Next weekend, the Biddeford Middle School gymnasium will be transformed into a colorful sea of crinoline skirts and Western shirts as the 52nd Annual New England Square and Round Dance Convention comes to town.

More than 1,000 square dancers from all over New England are expected to converge on April 22-25 for camaraderie and dance, including modern Western square and round dancing.

Overseeing the action are event vice chairs Rob and Sally Petit. Longtime members of the Mix ‘N Mingle Square Dance Club of Scarborough, the two first paired up at age 14, when their respective square dance clubs gathered for a weekend dance. They married seven years later and founded several children’s square dance clubs before retiring to raise a family.

The Petits are considered “retreads,” a square dancing term for seasoned dancers who have been absent from the dance scene for many years before returning.

“We stopped dancing when we had our first child and started again the very week our youngest son left for college,” said Sally, noting the fellowship, fitness and fun that square dancing affords. They coordinate with the near-80 member club to attend weekend dances around Maine and New Hampshire.

Square dancing involves pods of four couples who execute various hand holds and dance steps as cued by a caller, who chooses the music and advancing action. These are not dance routines to be learned. Rather, a square dancer must first be taught 75 basic dance steps to be considered seasoned to participate in mainstream modern square dance sessions.

The Petits teach weekly from September through April, with students learning a few new moves each week and building on them as the sessions progress. They will graduate a class of 14 dancers on Thursday evening – just in time for next weekend’s convention.

The action will unfold within the Biddeford school complex on Hill Street, which includes a primary, intermediate and middle school.

Ron, 53, a grade 4-5 teacher at Biddeford Intermediate School, saw the school complex as the perfect site for the convention. It has ample parking; seven large spaces for dancing of varied styles and skill levels; and a food court and vendor area to offer meals and sales of square dance attire and related items for attendees who do not wish to venture out. Rental fees will benefit student programs.

The convention is hosted at venues around New England, with each site hosting two years consecutively. This year, participants are expected from 15 states and Canada, many arriving in recreational vehicles and fifth-wheel campers. According to the Petits, registration numbers have already exceeded past conventions.

Raymond and Sue Wiggins of Ogunquit plan to attend with 60 or so other members of Nubble Lighthouse Keepers Square Dance Club of Wells. They have been club members for 22 years and attend weekly dances at the Wells Recreation Center.

“We used to attend conventions around New England but not for the past few years,” said Sue. “It will be nice to attend one closer to home.”

While newer generations of square and round dancers advocate for blue jeans for the guys and prairie skirts for the gals, Sally Petit and Sue Wiggins prefer the traditional circle hoop skirts featuring yards and yards of bouncy under fabric billowing just below the surface. Sue has a closet full of outfits but likely will wear her club colors of red, white and blue.

Sally said the only thing needed to set the tone for the atmosphere is a wide-open space for the movement and a small spot for the music and caller. Here, the dancers serve as the decorations.

“It’s extremely colorful and there is an air of excitement when you walk in and see people who you’ve not seen since last year’s convention,” she said.

Ron said the event kicks off with a “Trail In” dance on Thursday and ends with a “Trail Out” dance on Sunday, offering attendees a full slate of things to do. Daylong sessions on Friday and Saturday each will end with an ice cream social at 10:30 p.m., followed by a party until 1 a.m.

“The after parties offer two more hours of hard dancing, with fast calling,” said Ron. “It’s a ball!”

 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

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