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The Gandy Dancers will begin a new class from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at the Tehachapi Senior Center.

Tehachapi News file photo.

Have you ever thought about folk dances or what defines a dance as a folk dance? Hopefully, I have some answers for you.

Folk dances are dances bound by tradition with movements passed down through the generations. Folk dance is not just one singular style of dance, but a collection of many dances. Each style of folk dance can date back several generations (or centuries) with ties to the Old World.

Many folk dances trace their origins back during times when dance was distinguished between the different classes of society: common and country folk versus the high society, royalty and elitists. The term “folk dance” was originally meant as a derogative term by high society elitists to demean the common people. Country dance styles of today contain mixes of both contemporary folk dance and ballroom dance. Even several ballroom dance styles originated from folk dance.

Dance movements are key! Someone familiar with folk dance can tell you the country of origin for a particular dance even if they never saw that particular dance before.

Even though many traditional dances originated in European countries such as Great Britain, Ireland, France, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Spain, etc., not all ethnic dances are considered as folk dances. Ritual dances or dances of ritual origin or religious purposes are not folk dances.

What is the importance of folk dance? Primarily, it keeps a culture of people alive, by sharing and teaching younger generations the dances. Dance keeps the history of people alive as well. Dances are ways a community celebrates a special event or important date in time. They are a place to socialize with family and friends, meet your neighbors, making new friends.

Square dance is a folk dance involving four couples in a square. These couples are referred to as either head or side couples. Head couples are the couple with their back to the caller and the couple facing the caller. Side couples are those in positions to the sides of each head couple. There is a person known as the caller, who calls out the movements for dancers to make during a dance. The caller makes calls to pre-planned music they can “sing” to the dancers.

Each dance cycle is called a TIP, which consists of two parts. The first part is known as a patter, or hash, call. During the patter call, the caller is constructing a choreography with the dancers for the actual dance portion. The patter helps set up each dancer’s coordination while reinforcing the dance movements. The second part is the actual choreographed dance; the finished product, if you will, that is performed to singing calls. During each tip, the women will change partners four times and will end the tip back with their original partner. Each square dances independently of all other squares, which means dancers should not be moving between squares during a tip, but staying within their group of eight dancers until the end of the tip.

Square dancing is performed in every state as well as most countries worldwide. Its roots go back as far as the 15th century with European dances from England, France, Ireland, Scotland, Scandinavia and Spain. Folk dances from these countries have melded into what has become the current square dance.

Tehachapi and the Kern County area have their share of folk dances, one of which is square dance. Locally, Tehachapi’s Gandy Dancers hold workshops and classes every Wednesday night at the Tehachapi Senior Center, and host five dances a year. The Gandy Dancers have a new class starting Sept. 13, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., at the Tehachapi Senior Center. The cost is $7 per person. The first three weeks are open enrollment. After that, the class is considered closed for new enrollments. You cannot find a better bargain for your money with so much fun to be had.

If interested, either contact Brenda Johnston at 760-447-6730 (leave a message if no answer), or come out for the first night of class and join the fun in folk dancing! I am sure that you will find square dance to your liking and we would love to see you out there.

Brenda S. Johnston is a member of the Tehachapi Gandy Dancers, and works for the United States Air Force as a technical editor.