By MICHAEL-SHAWN DUGARThe members of Palouse Promenaders want you.
They want you to join their club and learn one of the most historic dances in American culture: square dancing, which has been the official American Folk Dance of Idaho for the past 25 years. They want you to be a part of their club campouts and to join them as they dance across the Northwest. They want you to be a part of a social group that offers good exercise, music and even better people.
And in the coming weeks, they also want you to attend Boot “Scootin” On the Palouse, their series of free community events beginning Wednesday at the Latah County Fairgrounds. The event will continue every Wednesday until Oct. 8.
“We’re hoping to find a group of people that are interested in dancing, no matter what kind. From that we’ll branch off and go off into our regular set of square dance lessons,” said Gary Bloomfield, club co-president. “That’s our purpose for being there, to get a presentation in front of people and maybe some will say, ‘Oh, that looks like fun; we should do that.’ ”
The Palouse Promenaders will also take the stage at 9:30 a.m. Saturday at the Moscow Farmers Market.
Group President Bloomfield, 73, and his wife/co-president, Karen Bloomfield, have been dancing in the club for years — 33 to be exact — many of those at Lena Whitmore School on the first and third Saturday of every month. In addition to journeying across the Northwest, square dancing has taken the couple to Alaska, Missouri, the Panama Canal and the Caribbean.
They enjoy dancing, obviously, but throughout the years it has become more than just a recreational activity. For Gary, dancing isn’t even the highlight of the experience for him.
“It’s being with the people,” he said when asked his favorite part about the club. “We’re like a square dance family. When people join the club, maybe not right away, but before long they’re friends with everybody.”
With their daughters gone from the Palouse and exploring lives of their own, Gary and Karen are especially fond of the family aspect. Whether it’s meeting new people within their own club during covered-dish meals or “Meet and Eat” nights or encountering people in other cities at various festivals, they enjoy the companionship that comes with being in the club.
“It doesn’t replace family,” he said, “but it’s an additional family.”
In past years the club has had members from ages 12 to 80, though the mean age of the group tends to be closer to the latter. In recent years, the club has decreased in size because of old age, and it currently features about 40 members.
Gary and Karen agree an increase in members begins with attracting a younger crowd, though the talk around town indicates that will be easier said than done as youth participation in most social clubs in the area is declining.
“What we’d like to find is a group of young people to form their own square and dance more at their speed,” Gary said. “When we do a demo, it looks like it’s too slow, but the club could kick it up a notch if we had the (young) people show up.”
Occasionally, the Promenaders club will have students from Washington State University and and the University of Idaho, which Gary said is “quite enlightening” for the older members, because having young people around makes them feel youthful as well.
Last year, the club was fortunate to have a pair of UI seniors join the club for a year before graduating and leaving town. Although their stint with the square dancing club was brief, one of the first things each of them did upon relocating was scour the city for the nearest square dancing club.
“That makes our group feel good, because part of the purpose of our group is to keep the interest of square dancing going and get through this slump and move on and show people that there’s a social life out there besides looking at a cellphone or a TV screen,” Gary said.
And if nothing else, Gary and Karen believe the square dance club is the ideal exercising opportunity. It combines the cognitive practice of learning and memorizing the calls with the physical practice of executing the moves.
“It’s good exercise, plus it’s fun,” Gary said. “If you go to a gym and you’re sitting there working out, that’s not my idea of fun, but if you’re listening to music and dancing, you forget that you’re exercising.”
IF YOU GO
What: Boot “Scootin” On the Palouse: A community fun event by the Palouse Promenaders
Where: Latah County Fairgrounds, 1021 Howard St., Moscow
When: 7 to 9 p.m., Sept. 24, Oct. 1 and Oct. 8.
Cost: Free admission
For more information: Contact (208) 835-4140, (208) 882-8366 or (509) 332-7781