As many start each new year with a renewed commitment to hit the gym, some local residents have another approach to staying active, in a way that many might agree is more fun.

As many start each new year with a renewed commitment to hit the gym, some local residents have another approach to staying active, in a way that many might agree is more fun.

Each year in January, the Shawnee Square Eights offers a 10-week course of square dancing lessons from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays at First Christian Church, 1625 N. Broadway.

In its 30th year of hosting lessons, the class is holding steady at 18 students, numbers typical of the yearly workshop. At $3 per person per lesson, taking the course is relatively inexpensive and many reportedly continue the hobby after the course is over.

Longtime member and club treasurer Linda Spaugy said most who take the class end up joining a square dancing club.

The square dance

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, at britannica.com, square dancing (is designed) for four couples, or groups of four couples, standing in square formation — the most popular and widely known type of folk dance in the United States.

The site explains it was called the square dance to distinguish it from comparable dances called the contra — or longways dance — for a double file of couples, and from the round dance for a circle of couples. “Historians trace the origin of the square dance to both the Kentucky running set of English derivation and to the cotillon — a stately French dance in square formation, popular at the court of Louis XV, but supplanted later by the quadrille — also a 'square' dance,” the site reads.

The Americanized quadrille, or square dance, begins and progresses rapidly in well-ordered patterns within the framework of a relatively compact square, sets of four couples forming its four sides.

To the traditional accompaniment of accordion, banjo, fiddle and guitar and to prompting, patter and singing calls made by a caller, couples perform a variety of movements, all based on a smooth, shuffling walk.

Enduring pastime

Active square dancers have made a conscious effort to keep things trendy — staying up-to-date with music and wardrobes.

Callers now use modern country, rock and pop music when calling dances.

The days of easily being recognized by official attire — colorful dresses and petticoats worn by the ladies and matching western style shirts and ties by the men — is not as prevalent as it once was.

Dancers also are not required to wear the traditional dress with a petticoat; not many do, Spaugy said.

The activity is appropriate for everyone, Spaugy said.

“We have couples, singles and children in the club,” she said. “Our youngest right now is 10 years old and our oldest is 88.”

Spaugy said the lessons have been offered at First Christian Church for the last three or four years.

“They don't charge us a fee to use the facility,” she said. “We like to help with collections for the church's missions to show our appreciation.”

Community interaction

Area residents don't have to go far to see the Square Eights perform. Spaugy said the club joins in on many of the area's festivals, such as Boo on Bell, Santa Fe Days and others.

Also, members of the club meet and dance every second and fourth Saturday of the month at the Shawnee Senior Citizens Center at 10th and Bell. Spaugy said all are welcome to come watch.

Longtime tradition

Oklahoma became the eighth state to name the square dance its official state folk dance when it was declared by Senate Concurrent Resolution in 1988.

Square dancers are typically members of a designated club and district in Oklahoma, but they are not restricted to that group only — they can dance at any event anywhere, she said.

Oklahoma currently has eight square dance districts statewide. According to the Central District Square Dance Association website, at cdsda.com, there are 17 square dance clubs in central Oklahoma. This organization was formed over 50 years ago and has over 500 members who are active dancers. Established in April of 1965, Shawnee Square Eights is one of the clubs in the Central District.

For more information about the Shawnee Square Eights, call Spaugy at (405) 273-7113, or visit the Central District website at http://www.cdsda.com.