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Originally published Friday, April 11, 2014 at 11:13 AM

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Swing your partner and get a fun workout

The good thing about adult square dancing, at least at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard, is it involves live music by The Tallboys, occasional partners highly skilled at twirling and some yeehaws.

Special to The Seattle Times


The Tractor Tavern

5213 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle, WA


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SQUARE DANCING as an adult is no less awkward than it is in middle school; palms are still sweaty, there’s confusion during the do-si-do, and people still step on your feet.

The good thing about adult square dancing, at least at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard, is it involves live music by The Tallboys, occasional partners highly skilled at twirling and some yeehaws.

The best and the worst thing about square dancing is that square dancing requires very little technique. It helps to be able to follow directions, but even that isn’t completely necessary. The result is people of all ages and skill levels show up at the Tractor’s square-dance nights — though the crowd does skew young.

If you want time to get accustomed to steps, go earlier in the evening. The caller walks you through each dance, but earlier there’s more space for squares.

As I stood in a group of four couples, I had flashbacks to middle school, from the awkwardness of finding a partner to doing different steps as the caller walked us through dances including “Divide the Ring” and “Down the Line.” I relearned how to swing, remembered who my corner was and got turned around every time we had to promenade.

I quickly learned that a partner skilled at twirling was key; they guarantee your dance is fun no matter what. I also learned that if your partner wasn’t the best twirler, chances are your corner or someone else in the group was, so I could get my fix and spin really, really fast.

As more people showed up, it turned into square dancing, body-slam style. I got stepped on. I stepped on people. If people in the square got turned around, we enthusiastically redirected them. It’s a confusing, hilarious mishmash.

As the night went on, dance moves got more complicated, like when four of us had to grab left hands in the center, go to the right, add right hands, and go to the left. One partner, Andrew, showed us how to put our foot in the center to twirl super fast. That got exciting.

I beefed up my square-dancing vocabulary and moves, adding back in the do-si-do and the allemande. Not that I think anyone really noticed if we got it right anyway.

Caller Gabe kept it fun, throwing in a Seahawks-themed dance where we created “impenetrable walls” of six dancers, snarled at each other and wove through each other like wide receiver Percy Harvin.

People come with friends, but it’s easy enough to grab a partner and dance, and to keep dancing. This is not the place to get attached to dancing technique, though it is fun to dance with someone with some flair.

The Tractor also is an ideal venue for a square dance, with its old-timey feel and cowboy décor. People came dressed the part, with lots of plaid and cowboy boots around the room.

Square dancing gets sweaty, fast. You can make it as active as you want, dancing every time or taking breaks in between dances to let others jump into the fray. The room’s enthusiasm is contagious; I didn’t want to stop. I bounced through every dance, grinning and laughing.

Square dancing is messy, it’s sweaty and a little wild. It’s a great way to move, but getting activity in is almost secondary. Go because it’s fun.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Read her blog at Email: Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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