What happens at a Cape Breton Square Dance?

As the summer is quickly getting closer, the dance halls will be filling with great opportunities to enjoy the traditional Cape Breton music, as well as the unique dance patterns found in the square sets. Dances occur all over the island, and there are many to choose from in Inverness County. From Cheticamp to Inverness, to Mabou, to Brook Village, to Glencoe Mills, to Judique, to Craignish and more. The full schedule of events can be found on Mike Little’s website at www.capebretonmusic.com. Or, just click on his logo in the directory here and you will find all you wanted to know about the music and dance events in Cape Breton.

What happens at a square dance? Partners gather in a circle to dance usually 3 different patterns to complete a set. The fiddler, piano and/or guitar player will share either a series of jigs, or reels depending on the dance pattern. The formations and steps are easy, and the locals are quick to share a few tips for any of the tourists who wish to give the patterns a try. If a large group of beginners have joined the hall, it is often best if they separate themselves into different circles to gain the assistance of an experienced couple within the circle. Be prepared to dance the three sections and ask questions of the group to learn more.

In Mabou and area we have Brook Village adult only dances on Monday nights, Thursday nights for families in Glencoe Mills, and Saturday nights for families in West Mabou. These sets have the first pattern dancing with the whole circle, and then with a corner partner (someone beside you that is not your partner). This pattern is very simple and begins the opportunity for getting to know other people in the area. Great discussions about tourist information, local knowledge and more can be found during this pattern. The second pattern is also to a jig musical set, but this time the partners will dance with the group in the circle and then with each other. This is when they can share knowledge that they learned from their corner partner from the previous pattern. These two patterns break the ice for the third pattern which has a set of reels played by the musicians. The pattern begins with a chain around the circle, and some promenading (walking with your partner), we fondly call this section the “zipper”, as people walk through full rows of people. This is a favorite by locals and come-from-away’s alike. There is a little dance pattern that happens in this section that can be more than a shuffle of feet, just get a dance neighbor to show you the step.

What is delightful about the square dances is the opportunity to get to know people, the chance for multi-generations to dance together, and the making of new friends from around the world. Throughout the evening the fiddler may decide to play a waltz or a polka for some couple dancing, and on occasion there can be a break near the end of the evening when the music will be played for the stepdancers in the crowd. The music will begin with a Strathspey and then move to a Reel. One by one the stepdancers in the hall will step forward to showcase some of their fancy steps. This is always a great time to celebrate the talents of the dancers.

If you have never been to a square dance, feel free to join in on the sets and experience the fun. If you would like to know more about stepdancing itself, then please contact Michelle Greenwell at info@dancedebut.com or call 902-945-2967 to set up a private session.

See you on the dance floor!

Michelle Greenwell



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