and, if you are early enough, you will witness a flurry of activity as all members pitch in to ready the hall by putting out more than 100 chairs, assembling registration tables and setting out a huge “pot luck” dessert table featuring home made items brought in by members. The majority of these folks are extremely welcoming and friendly, and although it’s obvious that many have known each other for years, you will feel at home within minutes and accepted as a member of the group.
The roots of Square Dancing can be traced back to the 16th century in the forms of Contras, Irish Jigs, Quadrilles, the Minuet and many other European Folk dances. As immigrants brought these dancing traditions to North America these dances evolved and by the early 1800s had transformed into something resembling modern day Square Dancing. By the mid 19th century the art form had become a mainstay of American life and enjoyed acclaim throughout the nation. Square Dancing is recognized as our National Folk Dance with thirty seven states, including Missouri, naming Square Dancing as their official state dance. Although the genre has had it’s ups and downs in popularity over the past 200 years, the tradition endures and enjoys international notoriety to this day.
The dance is an impromptu yet choreographed routine using four couples in a square formation, one couple on each side and all facing the middle of the square. A “caller” will lead the dancers through a series of instructions set to music, providing direction and guiding the group through a routine. Calls can come in any order and are dealt out at the pleasure of the caller, so participants must pay attention as no two songs will ever be danced the same.
The caller for this event was the internationally known Tom Roper, an upbeat luminary of Square Dance patter with a lilting, infectious voice. Roper travels full time from April to October, calling for square dances around the world. His official winter residence is Mesa, Arizona where he holds a steady gig calling for Tower Point Resort, a hometown resort community in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains.
After a few tunes have been danced in square formation, the Round Dancers then take the floor for a couple of songs. Round and Square dancing are similar in that cues are provided by a “Cuer,” in this case by Bob & Gerry Tevlin, leading the group through a long series of dance steps. Also referred to as “choreographed ballroom dancing,” Round dancing is danced by any number of couples in a large circle.
Although the West County Spinners provide assurances that Square Dancing is easy to learn, it is necessary to obtain instruction before participating at one of these dances. The group is currently taking registration for their fall classes, beginning on September 12 and running for 12 weeks. The class will cover the basics of Square Dancing, and there are advanced level classes available for experienced dancers. These same classes are offered through St. Louis Community College for credit. Basic instruction classes will be held on Tuesday nights at 7 p.m.
In 2003 the New England Journal of Medicine reported that stimulating the mind by dancing can ward off Alzheimer’s disease and other dementia, just as physical exercise keeps the body fit. Many home schooled children in the area will use these same classes to obtain Physical Education credits. Research using pedometers has shown that Square Dancers can cover as much as five miles in distance during a single evening.
To learn more about the West County Spinners, or to enroll in fall classes, please visit their website at www.westcountyspinners.com.