Cast Off 8’s Square Dance Club cuts a rug in Pittsford


Rob Carey of Wallingford looked sharp as he showed off his moves at the Lothrop School. Photo by Mat Clouser

PITTSFORD — Following the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918, the world saw social dancing take off as people Charleston-ed, Shimmied, and Fox Trotted their way back into each other’s lives.

Lauren Norford, one of the organizers for the Cast Off 8’s Square Dance Club, says she hopes the same thing will happen following the COVID-19 pandemic. “Contemporary square dance is a great way to be active, meet new people, and get back into a lively lifestyle after these many months of restricted activity,” she said following one of the group’s recent free sessions at the Lothrop School in Pittsford.

The Club, which meets Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. from September through April, hosts a few free meetings—the last of which is Sept. 28 and comes with an ice cream social—each year that are open to dancers of all stripes and levels of experience. Couples are welcomed, but so are individuals or groups of all sizes.

Photo by Mat Clouser

“In addition to our ‘new dancer’ classes,” said Norford, “we hold seven to eight dances for dancers who can dance at the Mainstream level, meaning they have completed the classes and learned about 68 square dance movements or ‘calls’ such as allemande left, ladies chain, right and left grande.”

 “The monthly dances often have holiday themes and have a party atmosphere,” she continued. “There are door prizes, refreshments, and often a 50/50 or basket raffle. For these theme-based dances [we] often hire a caller from outside the area, so that dancers gain experience dancing to other callers.”

Norford also says the club members are close, regularly celebrating birthdays and anniversaries. “When members are sick or experiencing hardship, club members pull together to support that person,” she said.  “So, members are a community that in some ways goes beyond just the physical and social aspects of dancing.”

Many dancers have found a camaraderie in the square dancing community. Photo by Mat Clouser

One thing club members say that many don’t know is that modern square dancing is misunderstood. People often think back to barn dances or elementary school square dancing, but things are done differently today. 

The caller makes up calls as he goes along, and the dancers have to listen and follow the calls—the dance isn’t memorized,” said Norford. “In that way, it’s fun because the dancer never knows what the caller will call next—it’s like being in a walking puzzle.”

Square dance caller Peter Tobin put the dancers through their paces. Photo by Mat Clouser

“For folks who like a mental challenge, square dancing is awesome; it keeps you thinking and figuring out how to carry out the calls as a team,” added Northrop. “The music is also contemporary and is really fun to dance to. The caller, Peter Tobin, picks songs that are accessible to dancers but have a great beat.”

“New and interested dancers can still come to try it out for free on Wednesday, Sept. 28,” she continued. “This will be the first night of the class for this year. Dancers can try it for one night or sign up in 8-10 week blocks for a discount (the full fee is $7).”

Rick Hoenes do-si-doed with the Cast Off 8’s. Photo by Mat Clouser
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