Carla Roberts of Wild West Squares wants to teach you how to square dance.
The Durango resident teaches classes in town and in Pagosa Springs and has been a caller – a person who announces specific dance steps for dancers to follow during a song – for about eight years. Roberts, along with her students of Wild West Squares program and Six Dollar String Band, will hold a dance at the Florida Grange on Saturday night for both seasoned square dancers and complete newbies.
The road to Wild West SquaresRoberts said that when she retired from her career as a professional musician who specialized in folk instruments from around the world and started learning to dance, she realized the skills a caller has are very similar to what she had as a musician.
“You have to be able to sing, you have to have rhythm – it’s very important to have good rhythm. You have to be able to improvise,” she said. “The way I look at it is, it’s almost like being a director of a music group because the dancers are ... you’re working together as a team.”
During her 35-year career, Roberts also spent time working with children, another skill that works with calling, she said.
“I shared a unique situation, which also transfers to the square dance calling, in that my music partner and I, although we did private parties and concerts and things like that, we really specialized in working with kids. We had one of the top school assembly programs, educational programs, in the Western states based out of California,” she said. “It gave me a unique skill set that developed over the years of handling large groups of children: how to deal with an audience, how to keep them with you. I have taught music and dance as well over the years, and I absolutely love teaching.”
Roberts said becoming a caller requires instruction, and only then are you considered eligible to join a professional callers’ organization.
“I’ve had lots and lots of wonderful teachers everywhere from local- to national-level callers. I’ve gone to a lot of special trainings in other states,” she said. “Once you get a certain amount of experience, then you’re eligible to get your membership in one of the national organizations that you can legally use music and have insurance.”
Square danceSquare dancing’s history dates back to Europe and the country dances from the British Isles, Roberts said. Each area had its own specific style of dance, which changed over time.
“Square dance used to be very regional, so that one area would have certain dances that were memorized or very simplified styles of square dancing that they knew in that region. And if they went to another town, they may not even know the same steps,” she said. “So, at some point, when it became popularized after almost dying out, the people that were trying to regenerate square dancing, one of the first things they realized is they needed to make it something where everyone was learning the same steps.”
Modern Western square dancing stems from that idea of really making it uniform, Roberts said, adding that no matter where in the world it’s called, it’s always called in English.
Along with the dance’s tradition, there are benefits to learning how to do the do-si-do and promenade, Roberts said.
“Square dancing is probably one of the most healthy activities you can do as well. There are more and more studies coming out about dancing, and square dancing in particular, is a wonderful way to have a sense of community, a positive community, as you’re doing something that’s really good for you,” she said. “The way that I teach, specifically, I’m developing new techniques of teaching that really focus on challenging incrementally the students so that they are using their bodies in a more fluid fashion.”
As far as the evolution of square dancing, Roberts said young people will be the key to the tradition’s longevity, something she’s working on with Wild West Squares.
“Square dance is at a very interesting place right now. It’s not as popular as it was in the heyday, which was post-World War II when we had the baby boom happening and couples were looking for something wholesome to do,” Roberts said. “Our average age is probably in the early 80s, but it is square dance that is probably going to be changing as we go into the future because we need that infusion of a younger age group, and kids, when they figure out how fun it is – it really is a blast for young people. And it’s also a challenge – they get really excited about it, so, one of my goals is to introduce square dancing to a younger audience.”
On Saturday night, the Florida Grange will throw open its doors for the Dance Party and Concert.
“I do this periodically. It’s the first time in Durango I’ve done one of these with the Six Dollar String Band,” Roberts said. “I use them as my music for a simple teaching session where I teach a group some beginning steps, but enough so they are comfortable and they can have a really good time without being overwhelmed. The Six Dollar String Band are such superb, high-energy musicians, I just love working with them.”
No partner? No problem, Roberts said. “We are very, very single-friendly,” she said, adding that participants do not need to be professional dancers, either.“No experience is needed at all. This is just a really simple, fun party atmosphere introduction. People come as they are, dressed however they feel like it, casual.”
Along with the live music, Roberts said there will also be a square dance fashion show.
“I love collecting vintage square dance dresses – some of them are very fancy. They’re getting harder and harder to find,” she said. “Some of our students have volunteered to model them as they dance.”