Photos by Kelly Sue Photography
Every week, a lively bunch of people get together to laugh, fellowship, and dance. The Conroe Country Cousins is a square dance club that has been meeting for many years. In fact, they are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year. In 1965, a few couples met in a garage in the heart of Conroe and had a great time square dancing. The evening was enjoyed so much, it was decided to continue dancing in the garage during the winter. As more couples became interested in joining, it was necessary to find a larger place. In early 1966, the group met in the Bowl-a-Rama Room and enjoyed an evening of dancing. It was at this meeting the club was officially formed and named “Conroe Country Cousins.”
Part of an association that has clubs in Huntsville, Lake Livingston, College Station, and Tomball, Conroe Country Cousins meets at Miller Event Hall on Martin Luther King Drive in Willis every Thursday night. When they have lessons going on, they are held from 7:00 to 8:00 pm, with the club dance from 8:00 to 9:30 pm. If lessons aren’t happening, the regular club dance hours are from 7:30 to 9:30. I got the distinct privilege of visiting with several members of the club, and they even got me on the dance floor and taught me a few square dance moves, or “calls.” It was such a fun and delightful night learning about the club and about square dancing in general from members who obviously enjoy it so much.
Some of the most noticeable things about square dancing are the beautiful dresses. The women are not required to purchase and wear the square dance dresses, but many of them love to wear the traditional dress of the full skirt with petticoats that swish and flow with every dance move. Some of the women even collect square dance dresses and have several different outfits in various styles. I had to ask what was worn underneath all those petticoats, and the girls showed me their “pettipants,” a ruffled type of shorts worn for modesty’s sake. Club member Gene Miller says, “We’ve been afraid the idea of purchasing a full dress has scared people off from trying square dancing. You don’t have to wear the traditional dress; you can dance in regular clothes.” The men traditionally wear a long sleeved button-down shirt that matches their partner’s dress. Each club has its own specific colors, and Conroe Country Cousins wear turquoise and silver whenever they meet with other clubs. On regular dance nights, however, dresses are worn in all colors of the rainbow.
Square Dancing has a rich heritage, with its roots in 17th century England and France with the French “Quadrille Dance” and the English “Cotillion.” Settlers brought the tradition over to the United States, and it has since become uniquely American. The Western American square dance may be the most widely known form worldwide, possibly due to its association in the 20th century with the romanticized image of the American cowboy. No less than nineteen U.S. states have designated it as their official state dance. Many soldiers took the dances overseas during World War II. And to this day, there are still square dancing communities worldwide, and all those dances are called in English.
There is no set number of people required for a square dance—there can be as few as just one “square,” or as many “squares” as can fit on the dance floor. A square is a group of four couples arranged facing each other in a square. A caller chooses the dance music and carefully coordinates the dance moves. There are approximately 66 to 68 different calls, or moves, in mainstream square dancing. Above that, there are plus calls and advanced calls to take it to a higher level. There are 18-20 lessons to learn before you graduate as a square dancer. Gene Miller says, “We always want to bring more people in. We advertise, we promote, we do exhibitions all year long, any time someone will let us do one. We’ve danced at the Noon Lions Club, the VFW Hall, and churches. We have been to many assisted living places as well. We dance for anyone that will let us do an exhibition. We danced at the Crighton Theater last year when Mickey Gilley was there.” Brenda Ott, a 20 year veteran of the club, piped up, “Yes! We opened for Mickey Gilley!”
Throughout the year, the club hosts two “Fun Nights” to allow anyone interested in trying out square dancing to come for free and enjoy the company of the club. Gene says, “For anyone that wants to come in and see, the Fun Night is like an introduction to square dancing and is free for anyone, it doesn’t even have to be a couple, just come by yourself. If we can get people to just come out and try it, they get hooked.” For more information about the club, their lessons and their Fun Nights, please visit ConroeCountryCousins.weebly.com. Anyone is welcome to visit on any dance night for free to meet the club members and watch the fun.
Club member Hilda Castagnos let me know that square dancing isn’t just for the older crowd, “Our teen club is mostly home schooled students from the Tomball and surrounding area. I think last year they graduated 144 teens. Their parents take lessons with them a lot of the time, so it becomes a family affair. They get P.E. credit from the home school.” Hilda stressed that the important thing is the scholarships. “Last year, the state awarded 15 scholarships and out of that, 10 were from this association—mainly because we have such a large teen club.”
A caller’s role in the square dance is crucial. He is the one that chooses the music, calls the moves, and sets the tone for the night. It takes a lot to be certified as a caller. They train under a coach for 13 weeks. Conroe Country Cousins used to have their own caller, but he is now retired, so they bring in a guest caller each week. Gene says, “Our callers call music right straight off today’s radio. People will be surprised at what kind of music we dance to if they’ll just come out and listen. It’s country, rock, gospel—we even have a caller that plays a rap song, and we love it. Most callers will tell you to relax, this is just for fun. And it is just for fun. You will definitely learn left from right…well, for the most part.”
I asked if anyone had any funny dancing stories they would like to share. Brenda Ott spoke up, “I have a funny story, but don’t say that I did, put somebody else’s name on it. I was dancing one time in The Woodlands and for some odd reason, my petticoat slipped down around my ankles. Well, I stepped out of it and kept dancing! I did not miss a beat, I just kicked it out of the way.” Did I mention how fun this club is?
The members tell me that square dancing is a great way to lose weight and stay in shape. I’m told it’s a great mental exercise as well, that it exercises your brain just as much as your body. Square dancing may be a great activity, but the real fun here is the people. This club loves to have fun and genuinely enjoys each other. If you are at all interested in learning more, come to Willis some Thursday night and meet these folks. I guarantee they’ll make you laugh and feel welcome.
Miller Hall, Family Event Center
608 W. Martin Luther King
Willis, Texas 77378