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Square dancing comes to Menlo Park

 

By Pat Ho, a Los Altos resident, long-time square dancer and a member of Stanford Quads.

Stanford Quads, a square-dancing club that has been dancing in Palo Alto for the past 27 years, moved to Menlo Park this summer.

But you probably won't hear fiddle music or see cowboy boots around First Baptist Church at 1100 Middle Ave., where the group meets every Sunday evening.

Modern square dancers use music that ranges from Beethoven to Taylor Swift, and wear ordinary clothes. This style of square dancing is about movement, patterns, and a community of people sharing a hobby. It’s also great exercise for both the mind and body.

The people at Quads range from teens to retirees, and include families, singles and couples. Everyone dances together in groups of eight, which change throughout the evening.

Members of the club come from a wide range of backgrounds, but a high proportion are from technical fields. A few are students at Stanford, where the club originated 33 years ago, as a spin-off of MIT’s Tech Squares.

"Anyone from age 8 to 80 can square dance. You don’t need a sense of rhythm or coordination," said Michael Barclay who lives in Menlo Park and has been dancing with the group for 15 years. "It’s like playing chess on a life-size chess board."

Square dancing began as an American folk activity, and is the official dance of California and 23 other states.

In its modern form, it has taken on an international flavor, with hundreds of clubs in Europe, Asia and Australia.

Dancers learn a common vocabulary of "calls" instructions telling them how to move. These calls have specific meanings that are the same even in Japan or Sweden. "You learn the calls and then you can dance anywhere," said Sue Lietz-Davis of Sunnyvale, who met her husband 25 years ago at Quads.

Learning the calls is the key, and many clubs in the area offer a class for beginners once a year. Each week introduces new calls, building on the ones learned in earlier weeks.

"It's like playing a new game. You learn new moves and increase complexity each week,” said Lucy Hsu of Los Altos. "You are moving around, getting both physical and mental exercise at the same time, and interacting with interesting people."

Go to StanfordQuads.org for more information. Stanford Quads is not affiliated with Stanford University or First Baptist Church. The author, Pat Ho, can be reached at patho24@yahoo.com.

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