Lucky Kochenower says he’s taught hundreds of people to square dance — now he wants to teach you.
According to the Country Dance and Song Society, the origins of square dancing date back hundreds of years. Early references to couples dancing in a square formation in England can be found in John Playford’s The Dancing Master, which was first published in 1651.
In the 18th century, the French created the quadrille, which is likely the main predecessor to modern square dance, according to the Society.
By the mid-19th century, varieties of the dance were growing increasingly popular in Europe and the Americas.
Kochenower first experienced square dancing in 1964. His brothers and a cousin were a part of a square dance club and invited Kochenower and his wife to dance.
“It was the best thing we ever did,” Kochenower said.
Kochenower enjoyed it so much, he set out to be a square dance caller — the person who gives directions to the dancers.
In his day, square dancing was incredibly popular with clubs popping up all over the place. In fact, one dance that was hosted locally brought in more than 1,200 dancers. Now, the number of dancers are dwindling.
Kochenower believes this is due to an obsession with technology as well as misconceptions surrounding square dancing.
“People think we’re just dumb old hicks,” he said. “They have no idea.”
“Dumb old hicks” doesn’t come close to describing the bunch that regularly attends The Oregon Trail Dance Club square dances at the I.O.O.F. Hall in Gering where Kochenower is the caller. On Friday, the club hosted a "Hee Haw" themed dance.
Participants range in age from around 14 years old on up to nearly 90. Some have rural backgrounds and some of them are city kids.
Every single one of them is friendly, Kochenower said.
“There are no strangers at a square dance,” he said. “There may be some friends who you haven’t met yet, but there are no strangers.”
He’s watched the activity lead to lasting friendships and, in some cases, happily-ever-afters.
“I’ve had 27 marriages come out of my square dance groups,” Kochenower said.
A glance at the dance floor reveals people wearing a variety of attire, from more traditional square dancing garb to jeans and a T-shirt. Kochenower said that while traditional attire is encouraged, it isn’t required. Clothing should be comfortable and easy to move around in. He added that flat shoes are required, so women should forgo the heels.
“I relaxed the dress code many years ago,” Kochenower said. “I have to be completely honest with you - I didn’t like to see that change come about, but it was necessary.”
Kochenower said he believes the intricate, flashy costumes that dancers used to wear played a huge role in promoting the activity. The eye-catching costumes would lead people to ask questions, opening up an opportunity to share the love of square dancing with someone new.
“This was one of the ways our activity got so popular years and years ago,” Kochenower said.
He said he believes if more people would give square dancing a try, club numbers would go through the roof. Kochenower offers square dancing lessons for $6 per person for each two and a half hour session. The first one is free.
“You can come try it out — no cost, no obligation,” he said. “I know you’ll keep coming back.”
Kochenower admitted that the lessons are a commitment. Everyone who makes up a square depends on one another.
“It’s very important that people are there just as consistently as it as humanly possible,” Kochenower said.
For Oregon Trail Dance Club president, David Schleve, the activity is something he and his wife, Mardelle, look forward to.
“It’s so much fun,” said David.
“It’s also good exercise,” added Mardelle.
According to Kochenower, a square dancer will dance about four miles over the course of a gathering — and they likely won’t even realize it.
“They’re smiling the whole time,”he said. “When you’re out on the floor, you don’t have a care in the world.”
The Oregon Trail Dance Club club meets every second and fourth Friday from 7-9 p.m. at the I.O.O.F Hall, 800 N St., Gering. For more information, contact Kochenower at 308-765-4837.