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What is the official dance of Maryland? Would it surprise you to know that the answer to that question is square dancing?

Square dancing consists of dancers moving through a series of basic universal movements guided by a “caller.” The steps are standardized, which means that movements are the same regardless of culture, and are always called in English. There are millions of square dancers spanning the globe.

Sandra Miller, secretary of the Starlighters Square Dance Club in Bel Air, explained square dancing’s international appeal: “It’s kind of a universal language. Once you know them, you can dance anywhere in the world.”

Square dancing is an excellent source of vigorous exercise, providing an exhilarating, heart-pumping workout.

The activity also has the potential to bring people together.

“Many of the members are singles now,” said Bel Air resident and 30-year Starlighters dancer John Struve. “They are coming out for the entertainment and for a good source of conversation.” Struve, 74, met his wife, Jamey, through the club.

Starlighters Square Dance Club began in 1964 as a Harford County Parks and Recreation-sponsored exercise class for adults.

“A lot of people who started it did it because of how cheap it was,” said Struve, who is well-versed in the group’s history.

In all, 26 couples were active in the group’s early days. In recent years, however, the square-dancing phenomenon has fizzled due to diminishing interest. Today, the Starlighters Square Dance Club consists of about 30 regular attendees.

“These people are just a nice bunch of people,” Struve said.

In an attempt to attract new participants, the Starlighters Square Dance Club will be offering beginning square dancing lessons on Monday evenings from 7:30 to 9 p.m. beginning Sept. 14 at Bel Air Elementary School. While the first one is free, further lessons will cost $3.50 per person per night.

Participants must be 12 or older and each youth dancer must be accompanied by an adult.

Patricia Reeves, president of the Starlighters Square Dance Club, along with her husband, John, encourages readers to take advantage of the weekly lessons, which run from September to May.

The Starlighters also hosts dances on the second and fourth Friday of each month from 7:30 to 10 p.m. at the William N. McFaul Activities Center in Bel Air. Annual dues are $45 and cover all 15 dances held throughout the year.

Refreshments are always provided.

For Harford County residents not in the Bel Air area, the Susquehanna Swingers in Havre de Grace and the Dublin Dancers in Darlington also offer various square dance programs.

For more information about the Starlighters Square Dance Club, the lessons and dancers they offer, or membership details, contact Gene Fitta at 410-838-2747.

“I just wish they would give it a try,” Reeves said of folks who have never do-se-doed.

“Come on out and exercise and enjoy!” Struve agreed.


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