- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 26, 2015

JEFFERSON, Ore. (AP) - Forget separate class periods for music, P.E., history and leadership. At Jefferson Elementary School, Kevin Lake and Shawn Cooke combine them all in one lesson: square dancing.

Lake is the school’s music teacher, and Cooke does P.E. They teach separately, but once a week they join forces for a music-and-movement class they call Physical Harmony.

In that class, for one month each school year, fourth- and fifth-graders learn how to promenade, do-si-do, allemande left and right, and other basic square dance moves.

They get extra practice with Lake in their music classes, and caller John Luna comes out to help. It all comes together once a year in a giant community dance in the elementary school gym.

This year’s, held May 12, marked the 12th consecutive community square dance. More than 300 people attended.

The elementary school’s counselor, Hershel Olmsted, brought his string band, Wild Hog in the Woods, to accompany Luna’s calling with the sounds of fiddles, banjo and hammered dulcimer.

Oregon designated the square dance as its official state dance in 1977. The Oregon Blue Book’s explanation: “The pioneer origins of the dance and the characteristic dress are deemed to reflect Oregon’s heritage. The lively spirit of the dance exemplifies the friendly, free nature and enthusiasm that are a part of the Oregon character.”

Plus, said Madeleine LaCrosse, 9, whose partner of choice Tuesday was her father, Mathieu: “Once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy.”

Most of the student dancers wore plaid shirts, cowboy hats, bandannas and boots to compete in the annual Western Dress contest. This year’s winners were Maci Jones and Campbell Henderson for the fourth grade and Carli Lima and Cody Jurgens for the fifth grade.

Cody donned a pinstriped vest and a red bandanna over a white shirt and jeans, topping everything with a black cowboy hat. “This hat, my dad had at his wedding, and he gave it to me,” he explained.

Cody said he thinks he’ll keep square dancing, even after elementary school, “because it’s just a way you can get together and have fun.” The grand finale “cinnamon roll” move is his favorite, which sends one giant circle of dancers spinning one direction while another circle inside spins the other, but he enjoys square-dancing in general.

“I should thank my music teacher for teaching me that in fourth grade,” he mused.

Lake, the music teacher, said it all gets back to Olmsted, the band leader and counselor, who used to teach P.E. He thought square dancing, which is part of the elementary curriculum, would make a fun extra unit.

“We did it for a little part of the year, and it really caught on,” Lake said.

It’s neat to see how many lessons the students can take away from a few spins on the dance floor, he went on. Would-be wallflowers learn to participate. Soloists practice teamwork and cooperation. Often, Lake said, it’s the troublemaker or the class clown who suddenly gets serious about leadership and helping everyone through a complicated pattern.

“I think sometimes kids don’t know how to be social,” Lake said. “They get to a dance and they stand in the corner.”

Square dancing, he said, brings everyone into the mix - including about a tenth of the 3,000-some population of Jefferson.

Maci, who said her favorite move involves the back to back circle known as a do-si-do, said she’s learned at least one other lesson:

“If you mess up, it’s OK. It’s not just, ‘Everyone’s looking at you,’” she said.

Lake agreed. “Just back up and start again.”


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, https://www.dhonline.com

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