I just returned from my first overnight square dance clinic in Kashima. The Tsukuba Square Dance Club holds this kind of special overnight event about once every two years. According to the program that I received, this was the 19th clinic they have held since the club began. The event started at 1pm on Saturday and officially went until 3pm on Sunday (although we ended up running a little bit later than that on Sunday).
On Saturday, there were fourteen Mainstream level square dance sets (one regular dance and one singing dance each), two Plus level square dance sets, two round dance sets, and one line dance (known as “Country and Western” in this context). The regular Saturday program ended at 6pm, so we stopped to take a group photo and listen to instructions about our accommodations and the rest of our schedule.
From 6:30pm, we sat down to a large seafood dinner (kaiseki-style with many different dishes), and we followed that with a short break for people who wanted to take advantage of the “onsen-with-a-view” before our party started at 8pm. There were snacks and drinks at the party and some of the club members had organized some games for us to play. Of course, I probably don’t need to tell you that we did some dancing at the party — but this time we got into two large groups, one that had 10 members and I think the other had about 16, and we did some supersized square dancing within the groups. We were also treated to some songs led by our guest caller for the weekend, Tac Ozaki. (He actually played a very funny trick on us at one point in the evening. He started started to call one of the dances and we all joined in and started moving around in our formations. When the dance ended and we all looked over to give him a round of applause, he wasn’t there! When we looked around to find him, we saw him having a drink in the back of the room! He had never actually started to call, but had just put on a recording of himself calling a dance and mouthed the first few lines until we were all concentrating so hard on our steps that we didn’t realize that it wasn’t real.)
Sunday started with a special 30-minute round dance session. As it was held from 8:30am (and breakfast was served from 8pm, after which we had to pack and then get into our costumes), there were only about 6 or 7 couples for the first dance. Slowly, though, the room filled up and we were back to our full complement of dancers. Sunday’s program included fourteen Mainstream level dance sets, three round dance sets (including the longer one at the beginning of the day), two Plus level dance sets, and a warming up session.
Tac Ozaki also recounted some of his experiences as a caller in the United States. Everyone was very interested to hear the differences between the two countries’ square dance cultures. For example, in the US, it is common for the square dance clubs to hire a caller. (In Japan, it is more common for the callers to be a part of a particular club.) This means that in the US, if a caller is not good, he/she might not be asked to return! I also heard from another club member that if the caller makes a mistake, the dancers are supposed to ring a cowbell that is dangling from the stage. Luckily for our own callers, things are much more gentle and supportive here in Japan!
As I am a relative beginner to the world of square dancing, I found that this clinic gave me a chance to sharpen my skills and introduce a bit of smoothness into my actions instead of just jerkily responding to the calls. I gained a clearer understanding of some of the calls (e.g. scoot back, walk and dodge) and also became more aware of the calls that I need to review (e.g. zoom, eight chain through, fold, run). I was also able to make some improvements to my round dancing. In particular, one of the club members told me to stop looking at my feet and instead focus on a place far away over my partner’s shoulder. Once I did that, I found that my dancing became a lot more smooth and graceful (although I am not sure that my feet were always where they should have been).
Tac’s funny prank was not the only comic relief that we had throughout the clinic. Another funny episode happened because of the call “walk and dodge”. All along, I thought that this was was actually “walkin’ Dutch” (as in, “to walk in a Dutch way”). When I heard Tac Ozaki say it, though, I clearly heard “walk and dodge” — but I didn’t know what to do because I had never heard that call before! I finally matched up the “walk and dodge” movement that Tac seemed to be requesting with the “walkin’ Dutch” call that I thought I had learned and realized that I had made a very funny mistake. When I confessed my error to one of the members, he decided to announce it to the whole group (he was one of the MCs), and everyone agreed that it was very funny. From then on, many of the callers used my new name for this step. Maybe this will become a nice story for people to share over the years! (I am still trying to decide whether I should tell them about my other invention: “cart-c turn”.)
I was also treated to a very special round dance when one of our round dance cuers played “Could I Have this Dance?” by Anne Murray. Anne Murray is known as “Canada’s Songbird” and she is kind of a national treasure to Canadians, so whenever I hear her voice, I think of home. No one realized that she was Canadian, so I was very happy to let them know. The song was played twice more on Sunday, and each time, it was introduced as a Canadian song. I think the club members will remember that it is Canadian now! In fact, we did our line dance to a Shania Twain song, and she is also Canadian — but as I am not a big fan of country music, I didn’t recognize her music!
The place where we held the clinic was called Kashima Heights Sports Plaza. It is quite a large complex that can host several sports teams who are doing overnight training clinics. The highlight of the location, at least for me, was the fact that there were bunny rabbits living in an enclosed area just beside the hallway on the first floor. Apparently guests are allowed to take the rabbits home with them as pets, but I don’t think anyone in our group took them up on that offer.
Overall, I would say that the event was a huge success. Everyone seemed to have a good time, and everything went according to plan (at least from my perspective). The only thing that I don’t understand is how everyone had so much energy!! After dancing for two days straight, I was so tired I felt like I wanted someone to attach some puppet strings to me to keep me upright. My legs were so sore I could barely stay standing for more than a few minutes. But when I looked around at the end of the day, most of the club members looked like they were ready to go another fourteen rounds!! Where do they get the energy? It remains a mystery.
View of Mt. Tsukuba from Kashima Heights Sports Plaza