Tudor Squares Square Dance Club 1982-2020
A CLUB THAT WASN’T MEANT TO BE.
The story of TUDOR SQUARES SQUARE DANCE CLUB from 1982 to 2020
By Irene Dimmer with contributions from Chris and Linda Gill
The Beginning : Monthly Saturday evenings and moving on to becoming a weekly club and our first callers.
In 1982, I shared a brainwave with a group of six folk dancing friends who had always enjoyed the easy sing-along squares that were part of our folk tradition. Their response was: “Let’s ask him”. We did, and, unsuspected by us at that time, Tudor Squares was born. We, Jack and Irene, had already graduated (at basic, we believe – twice!) and our love of square dancing infected our friends. All too busy to commit to regular weekly evenings, the idea of a monthly Saturday club in Hemel Hempstead appealed to us.
Sponsored by our folk club we asked Ian McConnell, a top young American Square Dance caller, to call for us monthly on Saturday evenings. We invited folk dancers, square dancers, friends, Joe Public and all and starting in March 1982, had some very enjoyable Saturday evenings – twelve or so over a couple of years. During this period, some of those attending the Saturday evenings, mainly people from Hemel Hempstead, knowing that Jack and I had graduated and that I occasionally called folk dancing, persuaded me to run a few square dance evening classes so that they could keep up with the Saturday evenings. Though my work situation made it very difficult, armed with some Bob Ruff records, borrowed equipment and a handbook, this I attempted to do As these evenings were expected to be few in number, and were less likely to impinge on other groups, and as Monday was the only evening two of us could manage on an almost regular basis, we settled on Monday evenings.
Saturday evenings fold and regular weekly Monday evenings established with Irene Dimmer
Gradually it became apparent that, in setting up the Saturday evening dances, we had set ourselves and our caller a very difficult task; catering for the wide mix of skills, abilities and experience, and satisfying the needs of each group was becoming impossible. Sadly, the Saturday evenings folded and we were left with me and a small group of enthusiastic people determined to learn to square dance. As now, there were very few square dance callers with time to spare though all wished us every success. My work situation still prevented me from doing anything other than continuing with the Bob Ruff records, the handbook and some singing call records. These last a very mixed bag! And so, what had started out as a short-term solution to the dancers’ keenness to learn to square dance became the foundation of Tudor Squares. I soldiered on for two or three years bringing in new dancers as occasion demanded, desperately aware that we needed a ‘real’ caller, but there seemed to be none available with time to spare.
New callers: Trevor Peel, Susie Heath and Simon Kelly
In 1986, the knowledge that Jack and I were off to Australia for six months and that the club needed a ‘real’ caller encouraged us to contact Callers’ Club again. The secretary recommended that we approach a young caller, Trevor Peel, to help us, which we did. Unfortunately, shortly after joining us, his work situation changed and he was unable to continue. At about this time, Susie Kelly (then Heath) had completed a caller-training course and was looking for a club. We invited her along for a trial evening. She suited us and by the end of the evening she’d got the job. Susie has been calling for us since September 1986 and we’ve never looked back. After our return from Australia, I completed two training courses for callers and took responsibility for teaching our beginners. In 1990/91 Simon Kelly joined us and since then has shared the calling, giving us, until recently, three callers. First graduation Dance, starting plus and later dances and classes. We held our first graduation dance in July 1987 and have continued to run annual mainstream dances ever since. Early in 1988, the club was very gradually introduced to plus, and we held our first plus dance three years later. Every two years or so we run classes for newcomers and in September 1993 we ran our first basic dance. For some time we ran three dances annually, basic, mainstream and plus, and are fortunate that over the years we have made sufficient profit from our single level dances to help subsidise our beginners classes.
Affiliation to the BAASDC, selection of name and badge.
In September 1987 the club affiliated to the BAASDC. Henry VI11 had given Hemel Hempstead its first charter in 1539 and this connection with the Tudors influenced the selection of the name, ‘Tudor Squares Square Dance club’. The badge selected was the red Tudor rose on a white background.
From the beginning, the club’s philosophy has always been that the forging of friendships is as important as the dancing. And over the years several social activities have become part of our annual programme. We had run, jointly with our folk club, New Year’s Eve socials until lack of support forced us to discontinue them. End-of-term parties with pot luck have always been a part of our provision as we consider that eating together is a wonderful way of strengthening friendships. In December 1996, George and Beryl Burn assisted by their Christmas elves, Mel and Ena Potten, organised a grand Christmas party for us with a sit-down supper, Father Christmas and presents. Dancing was the icing on the cake. When many years later, a dancer says “The best thing I ever did was to learn square dancing -I have made so many friends”, you know that you are right.
Gradually, other social events have been introduced to our annual calendar and these are described below.
Visit to Neu Isenburg
In 1990, as part of our town-twinning programme, 20 dancers from Gateway Twirlers of Neu Isenburg spent a weekend with us. During the daytime, weexplored Hemel Hempstead and St Albans ensuring we left time and energy for the evenings. As I was calling for our folk club on Friday, they joined us there and we all did some displays and I shared the calling with their caller. The folk dancers displayed Hunsdon House, a 17th century dance featuring grand square.
On Saturday, the Borough Council entertained guests and hosts in the Pavilion with supper and drinks and we provided live entertainment with displays and bringing in. On Sunday evening, we hired a hall, cooked supper and held our own private party. Our guests thanked us and said we had treated them like royalty.
The following year, 9 dancers from Tudor Squares paid a return visit to Neu Isenburg. We too were treated like royalty, touring, eating, dancing and talking, though we were given little opportunity to use our German. One of the highlights of that weekend was watching as the table containing Susie’s kit, moved across the floor propelled by the vibrations as we danced to entertain our hosts!
Our first barbecue was held in 1995 in our garden where we were able to comfortably dance 4 squares. We agreed to make this an annual event, but on at least one year we were rained off and so we started to include an alternative wet weather venue in our plans. At about this time Chris and Linda had added a roomy conservatory to their house and invited us to use their garden and this we did from 2000 on. Their swimming pool was an additional bonus and we swam and danced in it with pleasure. The cosiest barbecue saw 50 club members eating in the conservatory whilst Chris and Mel Potten cooked our lunch outside under the awning. The conservatory was just large enough to seat 50 members at tables; the dancing was equally cuddly. When Chris and Linda moved, we tried Bourne End Village Hall and then Woodhall Farm Community Centre where we have now settled. It’s really heart-warming to look around the garden and see groups of dancers eating, talking and laughing. After an hour or two of dancing, cake and tea is served followed by the arrival of carriages.
For our first outing, in 1992, we toured our local shopping centre as it was being developed and found it very interesting. Our next, in 1998, took us to Brighton. We journeyed home via Yellow Rocks SDC. They gave us supper and a wonderful social evening. Each year has seen a coach party of club members and friends travelling to a different venue – Dover, Beaulieu, Bressingham, Bath and Windsor to name a few. As one explores, a very pleasurable part of the day is bumping into and chatting with friends .
New Year’s Eve Party
When first established, the club ran joint New Year’s Eve Socials with our folk dance club but these eventually folded. At our AGM in October 2009, a member asked if the club could arrange a party for New Year as local events had been cancelled. Although this was short notice, we managed to find a hall and crammed in 74 club members. Eight Callers and Cuers associated with the club put on a programme including Squares, Rounds, Lines, and Contras. We toasted in the New Year with champagne and finished at 1.45am. We hope this will become an annual event and we may even have to find a larger hall.
For our first dinner dance in 2009, we settled on HH Football club as the best local venue as they have a good sized dance floor with sufficient room to seat 110 dancers around the outside of the dancing area. Because of this space limitation and a club subsidy, we operate a ‘first come, first served’ policy of ticket allocation. As usual our club callers gave generously of their time and created a wonderful party atmosphere so that all of the members can dance all of the time. The second dinner dance, equally enjoyable, was held in January 2010, and we expect this to become an annual tradition.
As Tudor Squares grew and the number of sections increased, our Chairman at the time introduced all-together dances and these proved so popular that we now run three a year. Our newer dancers find them extremely enjoyable as it presents an excellent opportunity for them to dance in a non-threatening environment with experienced dancers. And they are always full of praise for the patience and helpfulness shown by our experienced dancers. They were proud to learn that they had danced with two of the best dancers in the country and were overwhelmed by their kindness.
Out-and-about in the Neighbourhood
Following a major folk event in the town, for several years our folk club ran joint barn dances with the Borough Council. These ended when they were no longer making a profit and numbers had fallen to 200! When these closed, Tudor Squares ran hoedowns, mainly as a recruiting tool but they never justified the hard work needed. I still continued to call for hoedowns and barn dances for many organisations in the area. The club, too, has given frequent displays at Neighbourhood Open Days and our callers have run Hoedowns for local organisations.
A Bluebell Walk
2010 saw the introduction of what we hope will become the first of many walks when at the end of April, 40 club members walked via bluebell woods to a local pub for lunch. Two of our newer members, Ann Reardon and Grant Thorne, regular walkers with a local walking club arranged this very successful outing for us.
National and International Events
Our club was very fortunate that the BAASDC held the Association’s 50th Anniversary Celebration and the European Convention in Hemel Hempstead and that Callers’ Club held their 50th Anniversary Celebrations here too. The first two were spread over three venues and included rounds and workshops and dances at every level from Mainstream to Challenge. These were exciting events and all were very well supported by dancers from all over the world.
A large number of dancers at the European proceeded to the Town Centre, where our own talented Paul Bristow shared calling with other British and European callers. The dancing was watched by many interested local townspeople.
The local press were interested by our pre-publicity and gave us extensive coverage both before and after the European and our subsequent recruiting drive benefited from this. Two squares of dancers often travel to dances and weekend and other events in the UK. Many of our members travel throughout Europe and America often adding a holiday on to the dancing event. In 2008, we added ‘England’ to the bottom of our club badge because, when abroad, we are often asked “Where is Hemel Hempstead?”
Moving Along: Introduction of the Advanced Programme, Rounds and Challenge.
At the beginning of 2001 the club set up an advanced level group which is flourishing well and for some time, the club ran three groups, the main Plus group, a MS/beginners group and the Advanced group which offered quite a wide choice allowing people to dance at their preferred programme/s.
Jenny Kawalit so enjoyed the rounds workshops at the 50th that she set up and ran rounds for us for a while with Teresa and Paul Hart teaching. Later, Sara Davis re-established our rounds classes but these folded after a while. We are now starting another Rounds (Choreographed Ballroom) group with Alex Stillwell cueing, and intend to get this off the ground in October 2010.
In 2007, at a dancing weekend, some members talked about learning Cl; at the table was Roy Stillwell who immediately offered to help. A programme was planned for 60 hours of teaching and the club put together some days and weekends where Roy taught 2 squares of dancers. Susie and Simon helped by putting on a series of Tuesday evenings to run through and refresh what we had learned. We kept our dancers together and now dance two squares on Tuesday evenings. Some members wanted to move onwards and as a result, the club decided in 2009 to learn C2. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a caller available and some teaching tapes were pressed into action. Two squares are now learning C2 on Monday evenings. We have completed the programme and are looking for ‘floor time’ with other C2 groups around the Country. As far as is known, there are no plans for C3, but you never know. Our thanks go to Chris and Linda Gill, the driving force behind our advanced and | challenge sections.
A Clutch of Callers
It would have been impossible for the club to develop as it has without the support of willing callers and here we have been so very fortunate.
The first to join Simon, Susie and myself was Alan Jackson who helped in the growth of the advanced section by presenting material by electronic means. Simon and Trudy Fielding learnt to call Advanced with our advanced section so that they could teach and call advanced for us, and then learnt to call challenge with us for the same reason. Roy Stillwell undertook teaching our first challenge class. Eric Curtis joined us for two years to teach our beginner classes. We sadly lost Eric because he could no longer call for our beginners on the club’s preferred evening. Teresa and Paul Hart worked tirelessly to establish a rounds section for us and later Sara Davis worked hard to re-establish that section for a while. Our next recruit was Granville Spencer who joined me as a mentee with our mainstream section. During this time, he attended a GSI training course and when I took over another group he carried on with the mainstream section. Phil Peel joined us in Sept 2009 and is teaching our current group of Beginners and will be taking our new Beginners in September 2010. Alex Stillwell has cued Rounds for us from April – July 2010 and is making preparations to start our new Round Dancers section in October 2010.
Each ‘caller’ has brought and made available to our dancers their varying expertise and experience, their warmth and their enthusiasm for dancing and calling. Our club and our dancers are incredibly fortunate that we can call upon such a wealth of talent.
Still dancing with the club are six of its founder members and we have been given Life Honorary Membership of the club with a badge and accompanying certificate. We, Jack and I, John and Pat Carey and Una and Ray Jeffery are so very proud to have been awarded this honour. We have always gained so much pleasure from being members of Tudor Squares; remaining members of the club has not been a great effort.
(Also granted Hon Membership were Derek & Freda Rudd in 1985 having been part of the original committee that set up the Saturday night programme. Jack and Irene were honoured in October 2005. Ray and Una joined the committee in 1987 hon memb granted April 2009.. John Carey was elected to the committee at the AGM in 1988 and Pat joined him in 1991. Both were honoured in October 2005)
Getting a new club firmly established was not easy, particularly as it had never been our intention to do so. Hence we had no plans in place for a regular club. But once we had people who wanted to dance, the committee at that time worked extremely hard to ensure that there was somewhere for them to dance, even lending the club money at times to make sure things happened. In spite of one or two pessimists the committee soldiered, or should I say danced, on, and slowly but very surely the club’s foundations became secure. We were also helped by grants from local bodies.
What the club has never been short of is willing workers and I believe this has been one of the secrets of our success. We are a committee-run club with the committee planning our events, but all club members have contributed to our success mainly in undertaking the domestic chores involved in running the club and its events. Also if someone comes forward with an idea or suggestion, then they are given every encouragement and support to get that idea off the ground. Hence the wide variety of things we do. No one member or committee could undertake all the work that has gone into the growth of Tudor Squares.
At the BAASDC’s 50th Anniversary, we ran the Farewell Dance and served a Ploughman’s lunch, and some 50 club members, almost the total number at that time helped to ensure that this ran smoothly. I felt incredibly proud as the club’s chairman that so many people helped. It seemed as if I only needed to ask and the job was done. I received a beautiful letter from a couple thanking us for allowing them to help. They said they had enjoyed the feeling that they were part of the club and that their help was valued.
Several club members and callers have served on national committees and they, and others have been actively involved in running national events. Susie is the secretary of Callers Club and she and Simon work tirelessly for Callers Club and the GSI. Simon and Trudy Fielding jointly chair the GSI committee.
Whilst President of the BAASDC, Linda Gill oversaw the Association’s 50th and chaired the 2001 committee and now chairs the RPM Committee. Chris Gill chairs the London and Home Counties Federation and he and Irene served on the 2001 committee and were members of the RPM along with Susie and Simon Kelly. Alan Jackson is the Association’s database manager and editor of the annual directory of clubs.
Tudor Squares owes a tremendous debt to everyone who has helped in the development of the club and our thanks go to each and every one of them for sharing their talents with us.
By Irene Dimmer with contributions from Chris and Linda Gill
This article was previously published in Lets Square Dance magazine Dec 2010 to Feb 2011
Lightly edited November 2018 by Simon Kelly
Note. Eight years later (November 2018) a number of those mentioned have moved elsewhere or retired from square dancing. A number have passed on to the great Square dance in the sky. Irene has moved to retirement village in Milton Keynes, at which she is still running a Folk & Square dance group for the other residents. She celebrated her 90th birthday earlier this year with a Murder Mystery party for 30, mostly family and a few friends.
Love from Susie Kelly.