There were no cowboy hats or boots and certainly no jangly spurs. But there was a lot of smiling and laughter and camaraderie as members of the Square Bears square dancing group met up for a lesson last Wednesday, Aug. 21, at the Wilton Congregational Church.

The club was wrapping up its advanced lessons before opening up for new members with two open house fun nights — Sept. 4 and 11 — from 7:30 to 9 p.m. in the church parish hall at 70 Ridgefield Road. Admission is free, although a $5 donation is requested, and those who wish to do so may join the club for a new series of beginner lessons that start Sept. 18. The enrollment for new dancers ends Oct. 2.

The Square Bears participate in what is known as modern square dancing. As in traditional square dancing, there are four couples per square but the dress is casual and the music is recorded, ranging from traditional to popular tunes as well as show tunes and rock ’n’ roll — whatever the group enjoys. As for couples, singles are welcome and if there are more women than men, there are a number of women who can dance the men’s parts.

The Square Bears have been dancing in Wilton since June. They previously danced since their inception in 2017 at the Norfield Grange in Weston. Having outgrown that space — and looking for somewhere with air conditioning — they secured space at the Congregational Church.

The club was formed by the group’s caller, Ron Baldwin of Shelton. After graduating from caller school, he sought to form a group between Bridgeport and Norwalk. He and his wife Jan McLean started a meetup.com group, and once they secured the grange, they got underway. After six months of lessons, the group graduated 13 dancers at the mainstream level.

The Square Bears practice at Wilton Congregational Church. — Jeannette Ross/Hearst Connecticut Media

Media: Jeannette Ross

Those who attend the Square Bears’ open house fun nights will get a taste of modern square dancing, learning eight to 10 basic steps. They will be assisted by experienced dancers from the club.

New dancers who join will learn the 51 mainstream steps — most of which are pretty straightforward — during lessons from mid-September to April. There will be two dances over the course of the “term” to which other area clubs will be invited and the second of those dances is a “graduation” dance.

“It’s all about having fun,” Square Bears member Peter Engstrom told The Bulletin before last Wednesday’s class. Engstrom and his wife Kathy, both Wilton residents, are now experienced dancers with the club.

“No one is ever chastised for making a mistake,” he added. “The etiquette of square dancing is very polite,” he said, adding that mistakes naturally happen and when they do everyone has a laugh, regroups, and starts over.

“If you learn the mainstream steps, you can dance anywhere in the world,” he said, explaining that modern square dancing is popular in many countries, particularly Germany, Japan, Great Britain, Canada and Sweden. The advantage to Americans is that wherever you dance, everyone uses the same list of calls and all calls are in English.

Benefits

Unlike ballroom dances, square dancing has a distinctly social aspect since participants dance not only with their partner but with others in the square depending on the calls being made. The caller moves the dancers around and they may stay within the square or form a line, thus dancing with several people in their group before getting back to their “home” position.

As a low-impact aerobic activity, square dancing also has a number of physical benefits. It is estimated square dancers can burn 200 to 400 calories per half hour, depending on the intensity of the movements. They can also put 2,000 to 4,000 steps per evening on their FitBits.

An article in The New York Times published earlier this year quotes a 2017 German report in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience that dancing can be beneficial to learning, memory and balance.

Co-founder Jan McLean emphasized the social aspects of dancing. She should know — she and her husband Ron met while dancing in Germany.

“Everywhere you go you have immediate friends,” she said.

For information on the Square Bears club or the fun nights, call Sheila or Jeff Katz at 203-276-8953, email swkatz@gmail.com, or visit squarebears.net.