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Social dancing enjoys revival

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

For most young people, an ideal evening doesn't include the Scottish Polka or the American Promenade. Social dancing - whether in a barn or a ballroom - just doesn't hold the appeal it did in, say, the 1820s.

Emily Hendrix, 17, couldn't care less when she heard her homeschool group, Parents as Teachers in Christian Homes, would offer ballroom dancing at one of its formals.

"We went anyway, because it was one of my friends' birthday. And I was hooked from the very beginning. Absolutely," she said.

Hendrix and her friends now look for any excuse to dance. As fans of Jane Austin, they became attracted to Regency-style dancing, which was popular between 1790 and 1825. The group also has held a square dance, and Hendrix has picked up the meringue, the cha-cha, the waltz and a long list of other dances.

"It unfortunately seems to be a dying art, but we're hoping to keep it alive and help it survive," she said.

Since 2011, the group that attends the PATCH formals has grown from 20 or 30 teens to about 50 or 60, Hendrix said, and younger kids are starting to take interest. The dances offer a safe environment for youth to meet each other.

Given all the flavors of social media, dancing as a way to meet people may seem out of step in today's world. But those who are passionate about it believe dance is just what's needed to connect people.

"It's another tool to get a diverse crowd together," said Tyler Crawford, a 28-year-old square dance caller who goes by the name of T-Claw. "It's a real experience, and any kind of inhibition or stereotypes fade away."

Crawford said he came to the tradition of square dancing by way of local and underground music. A Nashville, Tennessee, native and musician, he was first drawn to punk rock. He eventually found his way to more traditional string music, which is often played in a casual setting with a loose group of musicians rather than a formal band. Social music, he said, just happened to be dance music.

While living in Olympia, Wash., he stumbled across square dancing and decided to become a caller. The job involves more than yelling out the occasional "do-si-do." He had to memorize patterns of moves, practice his delivery and learn how to teach newcomers effectively.

"You really have to read the crowd. You have to see who's there and be very dynamic, because it's going to be different every time," he said.

The caller held a square dance Friday at the Elks Lodge in Paducah. Like most of the crowds on his square dance tours, many attendees were curious newcomers. who ranged in age from infants to the elderly. Few managed to avoid working up a sweat as Crawford's live band, Fiddle Pie, played upbeat, old-time string music.

Crawford works as a chef in Colorado, but takes occasional breaks to tour the country and hold square dance revivals. He doesn't make much of a profit touring, but that's not the point. His goal is to recreate the atmosphere of a small community dance, where everyone has known each other for years.

"People love it everywhere," he said. "You just have to find a way to get them in the door, which is one of the hardest parts."

Hendrix agrees. She says people aren't interested, feel intimidated, or don't even know the events exist in the area. She hopes to change that - not by traveling the country like Crawford, but by offering lessons in her home county of Ledbetter and at parties and events in the surrounding region. Those interested in learning can contact her at hallelujah.emily@gmail.com

"When you do it right, it feels good, and it is such an art," Hendrix said. "The more you learn, the more there is to learn, especially with dance."

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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