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Fourth-grade Prairie Elementary students heed the directions of square dance instructor Chuck Moore (back, center) during a Nov. 13 physical education class.

Prairie Elementary fourth-graders learn square dancing is not just for squares

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WORTHINGTON -- "Join hands and circle left, then allemande right," instructed Chuck Moore to an attentive and energetic group of square dancers as the tinkling instrumental tune "Lonely Goatherd" played in the background.

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But the 48 dancers in these six squares erupted with giggles at regular intervals, and many of the females were several inches taller than the males.

That's typical of Prairie Elementary's 9- and 10-year-old fourth-graders, the age group benefiting from a square dance unit taught by Chuck and Jackie Moore, veteran square dancers and retired teachers, along with a few other volunteers from the local Turkey Trotters square dance club.

Enlisted by Prairie's physical education department and District 518's Comprehensive Arts Planning Program (CAPP) coordinators, the Moores spent four mornings over the past two weeks sharing square dance fundamentals with the school's eight fourth-grade sections.

"The goal of our physical education department is to teach students a variety of ways to be active," declared Todd Schumann, a Prairie physical education teacher. "The people that volunteered to teach our students square dancing did a nice job of teaching not only some dance calls and moves, but they also talked about the history of square dance.

"Our physical education and music departments also teach the students other forms of dance, so this was a great opportunity to expand on what we are already doing."

Judging by the broad smiles on the increasingly ruddy faces of the participating students at a session on Tuesday, the kids were finding the unit fun as well as physically challenging.

Sweatshirts and light jackets were gradually thrown to the side of the gym as the students progressed from standing in squares to circling, promenading and honing left and right allemande moves.

"Square dancing has a different language, so there's new terminology for the kids to learn," explained Jackie Moore. "The phy ed teachers have been very helpful. They set up the children with partners prior to our visits and taped off squares.

"I think one of the hardest things for the children is listening, because normally in phy ed, they get to do a lot of talking," she continued. "Words and speech are key to knowing which moves to do next in square dance, so listening is very important."

Forty-eight mostly eager faces looked toward where Chuck Moore, a member of the Minnesota Square Dance Callers Association, stood with a microphone, explaining some necessary details.

"Go to your squares -- there should be eight people per square -- boys on the left, girls on the right," Chuck specified. "Now raise your right hand; now raise your left hand. Now, you all know how to walk?"

Prior to the class's start, a few students were asked what they knew about square dancing.

"You dance with partners," chimed in Alex Quintanilla promptly.

"You dance with girls," squealed another boy.

"I'm excited about it," admitted Sophie Wietzema.

When it came time for the kids to actually clasp hands, move in circles or promenade with their partners, though, most did so without hesitation and without shaking off "cooties."

"I think the children have been very cooperative," agreed Jackie Moore, who retired in 1999 after several years of teaching special education at the former Central Elementary School. "A half-hour with the kids goes awfully fast."

Chuck Moore told the students, at intervals, that square dance was an American dance form believed to have originated in Kentucky and first performed to fiddle music. He and Jackie have square danced since 1980, and found the activity to be a "welcome release from our daily schedule" over the years.

"When we go to national conventions, there's a lot of talk about teaching square dancing in schools, so this is a good place to start," shared Chuck Moore. "It's good mental and physical exercise, and 'they' say that one square dance -- two and a half hours is typical -- is equivalent to a three- to five-mile walk."

Jeanne Mammen, one of District 518's CAPP coordinators, said the CAPP committee thoroughly researched the standards-based arts programs available to District 518 students.

"The Minnesota Academic Standards require that schools offer at least three of five arts areas -- dance, media arts, music, theater and visual arts," Mammen explained.

"District 518 offers all areas formally except for dance, so we thought it worthwhile to add a dance focus beginning at the elementary and middle school levels," she said. "We believe that dance is a wonderful vehicle for meeting needs and bridging communication in our diverse community."

Mammen's observation was verified as 48 fourth-graders of numerous ethnic backgrounds grasped hands, worked together to achieve the proper dance movements and laughed at their square dancing mistakes and successes.

"You're doing very good," encouraged Chuck Moore during a brief pause to remedy an untied shoelace. "This really warms you up, doesn't it? Now give yourselves a hand."

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