Posted Online: April 20, 2013, 6:44 pm

Dancing in squares and circles

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By Sarah Hayden,

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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Gary Markham, Geneseo, spins Nancy Markham around the room at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Davenport during a square dance hosted by the Solo Steppers dance club on April 8, 2013.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Members of various square dancing clubs take part in a dance at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Davenport on April 4, 2013.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Arlene Regenwether of Delmar, Iowa and John Scheetz of Bettendorf Promenade around the circle as they dance at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Davenport on April 4, 2013.
More photos from this shoot
Photo: Gary Krambeck
Brothers Don and Doug Sprosty call out the square dance steps at the Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Davenport on April 4, 2013.
On a warm, Thursday night in April, a large meeting room at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Davenport is a blur of twirling skirts, cowboy boots, and men sporting colorful ties matching their ladies' outfits.

It's dance night for Solo Steppers, a square and round dance club that meets every Thursday at the church. Although it is a singles club, many married couples show up to take part in the fun.

"Dancing and children keep you young," said Darlene Tutor, 83, of Davenport. She and husband, Carl, 76, are dressed in matching purple and black country-western style outfits. They dance an average of three nights a week.

"Square dancing is like our second family. They're a wonderful group of people," said Ms. Tutor.

It is country-western night and most of the 60 people are dressed to match the theme. But the music isn't all country. "Moves Like Jagger" by Maroon 5 is being played as couples move around the room.

The callers are Doug and Don Sprosty, twin brothers who grew up traveling to square dances around the country with their parents. They began calling dances when they were 12, and have been at it for 41 years.

As the dances progress to singing calls, the brothers sing in and out of each other, with Doug offering harmony to Don's melody.

"It's good recreation, good physical recreation, and good mental exercise," said Don. "It keeps your mind sharp. It's also a really good family activity."

Don speaks from experience as his two sons, ages 8 and 10 take part in the dances. Younger son Andrey, wearing his YMCA soccer uniform, easily keeps up with the adults.

Square dancing is definitely an exercise in concentration. With calls like "load the boat," "pass the ocean," "spin the top" and "California twirl," it's part puzzle and part dance.

All the local clubs offer lessons, usually starting in the fall. There are four levels of square dancing; mainstream, plus, advanced and challenge.

"Usually the caller will do more if he sees you can do more," said Peggy Coen, one of the dancers.

"If you get three people in a square who don't know what they're doing, they can mess up the other five," said Lee Fisher. "There's no drinking. If there's one person who's had too much wine, they can goof up the other seven."

"You're not supposed to drink before you come, it's just square dance etiquette," said Ms. Coen.

In between sets of square dancing, round dancing takes over the floor. Similar to square dancing with moves being called out, people dance together around the room as couples, not in squares. While square dancing uses a caller, round dancing uses a "cuer."

Wearing a purple western tie to match wife Nancy's outfit, Gary Markham spins her around the room. Her purple-flowered skirt twirls out, showing layers of crinoline ruffles underneath. As members of the Maple Leaf Squares dance club in Geneseo, the Markhams have been dancing for over 20 years.

"It's pretty vigorous. Some say it's equal to taking a three-mile walk," said Ms. Markham. "We can really tell the difference in our health. It's also a way of meeting people -- everyone is a friend."

The following night in downtown Bettendorf, the Wheel N Steppers square dance club meets in a simple, second-floor dance hall situated above a tattoo parlor and auto-detailing shop on 17th Street.

Called the Bettendorf Square and Round Dance Hall, green Christmas lights hang from a low ceiling giving the room a cozy glow. Old, wooden, church pews are lined around the walls and the wooden floor is worn from decades of dancing.

The theme tonight is "hard times" and the dancers are dressed like bums. Lee and Shirley Fisher are wearing matching denim outfits with colorful patches Ms. Fisher sewed on herself.

Tommy Marshall, a professional caller with four local dance clubs, is set up on a small stage with two laptops - one to play music and the other for singing calls. Ninety percent of calls are directed at the men "because they need more direction", he laughed.

Fred and Peggy Coen are back for another night of dancing, as are Darlene and Carl Tutor. Mr. Marshall pauses the music to point out that Mr. and Mrs. Coen have messed up their square. The room breaks out in laughter.

It is this kind of fun and friendly atmosphere that creates the camaraderie square dancing brings.

Mayo Clinic researchers have reported social dancing offers benefits such as increased energy, strength, muscle tone, and helps to reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Jo Ann Ross, 76, agrees. "With all the friends, the touching - it can ward off Alzheimer's. I started dancing because of a mild depression, and it sure took care of that."

Ms. Ross has been dancing for 11 years and it shows. She glides across the floor and moves easily through complex calls. She is clearly having a great time.

So is everyone else. The room explodes with laughter when someone messes up. Hoots and hollers are called out on certain dance moves and no one seems to be without a smile.

"People really love square dancing. It's just a blast," said Ms. Coen. She pressures a reporter into dancing, who finds it easier than it looks and just as fun.

With roots tracing back to 17th century Europe and early colonial America, square dancing has evolved through the years.

"Young people don't realize we came out of the barn a long time ago," said Mr. Marshall. "In its heyday, every farming community had a square dance club."

The dancers agree there is a need for younger people to get involved.

"We need new people," said Judy Davis. "Where else can you go, have fun, and only spend $5.00 to laugh and have dessert?"

When the dance ends at 10:30 p.m., the group of 30 join hands in a big circle. They raise their arms and together in one voice say, "thank you" and take a bow. They gather their empty cake plates and head home exhausted, happy, and still laughing.

To find out more about local square and round dance clubs in the area, go to