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Moving and Grooving: Ithaca Sunday Squares Builds Community, Promotes Health

Ithaca Sunday Squares is a free weekly dance club held at Temple Beth-El in Ithaca.

“Now do-si-do your partner. Now allemande left your corner. And promenade your partner home.”

These are just some of the calls that Richard Rosenfield sings into his microphone as he directs square dancers what moves to execute next.

Rosenfield and members of Ithaca Sunday Squares, a free local square dancing club, meet Sundays in the Social Hall of Ithaca’s Temple Beth-El. The club is one of 10 in the Finger Lakes area that offers a weekly opportunity for dancers to hone their skills.

The previous square dancing club in Ithaca had folded, so in 2012 Rosenfield, who had just finished caller school, decided to start a new one.

“You learn some basics in caller school, but you really need what’s called floor time,” Rosenfield said. “You need to make every mistake in the book again, again and again until you learn how to do things better.”

One thing Rosenfield said is unique to ISS is its open invitation to newcomers each week. Most clubs, he said, will only open up to newcomers in the spring so they can teach everyone at the same time. ISS welcomes new dancers each week though, with Rosenfield revisiting the basics every time so new dancers can learn the steps and advanced dancers can review and perfect them.

Caller Richard Rosenfield teaches newcomer Jane Zhong the basics of square dancing. (Sierra Guardiola/ Ithaca Week)

Barbara Harrison, a member of ISS for six years, said one of the things she likes most about the club is Rosenfield’s teaching style.

“He never lets anybody who is new feel that they can’t do square dancing,” she said. “He will start at the beginning so that they can become part of the dancing every week.”

Tina Hilsdorf has been coming to ISS almost every Sunday for the past four years after meeting the Rosenfields at a contra dance at Cornell. She said square dancing helps her body to feel better even if it’s hurting before the dancing begins.

“Motion is lotion, and it’s good for your head because you have to remember everything,” Hilsdorf said.

Ellen Hanson first started coming to ISS four years ago with her son and his friends. Although her son no longer attends the weekly club, she has stayed committed and comes to dance each week.

“I didn’t realize how much it was going to be like family. You have these really close friendships because you’ve been dancing with these people for so long.”

She is now a plus dancer who is able to execute the more advanced steps. Hanson said the weekly club helps to keep the dancers in shape and healthy.

“I wear a Fitbit and it went off at 10,000 steps right in the middle of the dancing,” Hanson said.  “We get a lot of steps in, it’s aerobic exercise and I just love it.”

During each class, there is a mix of beginner dances and plus dances. Plus dances are for more advanced participants and include extra steps. (Sierra Guardiola/ Ithaca Week)

Newcomer Nutmeg Doherty, a lover of dance, joined ISS about a month ago. She was attracted to the low impact form of exercise offered by square dancing.

“I hurt my back so I was looking for gentler forms of dance,” she said. “I’m so glad I came.”

Doherty said it’s important for her to remind herself that she is a beginner and dancing is a long journey.

“There’s a lot to learn but it doesn’t mean you have to learn it all at once,” she said.

The true beauty of square dancing though is that there is no stopping your growth, Rosenfield said. Even with advanced dancers, reviewing basic steps helps them realize new things they hadn’t known before.

“You learn, you remember different sequences of calls, you can put more things together the more you call, so you just keep getting better and better and better.”

Ithaca Sunday Squares is held every Sunday in the Social Hall of Temple Beth-El Synagogue in Ithaca from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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