It’s that time of year again. Excitement is upon us as the Stampede makes its way into Calgary hauling with it a variety of fried foods and carnival rides. As a regular Stampede attendee, I have seen eaten more than my fair share of fried food; however I have never until recently paid much heed to the Canadian/American cultural staple that is Country-western Dance. As it turns out, Country-western Dance is not only a fun and interesting aspect of Stampede, but also a very inclusive and accessible community for many individuals whether professional dancers or proud owners of two very left feet.
While most people that grew up in Alberta have vivid memories of learning to square dance and line dance in gym class, and perhaps more recent memories of trying to Two-step at a bar, there’s actually more than 10 different kinds of Country-western dance. Not surprisingly almost all of them are offered in Calgary.
Modern Western Square Dancing is one of the oldest forms and boasts 6 different clubs in Calgary and 3 more in Calgary’s surrounding area. Some of their clubs have been existence for 60 years. And while most square dancers are in their 50-60s, there’s also dancers in their twenties, as well as many seniors. On the other end Country Swing, a dance style similar to the Two Step is one of the newer forms of dance and attracts a crowd of mainly twenty to thirty year olds. It’s a specialty of Outlaw Dance Ltd, a dance company that just started two years ago. Some other dances that are part of the Country-Western family include the Cha Cha, West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Nightclub and Polka. These styles aren’t seen in in nightclubs much but are seen at dance parties in Calgary and at competitions. These styles of dance are taught by some of the ballroom companies in Calgary as well as Country Kaos, a studio that specializes in Country-Western dance exclusively that was created in 2014. Calgary is also abundant in different line dance groups and while some have been around for decades, many more have just formed in the past five years.
While it’s not surprising that Country-Western dance is popular in Calgary, it’s actually practiced all over the world and is continuing to grow in popularity. One of the keys to it’s ability to survive and grow over the past few decades is it’s evolution. It keeps up to the newest Country music trends and also embraces other music including techno, rock, pop and classical. Traditional costumes have been replaced with a more casual western style and many of the dances have also grown more complex or embraced a flashier style. All of this combined make it a style pretty vastly different than what you learned in school.
While evolving has helped Country-Western dance grow though, one of the keys to it still thriving is staying close to it’s roots. Country-western dance started off as a grassroots dance form taking places in barns, community halls, schools or anywhere there was room to share community and celebrate. People participated to socialize and have fun. And while there may not be many barn dances anymore, the elements of being social and having fun have remained central for the Country-Western dance groups in Calgary.
All of Country-Western dance is done with a partner or a group, making it inherently a social activity. What sets Country-Western Dance apart from other team sports or partner/team dances though is the focus on fun and interaction. Country Kaos director Keith Armbruster described Country-western dance as just “good, clean honest fun”. Laughs and smiles are always shared between dancers and messing up isn’t a concern. Even in square dancing where a misstep can affect 7 other people, mistakes are seen as part of the fun as people work together to repair the square. For Country Swing the atmosphere is much the same as Dannica Robertson, director of Outlaw Country describes “You can come of the dance floor even after messing up and still have fun”.
The atmosphere means it’s easy for bonds and friendships to form and Robertson who has also trained in may other styles explained her love for country swing by saying “You truly become one dancing unit and that feeling is incomparable to individual dancing “. For Claudia Littlefair, a square dancer since 1994 the square dance community as like a second family to her.
If the social aspects and fun elements of Country-Western Dance aren’t enough to draw you in, there’s also great physical health benefits. If you want to up your step count, an evening of dance can easily clock you 6000-8000 steps, putting you well on the way to your Fitbit goals. It can burn 200-400 calories every half hour and also helps improve rhythm, memory and coordination. If you get into lifts and aerial maneuvers you’ll also increase your strength.
The other thing that was stressed by all 3 dance groups was that anyone can dance. So If you are still in doubt if Western Dance might be for you, there is only one thing to do, just try it.
Check out some of the different styles and groups below to figure out how you can join and check out the calendar below to see where you can catch them showcasing their skills and work while having fun!
Calgary Square Dance
Western Square dance is actually more specifically called Modern Western Square Dance as it evolved from Traditional or Old Time Square Dance. It is done in teams of eight with groups of two standing on each side to form a square. The instructor is known as a caller and calls out the sequence of steps which are known as calls. Beginners first master 68 calls, after that they can keep progressing to get to well over 500.
One of the most recent big performance that the clubs did was with Alberta Ballet’s Our Canada. To stick with the theme of the show this performance was more traditional, the above video shows more what Modern Western Square Dance currently looks like.
There are intro dances for people to tryout in late August and September and some clubs also offer trials from the season which runs from October to April. Head to www.squaredancecalgary.com for more information.
Outlaw Country Dance specializes in country swing and line dance lessons. You may have seen Country Swing in a bar or at a Country music festival. While Two Step is still more popular, Country Swing has been growing more and more, particularly among younger participants. Done with a partner, it is similar to the Two Step but is more stationary and involves less circular motion. It also features a lot of lifts, dips and spins. And for all of the people that have attempted or thought about attempting these jaw dropping moves after seeing them at a bar, Robertson recommends seeking out a class or teacher prior where they’ll teach both partners how to safely do them on a dance floor without running into people.
Outlaw Country has classes for every level, as well as a very active dance team that performs throughout the year. What’s amazing about their dance team is that many of the dancers just started a year or two ago with Outlaw Country’s creation. They have some of the most exciting tricks of all the Country-Western dance groups in Calgary. If you’re interested in joining check out their website http://www.outlawdance.com or head to one of their performances and talk to anyone in Outlaw attire.
Country Kaos specializes in Country Swing, Two Step, Cha Cha, West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Nightclub, Polka and Line Dance. Two Step, Cha Cha, West Coast Swing, East Coast Swing, Nightclub and Polka feature intricate footwork and patterns and can often be seen at dance competitions.
Country Kaos performs and competes throughout the year. They have classes and workshops for every level and those with experience are welcome to try out for their performance and competitive dance teams. They are one of the few places in Calgary that focuses solely on Country-Western dance forms and also competes. With that though they are also just as focussed on getting beginners onto the dance floor as they are in helping pro dancers hone their skills. Both couples and people without partners are welcomed in classes.