For more than a half a century, Chilliwack’s Rhythm Reelers (CRR) have been helping anyone willing to strap on some dancing shoes learn the swirly-twirly art of square- and round dancing. With this month marking the club’s 63rd birthday, they’re planning to celebrate in style with a dancepalooza for all members and surrounding clubs on Jan. 19.
“It’s going to be fun,” says Steve Armstrong, club president. “Some people will be all dressed up, we’ll dance, and … it’ll just be a great time.”
While its history dates back to 15th-century Europe, what we think of today as square dancing actually got its start in the 1800s when American settlers altered the ballroom dances of their ancestors. And although they kept some of the language—allemande, for example—they replaced the need to memorize steps with callers providing dance cues. This created an enthralling group dancing experience full of a playfulness and whimsy that can’t be found elsewhere.
“It’s a really wonderful thing,” Armstrong says of the dancing club. As retirees, he and his wife were looking for something to do together that would keep them active. After promenading and do-si-doing for a few lessons, they were hooked and have been members of the Reelers ever since. He says dancing in a club environment helps keep them young, builds lasting connections with people “and challenges you both physically and emotionally.”
But, Armstrong points out, the Reelers are all about accessibility. “We want people of all ages and skill levels to join the club.” Starting Jan. 11, the CRR will be hosting a fresh session of their beginner classes at Greendale Community Elementary School. Running every Thursday evening from 7:00 until 9:00 p.m., the lessons will prepare dancers to join the more advanced gatherings. Lessons are $5 a night, “but the first three are free,” notes Armstrong.
Once a dancer has graduated from the beginner classes, they’re able to become a full member and join the Tuesday gatherings. Membership costs $35 a year, with an $8 drop-in fee for every dance night attended.
With 72 basic moves, and almost 50 more at higher levels, combined with the unique personality of each caller, there’s no shortage of fun and challenging musical maneuvers in square dancing. And while there’s no requirement to dress the part, the option is there if you want. Armstrong says the club hosts several sales throughout the year where used square dancing clothing can be purchased “at rock-bottom prices.”
At its core, square dancing is about having a good time. It’s not a competition, anyone of any age and skill can partake: it’s about camaraderie, helping those around you, and team work.”If you mess up, all eight dancers suffer. So we’re always ready to help, teach, and support our community members,” Armstrong says. “It’s what we do.”