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The cafeteria of John Hanson Middle School turns into a hoedown the first, third and fifth Fridays of the month when members of the Southern Merry-Landers Square and Round Dance Club dosido, promenade and allemande left.

The club, which has about 20 active members and is always looking for more, is open to those interested in learning to square dance and round dance — choreographed folk dance steps.

Learn to dance

Southern Merry-Landers Square and Round Dance Club will offer free beginning dance lessons 7:15-9:15 p.m. Feb. 15 at John Hanson Middle School, 12350 Vivian Adams Drive, Waldorf. Couples, singles and children 10 and older are welcome. Call 301-283-2747.

David and Ruth Phillips of Accokeek have been square dancing for more than 30 years.

Ruth, who once taught tap and ballet to earn money for college, and David, who danced ballroom with his wife in their younger days, jumped at the chance to try square dancing and have been doing it ever since.

“It’s great exercise,” said Ruth, who serves as the group’s caller — the person who calls out the steps. “Sometimes I think we should join a gym. The exercise is physical and mental.”

It’s the exercise aspect that David touts the most.

He said that some seniors sit on the couch in front of the television, doing nothing. Those in the Merry-Landers are more spry.

“It’s aerobic, the range of motion, it comes naturally,” he said. “And it’s a lot of fun; you make friends.”

Ron and Janice Gibson of Charlotte Hall, who are in their 70s, started square dancing when they were 38 after seeing a group dancing during a vacation to a West Virginia state park.

Ron said he went along with it because Janice looked at him and said, “You’re gonna get out of that chair.”

The activity has made an impact on the couple.

“We’ve made lifelong friends; we still get together with people we met when we were 38. We’ve had kids, grandkids and now great-grandkids,” Janice said.

Dancing gives them another outlet for socializing.

“At our age,” Janice said, “you just go to the doctor.”

Robin Boswell of La Plata started dancing in the 1980s with her late husband, Joe. They participated in a number of Washington Area Square Dancers Cooperative Association festivals and national competitions.

“It’s the state [folk] dance finally,” Boswell said. “And it’s a lot of fun and good exercise.”

Laurie and John Stackpole of Fort Washington started square dancing in the 1960s when the activity seemed to be at its most popular. Laurie remembers attending dances where there were 10, 12, 20 squares (each square is made up of four couples, eight people). Everything is cyclical, she figures. Maybe it’ll swing back around to the mainstream. And the couple has learned that if you don’t use it, you lose it.

“You get rusty,” John said.

“It keeps your brain in place,” Laurie said. Dancers just have to follow the lead of the caller, so there is no arguing about who messed up the step.

“Arguing about what a call is is what you do in the car on the way,” John chimed in.

John and Linda Foote of White Plains took classes to learn square dancing steps after attending a few Merry-Landers meetings.

“It gave us just enough to know we didn’t know anything,” John Foote said. The couple belong to other square dancing clubs, including one that goes camping in recreational vehicles.

They would like to do more dancing, but time is an issue.

“Life gets in the way of what you want to do,” John Foote said.

Boswell believes that the folk dance would be more popular if people gave it a chance.

“It’s not just for old people. It’s for anybody,” she said. “A lot of folks would enjoy it if they just get off their butts.”

staylor@somdnews.com