Song of the month: March 2017. “Mississippi” by John Phillips

2016 was the year I started square dancing.  The Rosetown Ramblers had been on my radar for a few years.  I saw a poster advertising their lessons on Wednesday nights.  At the time, I had yoga, so couldn’t commit, but I hoped to be able to in the future.

When the gym closed, yoga went away.  A year passed, and then an article about the club was published in the newspaper.  I emailed indicating my interest and was told that there would be a special summer session for lessons.

Square dancing hits a lot of my pleasure centers. One is that it has dancing, but with rules.  There are levels to square dancing, where you learn specific calls.  Once you know those calls, you can go “anywhere in the world and dance” as square dancing people are fond of saying. Over the summer, we learned the Basic calls and when official lessons started in the fall we learned the Mainstream calls.  You can keep dancing at the mainstream level, or you can move on to Plus, and then Advanced (2 levels) followed by Challenge (three levels).

Our class graduated in February, and in March the official report from the president of the club outlined the steep decline in membership over the past two years and his recommendation that if we don’t find and retain eight dancers in the fall, that the club disband.

There are other clubs in the area I can join, but Rosetown Ramblers is the only Portland LGBT club.

Square dancing is full of things that will cause it to wither away.  You have to learn a skill, for one.  Attending weekly lessons takes dedication and practice.  Of our summer crew of dancers, half came weekly with half coming now and again, which made it hard for them to progress. And then you have to go through that stage of being bad at something, which is hard, even when people are cheering you on.

And when you start square dancing, you join a club.  Paying for the first series of lessons got me the learning, but I felt the pressure to join the club, as low-key and friendly as it was.  There are many things I love about Generation X and Millennials, but we are not joiners. You can see it at the dances.  There are bunch of people retired or nearing retirement, and not many people younger than that.

There’s also the outfits.  Personally, I’ve lusted after those floofy skirts since I was a little girl watching the square dancers on flatbed trucks in parades.  But I recognize how ridiculous they look.  The advantage of LBGT clubs is that people don’t wear the fluffy skirts, but my observation of other clubs is that nearly every woman does have a square dancing outfit.  That’s another thing people born after 1962 are not good at:  being told what to wear. Or, as my friend put it, “I’m not at the stage in my life when I want to dance in costume.”

So I’ve been mourning the loss of something great I just discovered.  And this was driven home when our caller didn’t show up to call at a dance because he was in the hospital.  He’d had a heart attack.

Ian Craig is the caller who taught me how to dance.  He’s a good teacher, knows how to do all the good teacher things: keep the students engaged, review material, introduce new things, make learning fun.  My mind boggles at his knowledge and skill.  Callers have to move couples through a series of moves that switches them up, keeps time to the music and is fun.  They have to maneuver those couples right back to where they started, which I still marvel that they have the ability to do this.  And they have to sing.

Singing calls were my big surprise about square dancing.  I knew about the caller calling. But at my first lesson, when Ian sang a song and called, I had no idea it was coming.  Singing calls give callers room to use modern music.  They alternate singing and calling.  Here’s an example:

Note that this is a pretty good example of what square dancing looks like.  Age, costume, level of raucous are about what you see.  My club is a little louder.  The call Allemand Left/Weave the Ring would be followed by the dancers yelling, “5, 6, 7, 8!” and then doing a more complex version of Weave the Ring.  These are good dancers, dancing at the Plus level.  There are few mistakes.

Ian’s last singing call at lessons on Wednesday was “Mississippi” by John Phillips.  I’d never heard this song before, not at square dancing, not out in the world.  Ian’s arrangement has a killer opening bass line, which is not present here.  But the rest of the song is very fun.

I think I will be able to square dance for a long time to come.  It will be dancing through the downward slide to oblivion, though.  Clubs will probably disband again and again as people get too old to dance, and callers die.  I missed square dancing’s heyday by 60 years, and I missed gay square dancing’s heyday by 25.  It’s a joyous thing, square dancing, and I do my best not to think about the time when I will have to stop dancing.

Books read in March 2017

It was a stellar month for YA. 

Picture Book: None this month
Middle Grade: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Young Adult: Piecing Me Together; The Hate U Give
Young Nonfiction: Grand Canyon
Adult Fiction: The Underground Railroad

The Secret Project
Jonah & Janette Winter
Read for Librarian Book Group

The development of the atomic bomb!  In picture book format!

I think this story needs a lot of scaffolding.

Ed Galig/Erin E. Stead
Read for Librarian Book Group

It wasn’t apparent to me I was reading a poem, and I found myself puzzled by the writing throughout and also by the ending.  It took reading the book flap to clarify things.  Even with clarity, I found that there wasn’t much there for me.

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle
Janet Fox
Read for Family Book Group

The second reading was nearly as fun as the first for me.  The family book group was all over the place in their reviews.  I had the highest rating of the adults, with an 8.  The kid average rating was 7.0046, the adults’ was 6.575 for an overall rating of 6.770

On Edge
Gin Price
Five stars for a star-crossed story of a runner (parkour enthusiast) and a writer (graffiti artist).  I also really appreciated the urban Detroit setting.  Unfortunately, the stars start to drop as the story progresses.  The romance, while convincingly written, had a love-at-first-sight origin that was not really believable.  This was advertised as a mystery, but the mystery didn’t get going until halfway through the book.  My largest criticism has to do with the actions of the person who did the deed.  That person is the epitome of a 1950’s cliche and was not well received by me.  We’ve moved beyond that particular stereotype.

Nora & Kettle
Lauren Nicole Taylor
1950s historical fiction about a Japanese American orphan trying to make his way in Brooklyn after being released from the “relocation” camps.  He crosses paths with the daughter of a civil rights lawyer who is  abusive toward his family.

The writing is crisp and vivid, and the characters complicated and sympathetic.  There is a well-placed warning at the beginning. The scenes of domestic violence are brutal to read, and some of the experiences Kettle has are difficult.

This is a good addition to the post-war historical fiction cannon.

The Lonely Hearts Club
Elizabeth Eulberg

A girl, terribly hurt (emotionally) by her boyfriend, decides to give up boys for the rest of high school.  Her friends join her, and the club grows.  Overall a good quick read, though I there were a few detractions.

My high school had the exact same law-and-order/sports-oriented principal depicted in this book, yet I found it incredibly hard to believe he would even take notice of a band of girls forming their own club, much less be so vindictive.  There was also a scene of assault that was swept under the rug in a way that I did not feel fit at all with the sentiments of the club.

Piecing Me Together
Renee Watson
Read for Librarian Book Group

I’m interested in why Renee Watson sets her books so firmly in Portland and changes some, but not all, of the names.  As a Portland reader, it’s maddening.

Other than that, this book was exactly the kind of book I love. It gave me the opportunity to live in Jade’s life, which is a good life, and hard life.  Watson is a master at depicting the good/hard blend.  I particularly appreciated parsing the complicated feelings that come with being picked for the organization that will give you exposure to things you don’t get to experience, due to your reduced circumstances.

Aside from that, I loved the complexity of Jade’s friendships.  I’m a huge sucker for a romance, but those stories are plentiful.  Because of that, I really love coming across a coming-of-age book with a character I adore whose growth and change has nothing to do with finding romantic love.

Tiffany D. Jackson
Read for Librarian Book Group

One of those gobble-down books.  What would the life of a nine-year-old alleged murderer be like?  The details were fierce and disturbing.  I was all in, until the author pulled the rug out from under me with the ending.

The Hate U Give
Angie Thomas
Read for Librarian Book Group

I loved this book unconditionally. I love:

**Starr Carter, one of my favorite characters this year
**How the book shows the terror of being the bystander in a police shooting.
**How complicated the details of the shooting are.
**How complicated and nuanced Starr’s life is–kind of like how real life works.
**Starr’s family, especially the relationship between her parents.
**How this book was sad and weighty and difficult, but also delightfully funny.
**How Starr experiences sorrow and joy, and maybe even in the same day.
**That this book was in a 13-way bidding war

I don’t love that while I was reading this book, a young man of color in my hometown was shot and killed by the police.

If you are looking for a zeitgeist book for 2017, this is your book.

City of Saints & Thieves
Natalie C. Anderson
Read for Librarian Book Group

It took me a while to put my finger on what was off about this book.  I found the story and characters engaging, and the pacing was quite good.  But I never really felt like I was in Kenya.  I think more smells and descriptive sights would have grounded me more in a sense of place.

Other than that, it was a good book.

Grand Canyon
Jason Chin
Read for Librarian Book Group

Jason Chin brings a sense of wonder to this books.  I loved the tour through the geologic ages of the Grand Canyon.  And that’s saying something, as Geology is one of those Zzzzzzzzz topics for me.

The Underground Railroad
Colson Whitehead

The realistic depictions of slavery combined with the alternate-reality version of pre-Civil War US made this book a big win.