Photos by Lisa Saleme
Every Tuesday night at the Tri-County Building on Hwy 75 just south of town, the Huntsville Promenaders meet for hours of laughter, friendship, fun, and square dancing. One of many such clubs that are a part of the Texas State Federation of Square and Round Dancers (TSFSRD), the Promenaders has been an active club since their re-boot in 1996. Five of the original members are still involved, including Don and Nell Smith, a couple built on dance. Twenty years ago, Mrs. Nell told Don that if he wanted to marry her, he had to learn to dance—so he did, and they served as the club’s first presidents for the 1996-1997 session.
Despite being the state folk dance of 17 different states, including Texas, square dancing has become a lost art. The Promenaders are doing what they can to bring it back. The club offers lessons at different times throughout the year. For just dollars a week, anyone can learn the steps and calls. When you have completed all the lessons in a given session, you are awarded a diploma. This Bachelor of Square Dance is your ticket to being able to join the Huntsville Promenaders Club (or any other square dance club). As an official member, you are invited to join the weekly dance, as well as other gatherings like the TSFSRD dance to be held this summer in Waco.
As soon as the lessons are over, club caller Dennis Ray takes the stand. From the opening pledge to the American Flag, to the closing friendship circle where all the dancers join hands and say “Thank you!”—there is never a dull moment with the Huntsville Promenaders. Anyone not participating in the first set of squares is sitting around enjoying the company of other waiting dancers and the table of refreshments provided by the hosts for the evening (and whoever else felt inclined to bring some snacks). While dancing is the goal of the evening, watching the others dance can be just as much fun. Many of the women are arrayed in pettipants, petticoats, and short dresses, with their fella dressed to match. You don’t have to be a couple to join; there are lots of singles, male and female. All the club members take turns so everyone is afforded the chance to dance, but Mr. and Mrs. Smith are not the only couple in the club to be together because of dance. Singles who meet at the club often give themselves away when they begin to dress to match their beau.
The Huntsville Promenaders are not just confined to the Tri-County building. They like to dress up, go out, and entertain. They perform at concerts, parades, and they often go into the local nursing homes to bring some colorful fun to the residents who are unable to dance themselves. Their scholarship program is another way they are giving back to the community. TSFSRD gave away fourteen $1,500.00 scholarships last year to dancing teens across Texas. You may be surprised to learn there is an entire teen square dancing club in the Tomball area, complete with their own set of officers. Their president likes to dance and has visited the Huntsville club several times.
Between the sets of square dancing, Mr. Ray plays some other tunes, giving the dancers a chance to waltz or line dance, or just rest up for the next set. During the middle break, current club president Ed Hammersley takes the floor to give some announcements. During this time, you can begin to see the friendships that have forged in the club. After his notices about different dates coming up for special dances and who’s hosting when, Mr. Hammersley tells the crowd of members who are sick, in the hospital, or preparing for an operation. His wife and co-president Arlene explains that, in some cases, the members see each other more than they see their families, and they begin to become their own family. When a member is out for an illness, a card is placed on the sign-in table for everyone to sign. Any additional care, food, visits (or none of the above if so requested by the ailing member) is done on an individual basis. It’s not just members of this club they look after either. The Promenaders have gotten calls from members of clubs across Texas about kids or grandkids attending SHSU for flat tires and the like. When help is requested, help is given. If you have ever wanted to learn to dance, or are just looking to connect with some friends for good, clean fun, the Promenaders love new faces. This group truly embodies their motto, “Dancing is friendship set to music.”