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Square dancers hoof it at the 53rd annual International Square & Round & Clogging Convention Saturday at the Jamestown Civic Center. (Kari Lucin / The Sun)

Square dancers go round and round at Civic Center

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The calls have changed in the 45 years Marv and Lois Olson of Sisseton, S.D., have been square dancing, but the fun they have hasn't changed one bit.

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And even though attendance at the 53rd International Square & Round Dance & Clogging Convention in Jamestown over the weekend was down, there were still plenty of people enjoying the event.

"The more you learned about it, the more fun it got to be," Marv said of the couple's hobby.

They hadn't intended to get into square dancing, although they'd done some exhibition dancing and danced in 4-H before.

"My boss talked us into it, even got us a baby sitter," Marv said.

And then they were off and dancing, taking 14 lessons to learn the calls. In 45 years, they've danced all over the Midwest, and further afield, from Mexico to Canada.

"The main thing is to listen. It's good physical and mental (exercise)," said Judy Londrie-Boomgaarden, of Keokuk, Iowa, who attended the convention with her husband, George Boomgaarden, of Mission, Texas.

George proposed to Judy at a Valentine's Day square dance "on stage, on my knees," he said.

At that dance there were 40 squares, with eight people each -- 320 people total.

Square dancing numbers have been declining. Peak attendance for the International Square & Round Dance & Clogging Convention was about 1,500 in 1991, in Rapid City, S.D. Peak attendance for Jamestown hosting it was 1,206 in 1978 -- compared to the 153 registered participants this year.

"Young people are hard to convince that it's fun," Lois said. "... they were so busy going to school for various events ... it's kind of hard to make time."

George attributed some of the loss to young people having so many other activities to choose from.

Square dancing, however, is a family-friendly activity, and although it can be difficult to get people to give it a try, people often find it fun when they do.

"The best method? Find a couple and take them to supper, and then tell them 'we're going to go dancing afterward,'" Lois said.

The health benefits of dancing are real, too, she added, pointing out that if a person went to one dance and did nothing but square dance all night, he or she would have danced three miles by the end of the evening.

The activity is equally good for singles as for couples, George said, calling it "real clean, good entertainment."

And though costumes aren't necessary, and some choose to dance in ordinary clothes, many dancers find them fun.

For women, the square dancing outfit typically involves a skirt somewhere around knee-length -- longer or shorter depending on preference -- with lots of ruffled petticoats and petti-pants underneath.

The blouse matches the skirt, and often features ruffles or lace.

"I make mine now. When I first started, I went to eBay," Judy said.

It takes about eight yards of material to make an outfit, but it might cost $150 to buy one.

"I feel prettier in square dance clothes, and then I dance better," Judy added.

At first glance, men don't seem dressed up at all. But many of them wear shirts that match their partners' outfits, perhaps with a bit of embroidery. Some elect to wear a matching tie or a matching vest instead.

"You like to make something every year, because the colors change," Lois said.

Dancing shoes vary too, with some women wearing high heels and others just going with what's comfortable.

"We'll take you in slacks and tennis shoes," Lois said with a smile.

For information about Jamestown's square dancing group, the Jamestown Square Steppers, call its president, John Walch, at 701-952-8570.

Sun reporter Kari Lucin can be reached at 701-952-8453

or by email at klucin@jamestownsun.com

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Kari Lucin
Kari Lucin joined the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia producer in August 2014. Previously, she worked for a few years at the Jamestown Sun in Jamestown, N.D., as a staff writer, and prior to that, for about six years as staff writer and later online content coordinator, at the Daily Globe in Worthington, Minn. A graduate of Jackson County Central High School and Augsburg College, she has a bachelor's degree in philosophy and English. Find more of her writing at her blog, Oh Look, a Shiny Thing! or on Twitter at @karilucin.
(701) 780-1119
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