“If you can walk, you can dance.”
That’s Jan Thacher’s encouragement to anyone who’s seen square dancing but didn’t think they could keep up.
The square dance is basic in its set-up, even with contradictory geometry.
Eight couples line up to form a square, then dance in circles.
That’s why the Wever Group is Circle Square B Promenaders, and Thacher is a past president.
The group offered a free lesson on Tuesday, January 11, and two couples and three individuals attended.
They are in their fourth week of the 12-week course, and the group meets on Tuesdays throughout the year and dances at the International Order of Odd Fellows in Wever.
Although it’s too late for newcomers, Thacher said “if someone hasn’t danced in a long time and wants to cool off, that’s perfectly fine for people who want to come with them.”
Even newcomers are welcome to come watch “and see if they would like this activity,” Thacher said.
Classes run from 6:30-8:00 p.m. – some members serve as “angels” to guide beginners – with regular dancing from 8:00-10:00 p.m.
The next series of courses will take place in September.
It costs $6 to dance, which helps pay for the building rental and also the caller, who is longtime caller Tom Manning. But other callers come from time to time.
Obviously constant movement is good exercise, and a two hour night of dancing can add up to 2 miles or more.
But there is an additional health element, Thacher said.
“You move your mind,” she says. “He hears the call, and he has to connect it to the body part. You move your feet, arms and legs according to the call and connect it with the rhythm and the music.
As such, “It’s one of the best activities to prevent dementia and Alzheimer’s disease,” Thacher said.
She said attendance at the club started to dwindle, but when she took over she took to social media and added a Facebook page.
The Thachers also dance in other towns. “Nothing allows us to continue as much as we want,” she said.
There are clubs all over the world and because all calls are in English, member Pat Millmier says you can dance anywhere and fit in perfectly.
She and her husband Richard have danced in Germany, New Zealand and other faraway places.
“When we travel, we try to find somewhere to go,” she said.
The Millmiers first danced in 1967 when the club was along Highway 61 and just off Circle Square B. The Promenaders club in Fort Madison eventually closed and the Wever Group adopted these members and combined the name.
Millmier said young children learn faster, and that’s how Manning got his start, when he was 8 years old.
His parents, Lee and Lucy, were founding members when Circle Square B was formed in 1958, starting with five or six “squares” (groups of eight).
“My parents always took me instead of having a babysitter,” Manning said.
When he was 12, “I was dancing with another caller from Cedar Rapids,” Manning said. The man approached young Manning and said, “I danced like a visitor. He gave me a record and told me to go home and learn it.
Soon after, Manning began what has been a 47-year career. He did it for a living for 15 years, but when he started a family he became a teacher and teaches business at Burlington High School.
In recounting the joys of square dancing, Thacher could not help recounting the tragedy of November 24, 1965 in Keokuk.
The Swing EZ Square Dance Club held a special event at the Keokuk National Guard Armory on the eve of Thanksgiving.
An explosion from a natural gas pipe blew up the Armory and the domed roof crashed down dozens of couples. Seven died that day and 14 more died later from their injuries. Two children died, eight were orphaned and 16 lost a parent.
The club never held another dance after that, and the tragedy has a stronger meaning for the Thachers and Manning.
“We should have danced there, but I got a call from a cousin and we decided not to go,” Jan Thacher said. “We didn’t square dance for a long time afterwards; we lost our desire after that.
Manning was only 2 years old at the time of the explosion.
“My parents had company, otherwise they would have gone there too,” he said. If they had perished, who knows if Tom would ever have gotten involved and embarked on a nearly 50-year mission as a caller.