To Al and Charlene Fahsbender, square dancing and RVing fit together like, well, like good dance partners – a neat, easy pairing of two favorite, family-friendly pastimes.
“I grew up around old-fashioned square dancing, and Al and I have always camped,” explained Charlene Fahsbender, of Illinois. So the Fahsbenders blended their interests, joining the National Square Dance Campers Association in 1973. With over 175 chapters in 39 states and provinces in Canada, the organization offers a social/recreational outlet for about 4,000 like-minded people. Members are drawn to the camaraderie, the dancing and the generally wholesome scene.
“For us, square dancing and camping became a family thing,” Fahsbender explained. “We always took our kids with us, then gathered with other people we knew – even just to get away for the weekend. We’ve made lots of good friends through camping and square dancing.”
From potluck dinners and card games to Saturday night dances and campfires, the NSDCA events always promised a good time, she recalled. “It seems there were always so many shared interests among the campers and square dancers,” Fahsbender said. “After awhile, a camping club can feel like a second family. Plus, the dancing is just great exercise. A couple years ago we went for a weekend event and had our pedometers on – we figure it was about five miles of dancing.”
No one knows exactly how many square dancers are Do-Si-Doing through American dance halls, activity centers and gymnasiums. But America’s official fold dance is known to draw thousands of revelers to national conventions, and many will show up in the comforts of their motorhomes. They represent all walks of life, from professionals to retirees, those with young children to those with grandchildren. Some of those dancers will follow a prescribed circuit, driving from one campsite to the next, on the trail of mutual friends or just a favorite caller.
The uniformity of the calls and standardization of square dance steps over the last century have created their own universal language, allowing dancers to move easily through states and regions. Others will hook up with NSDCA chapters, assorted state square dancing associations or campgrounds that cater to dancers. And a thriving industry has sprung up to support the dual interests of square dancing and RVing.
Just south of Missoula, Mont., you’ll find the widely popular “Square Dance Center and Campground” – RV campsites and a spacious dance center situated on 27 acres of pine-studded land along the banks of Lolo Creek. During summer months, you can dance any day of the week, with nationally known callers filling the dance floor Friday through Sunday.
At McCloud Dance Country RV Park, nestled at the foot of Mt. Shasta in McCloud, Calif., you’re just minutes away from a dance hall that is “enormously popular with a large percentage of our summer guests,” park officials report. Or you might want to consider booking a week-long Maggie Valley Square Dance Vacation package at the Pride RV Resort in Waynesville, N.C.
And while sun-baked Mesa, Ariz., may wear the unofficial title of “Square Dance Capital of the World” – with dances offered at 21 RV communities – they’ll have to wrestle for a right to the name with McAllen, Texas, something of a Mecca for square dancers. Here, promotional material boasts, “It’s possible to dance any hour of the day, well into the night, any day of the week.”
Each fall, some 10,000 dancers will promenade south to the Rio Grande Valley to kick up their heels. Some square dancers may act as “dancing nomads,” seeking out events on their own. But Jessie Michel, of Texas, argues it’s more fun to hook up with a group, such as a square dance club. “I’ve been involved in camping and square dancing for seven years,” he said. “I had a camper and loved to square dance, so I decided to mix the two.” Today, Michel and his wife belong to the Waco Branch of the Heart of Texas Camping Squares, getting out in their Class C motorhome at least once a month. “It just makes it a lot of fun,” he said. “It allows you to get out a least once a month, spend the whole weekend someplace, and enjoy the fun and fellowship.”
A typical camping/square dancing outing will include card games, dominoes, a pot luck cookout and community luncheon. “One thing about square dancers – we like to eat,” Michel chuckled. “But it makes for a good time.”
Square dance clubs will often set up dance lessons throughout the year, which is how Michel learned how to allemande left.
“They start out having student hoedowns for people just coming out of lessons, and you practice, practice, practice, which is actually where you have a lot of fun,” he explained.
Born of European folk dance, today’s square dancing is a breed unto itself, the only folk dance where a caller extemporaneously directs the dancers through basic movements. In fact, square dancing is often likened to knitting, where a fixed set of “stitches” is combined to form an infinite variety of patterns, from simple to complex.
Modern square dance has also evolved musically. Don’t expect to always hear a fiddle and traditional hoedown tunes. You might just as easily be dancing to rock music, love songs or Broadway show tunes.
Square dancers work to achieve different levels of proficiency, from basic, mainstream and plus to advanced and challenge.
“The great thing is there’s no competition – there are exhibition groups that go out and do that. It’s really just about having fun,” Michel said. In his club, a wasgonmaster sets up the monthly campouts. The club heads for RV parks with activity centers geared for dancing, which isn’t hard to find in Texas he insisted.
“Many have some kind of building set up for rallies, which we’ll take advantage of,” he said, adding that his entire club plans to join some 6,000 revelers at the National Square Dance Convention this year.
But for the National Square Dance Campers Association, the big annual gathering is the International Camporee. “You’ll see young kids all the way up to not-so-young kids,” said Bob Wilcox, a square dance caller and member of the Illinois NSDCA chapter.
Wilcox was drawn to the NSDCA because it blended “two big-time hobbies.” And as far as he is concerned, RVing is the perfect way to get to the next dance floor. “It’s nice to sleep in your own bed, even if that bed is on wheels,” he said. “But probably the biggest advantage is that we can take our dog, a Yorkie with a Doberman Pinscher attitude.”
When Lawrence and Ruthann Sanders first joined the group in 1973, they saw the NSDCA as an opportunity to get out in their camper at least once a month and to entertain the children, then ages 8 and 10. Today, they’re co-presidents of the national organization.
“Square dancing is lots of fun and good exercise, and camping is great fun, too – so we put the funs together,” Ruthann Sanders explained. “One of our slogans is ‘Double your pleasure, double your fun, square dancing and camping wrapped up in one. The organization not only caters to the older crowd, they also provide entertainment for the young people with games, movies, swimming outings and dance lessons for those still learning.
When not dancing, adults can pass the time playing horseshoes and cards, attending crafts workshops or taking a new dance class. However, novices are discouraged from attending the Camporee to get their first taste of square dancing. Instead, try to hook up with a local chapter during the year.
The nice thing about belonging to NSDCA is that you can be as active or inactive as time allows, Sanders observed. “As far as camping and dancing, we camp with our camping club about once a month. But when we were younger, we were often out there dancing five or six nights a week.”
That can go both ways. Charlene Fahsbender is about to discover just how full her dance card is about to get. She and her husband, Al, recently sold their home in Illinois to go full-timing in a new 35-foot fifth wheel. And square dancing is on the menu. “I would really like square dancing to be a part of this new life,” she said. “I’m not close to being ready to give it up.”