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Critical Mass Helps Ensure A Fun Square Dance

My first real square dance after taking lessons was a jamboree that the River City Dancers, Portland’s largest club, held. I counted 12 squares at the Milwaukie Community Club Center that Sunday afternoon. The room was alive with excitement.

Two weeks later, I attended my second jamboree for new square dancers; the Bachelors and Bachelorettes sponsored this dance.  Dancers packed the Abernathy Grange Hall. I left that night thrilled with square dancing.

So I was dumbfounded when I attended my first actual club dance. I expected it would be like the new dancer jamborees I had attended. Or maybe even better. Instead, I walked into a nearly empty hall and saw three squares…with the possibility of a fourth if everyone in the room participated.  People were friendly; they made sure I got in a square. The evening turned out to be pleasant. But the dance was dead. Where was the excitement of those jamborees?

Since my beginning days of square dancing, I have been to many small square dances. Any more, two to four squares is what I expect when I go to a club dance. In between the club dances, I’ve been to a national convention, Mid-Winter, PAC fifth-Friday dances and other special-occasion square dances. And I always notice the same thing. The big dances have energy and excitement that the small dances lack.

The difference has little to do with the caller or with my mood. The difference has nothing to do with the club’s friendliness. The difference is in “critical mass”–a scientific term that means the minimum number required for something to happen. In the case of square dancing, critical mass refers to the minimum number of people needed in a hall for the sense of energy and excitement that result when a crowd packs out a place. The hall’s size, I suppose, will somewhat determine the number of people needed for critical mass.

We can easily get discouraged about the state of square dancing if we only attend the small club dances. This is why attending events such as the Memorial Day Weekend Dance at the Milwaukie Community Club or the Summer Festival in Pendleton is so important. We can create–and experience–critical mass. For an evening or for a weekend, we can join hundreds of other square dancers and  enjoy the energy that comes from a large group. We can experience that square dancing is still alive and well.


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