When I was about fifteen my good friend, Joseph Khoury told me he had just started square dancing and asked if I'd like to come along. I decided to go and even had to buy new clothes, bottle green pants and a mustard coloured shirt ...... well it was a long time ago. The caller was Barry Hickson and it was held in a church hall on Marsden Road at Eastwood. I enjoyed the first night and after a few more nights I was asked if I wanted to join a team for an upcoming competition. I joined the newly formed team; I think they were called the Brazilians, and we entered a competition held at a dancing weekend in Bundanoon. We didn't do any good! But it did introduce me to square dance competitions, and to the dancing teams trained by Ron Jones. They were terrific dancers and seemed to win just about every competition.
As it happened I moved shortly after this competition and as luck would have it the closest square dancing club to me was at Punchbowl and just happened to be run by Ron Jones. About 6 months later I was a regular at Ron's club and joined a new team being formed called the Shiralees. We not only did competitions but most weekends we did demonstrations. These demonstrations were at clubs, such as the St George Leagues Club, various bowling clubs and RSL clubs, and at fetes and old folks homes. Once we danced on television on a midday show. The routines for the demonstrations included intricate lifts. We did reasonably well in our competitions which were held in Sydney, Melbourne and Newcastle, as well as the yearly event in Bundanoon.
I left the team when I went away to university but when I came back my wife and I joined a team called the Stargazers. Again we did well at a number of competitions. One of my brothers, Ashley also joined a team, and it was at a square dance that he met his future wife, Keryn. Ashley became a caller, and trained teams of his own from time to time. His two children also became dancers and joined teams. Ashley and Keryn danced in many well known and top square dancing teams.
Square dances are so called because four pairs of dancers stand in a square with one couple on each side. A caller will play a piece of music and call out movements for the couples to perform. Sometimes the couples interact with each other swapping partners or places in the square, or sometimes joining hands. At other times they may be performing the complicated movement just with their partner or the couple opposite them. The song should end with every dancer back in their original place with their original partner. Many folk songs, and many popular songs are used as square dance tunes. This type of dancing was first seen in 17th century England and France, but it is also similar to Scottish reels and dances. It is often associated with the United States where the dance has developed. Nineteen US states have square dancing as their official state dance.
Modern square dancing was introduced into Australia in the 1940s and 50s. In July 1956 a meeting of dancers and callers, held at the Homebush RSL club in Sydney formed the Square Dance Society of NSW. The first National Square Dance convention was held in Canberra in 1959, with teams of dancers from Sydney and Brisbane participating. The following year a national convention was held in Sydney, and the year after in Brisbane. The 4th National Convention was held in Newcastle, followed by Victoria and then South Australia. Tasmania and Western Australia have also hosted conventions, and in 2011 Northern Territory will hold their first National Convention.
Square dance competitions really took off as the results of the efforts of Ron Jones. Ron was one of Australia's leading ballroom dance trainers in the 1950s. He saw a demonstration of American Square Dancing given to the Ballroom Associations by an American Joe Lewis. Ron took to this form of dancing with enthusiasm and helped promote it all around Australia. In the early 1960's he started square dance competitions as a segment with the Australian Federal Dance Association. These competitions attracted teams from all over Australia. At its height you could find at least one square dance club operating in Sydney on every night of the week, and square dance competitions were attracting 40 or 50 teams to each competition.
Sadly, on 29th November 2009 a group of several hundred enthusiasts gathered at the St Felix School Hall in Bankstown to watch and compete in Australia's last square dance competition. The last competition marks the end of an era: 50 years of square dancing competitions. Eight teams competed in this last competition which was probably fittingly won by the Dixie Stars, trained by Ron Jones (now in his late 80s). The Dixie Stars is the oldest continuous square dancing team still dancing. That is the team started way back nearly with the beginning of competitions but over the years dancers have come and gone in the team. Ashley and Keryn have been dancing with this team for over ten years.
Today there are over 160 active square dance callers and about 200 club venues still running around Australia.