Ozark Mountain Square Dancing
As Americans, we look at foreign countries and sometimes find their customs a little strange if not amusing. That’s a two way street. Sometimes the things we do are just as peculiar such as square dancing.
My wife, Tommie, was from Okinawa, Japan and I found some things she did on the bizarre side. Of course, I was the normal all around American boy. Nope, nothing odd about me! But that diagnosis could depend on who you were asking.
In her country, people love to sing and dance. Tommie was no different. She loved to dance and sing and did both very well. There was only one problem with that…she could do it well in Japanese, but not English.
From my observations Tommie leaned to the more historic and classical music of her country. Dancing was a form of hand and body language and singing was of a straight laced and dignified manner. OK, so stuck up and snobbish might describe it better!
But to continue, having been in the states for about five years, she still hadn’t gotten motivated to take any English classes. Although, she could get by on her limited vocabulary, I felt she should try to improve…she didn’t.
Therefore, if she wouldn’t learn anymore English, I thought it might be a good idea to introduce her to some local customs. Since we were living in the Ozark Mountains, good examples of Americana were all around us. Country folk represented the back bone of American culture and values. But, what could I show her that was uniquely American? It struck me immediately…square dancing. What could be more American than that?
Furthermore, I knew exactly where she could watch, at Harlan Brammers’ barn just down the dirt road a ways. Every Friday night one of the local square dancing clubs would rent his barn to hold their gala events in. But she didn’t want to go! I was beginning to get a wee bit miffed with my old lady. She was living in America now and needed to learn a little more about us…and her new country.
On the way home from shopping one evening, passing the Brammer Farm, I could hear the proceedings were well underway, what with the fiddle music and song caller rendering his hypnotic rhythm of words. An occasional “yahoo” ripped through the chilly evening air.
I decided right then, she was going to see what was going on in Brammers’ barn like it or not. I turned into his driveway, much to Tommie’s surprise. Of course, she demanded to know where we were going. I told her we were going to watch some square dancers.
She had seen a few on TV and hadn’t been too impressed. But she had never seen it up close and personal and anyone who knows anything about square dancing will tell you it’s just not the same. So, she agreed to go in for a few minutes, more to keep me from pestering her about it than interest in the goings on inside the big red barn.
They were taking a pause as we entered. Tommie looked wide eyed at the fancy, frilly dresses the women wore. Now that was something she understood. I think dress and fashions must be a silent international women’s language. Nobody could miss those gaudy, colorful outfits, no more than anybody not noticing my wife. She was wearing a casual kimono robe. She stuck out like a turkey in a pen full of chickens.
A few of the women came over, introduced themselves and promptly began comparing notes on their clothing. Now, strangely, I felt like the foreigner.
The caller got back on his microphone and jumped into the bands’ next number. Everyone scampered back to the dance floor and found their partners…except us. We just watched for a while. Then I noticed Tommie’s foot tapping to the beat. She was beginning to see what was so special.
It had been many years since I had done any square dancing. I had moved off out of the country and gotten “citified." But I did remember a little, so I took her to one side. We watched what steps the dancer’s made and tried to copy them. It wasn’t long before she made up one of her own, which could only be called the “Japanese Do Si Do”. It can’t be described. You’d have to see it.
We began attending the weekly square dances and became regulars. And in doing so, she learned about the origins of the pastime and a bit of our culture as well.