Square Dance at the Highland Center

There’s going to be some square dancing in Monterey on Saturday night. Local favorites Juanita Fireball and the Continental drifters will be providing the musical backdrop to the well-known duo of Ellen and Eugene Ratcliffe, who will be calling out the instructions. I invited Ellen to the studio so that she could give me and our listeners additional insight into this distinctly American dance experience.

I am Ellen Ratcliffe from Monterey and my husband is Eugene and we are square dance callers – old time square dance callers – and we are going to be at the Highland Center this Saturday night with the Highland County Arts Council and with Juanita Fireball doing an old time square dance.

So Ellen, how long have you and Eugene been calling square dances in the tri-county area?

We’ve been calling for 20, 25 years off and on and now it seems like it’s more on a regular basis. We have been in Franklin, we’ve been here I Monterey.  Of course, Dunmore is one of our regular places, along with Marlinton.  Do a lot of them in Elkins, West Virginia with the musicians there.

I understand there’s a specific kind of dance called the Big Circle. What does that involve?

There are usually like two kinds of old time circle dances. One is what our area has been used to is the Appalachian Big Circle dancing where you start your set with a huge circle with everybody together, holding hands and circling left and circling right.  And then we’ll go into two-couple sets where we call the figures.  And of course then we end with another big circle. So that’s kind of what that’s called. Then also, we like to do what’s called the southern Appalachian four-couple sets. And that’s a lot of fun. It’s more prevalent in the Elkins area and further west but it’s coming around here. We enjoy doing it. We like to do the calling, we like to do the dancing part, and that’s what my husband really likes to do is the four-couple sets.

As a caller, what can you do to help a person who has never square danced before?

We do like to start out with some instructions, workshopping a couple of figures and then put them to music.  The next time, we’ll do a couple more figures and then add them to what you’ve already learned and danced.  And by the evening you have several square dance figures that you know how to do.

Is square dancing, something anyone can enjoy?

We like to see everyone come – the grandma, grandpas, the mother and father and the children, friends. Just every, it’s something that everybody can do. You don’t have to have fancy clothes. You don’t have to have shoes. You don’t have to have shoes at all if you want to dance in your bare feet.

So, it sounds like even young children are welcome to come.

They are.  Children seem to pick up on it so easily. And it’s something that they can do with each other and they can do with their families.  It’s just a good way of keeping families doing something besides staying home and watching TV and playing games.

If you’re searching for something to do around seven o’clock Saturday evening, it sounds like an old time square dance at the Highland Center in Monterey may be just the ticket.  As Ellen said, anyone can square dance and she’ll be giving instruction to newbies at the start of the dance. No special clothing or footwear is required and there’s no need to get a babysitter. Just bring the kids along and let them join in the fun.  And don’t forget Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters will be there to help you keep pace.

This is Mickey Frank Thomas for Allegheny Mountain Radio.

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Mickey Frank Thomas

Mickey Frank began his radio career in October 2017 when he was offered the impossible-to-fill 9:00 p.m. to midnight slot on Saturdays, where his coordinated mix of pop, soft rock and R&B from the 60s through the 80s met with little acclaim. Deciding that he needed a more awake audience, he added the 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. afternoon drive slot to his workload when it became available in December 2018. Originally from Morton, Illinois, good, old Mickey Frank has lived in more places than he can count on his fingers and toes, but now resides in Highland County.  Email Mickey Frank at  mickeyfrank@amrmail.org.

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