“Hey y’all, let’s square it up,” Kevin Blakely said over the mi1crophone.
The people sitting in the chairs lining the edge of the Oxford Community Arts Center Ballroom stood up and gathered toward the center of the room forming a square with two people making up each side.
Hence, square dancing.
“We got beginners?” Kevin asked the group of eight standing on the floor. There were a few stray people still seated, either because they just wanted to watch or because there weren’t enough people to make another whole square. Turnout was lower this time for one reason or another. Usually, they have enough people for at least two squares, and sometimes as many as four.
A middle-aged woman in a lime green polo raised her hand.
“It’s been a long time,” she explained.
“So you’re not a beginner,” Kevin corrected with a smile.
Kevin stood at the front of the ballroom on a red carpet alongside Judy and Warren Waldron — Judy with an acoustic guitar hanging across her body and Warren cradling his violin. Together, they are the root of the Jericho Old Time Band.
This is only one of three bands that the married couple is a part of, and the key component of the Oxford Community Square Dance, which takes place on the first Friday of every month.
Warren and Judy first met at Miami. Warren was a theatre major in the class of 1978 and Judy was getting her masters degree in educational psychology.
Judy and Warren also both worked for the university — Judy as the Director of the Western College Alumnae Association and Warren in the General Accounting Office.
“You’re not going to get rich playing the banjo unless you’re really good or committed to starvation,” Warren said.
One summer night in 1974, the pair saw a square dance uptown. They met Jim Hackworth, the caller and Kevin’s grandfather, and offered to play for him whenever he had a gig in the area. They played for fraternities, churches, schools and county fairs until Jim retired and Judy took over calling.
Warren and Judy got married in 1983, the same year that they held their first square dance in the Ballroom. The event then moved to the Shriver Center, which was the student center back then, and brought community members and students together. In 2011, just after they had formed the Jericho Old Time Band, the Oxford Community Square Dance secured its spot at the Oxford Community Arts Center.
“All the rest of it, you just kinda have to listen to me and you’ll kind of catch on,” Kevin said. “It doesn’t matter if you mess up or we go slow or you have to catch up, it just doesn’t matter.”
Kevin called along to the music, sometimes singing songs that incorporated the various calls, other times just speaking them to the rhythm.
Swing your partner.
Allemande left with your left hand.
Promenade, go two by two.
Warren believes that dancing is one of the best ways to experience music.
“With dancing, you not only get to learn the music, but you get to apply it,” he said.
The square dance is open to all ages and ability levels, though it is most popular among community members. The crowd was mostly older men and women, with one girl who looked like she was about high school age.
One man was wearing jeans, a dark red button down shirt, brown boots, a black cowboy hat and a belt complete with an oversized oval-shaped buckle in the front and a holster on one side.
It was clumsy at times — people would try to turn in the wrong direction or fall a few beats behind and leave someone without a hand to hold — but in an endearing way. It was all part of the fun. By the end of the second song, everyone stood in the square laughing.
“I look at dance as community building,” Warren said. “It’s neutral turf. Everything else goes out the window.”