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Couple’s love of square dancing brings fun, friendship

Roger and Bernadette McNeil get ready to call a square dance in the Cash Wise Community Room in south Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 2 / 4
Cindy Schultz of Fargo kicks up her boots as she square dances Tuesday in the Cash Wise Community Room in south Fargo. “I never thought it could be so much fun,” she said. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 3 / 4
Sherry Andersen of Fargo and Larry Andresen of Detroit Lakes, Minn., waltz Tuesday in the Cash Wise Community Room in south Fargo. Carrie Snyder / The Forum 4 / 4

In the Cash Wise Community Room here recently, brightly colored, petti-coated skirts twirled as dancers spun across the floor.

Roger McNeil performed his own version of the hip hop song, “Whomp! (There It Is),” as he instructed dancers to “Ferris wheel,” “promenade,” and “swing that honey like a garden gate” around the room.

McNeil and his wife, Bernadette, helped start the L & M Squares square dancing club in Fargo. They’re both heavily involved in square dancing throughout the area.

Roger calls square dances, meaning he’s the person singing or chanting as he instructs dancers on how to move. Bernadette is a cuer who leads round and line dances, so she calls out moves while couples ballroom dance and she teaches line dances.

They also dance frequently, attend square dancing conventions, and have led bus trips to places including Branson, Mo., and Nashville, Tenn., that involved square dancing.

The McNeils learned to square dance in 1974 after they married.

“It was something we could do as a couple,” Roger McNeil said.

At the time, he said there were 60 square dancing clubs in North Dakota. Now, he said, there are 10.

“There’s a lot of competition for entertainment,” Bernadette McNeil said. “People don’t realize how good square dancing is for your physical and mental health.”

Dancers can easily walk 3 to 5 miles in a two-and-a-half hour dance, the McNeils said. And with the caller changing steps at his whim, dancers also have to focus to make sure their movements match what he’s calling.

In addition to being good for you, they said it’s also a lot of fun.

“You might not be friends socially,” Bernadette McNeil said. “But you are friends on the dance floor. It really is like a big, extended family.”

Cindy Schultz of Fargo has been square dancing for a couple of years. She started after a friend got her into it.

Schultz was hesitant at first but now dances at least twice a month in the summer and two to six times a month in the fall.

“I never thought it could be so much fun,” she said.

Lois and Marv Olson dance regularly at Fargo square dances, even though they live in Sisseton, S.D. They do it for the fun and friendships.

“We’ve been at it since 1967,” Marv Olson said.

Corene Geffre has been part of L & M Squares for almost two years.

“It’s fun,” she said. “I like the exercise. I like music and I like all dancing.”

Geffre said Roger McNeil is an excellent caller.

“He has constantly added material and a different combination of movements to make it interesting,” she said.

Another reason for the decline in square dance clubs, Roger McNeil said, is there are a lot fewer callers than there used to be.

The McNeils travel throughout the region and even to other states like Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado so he can call square dances.

Roger McNeil taught himself to call square dances in 2001 because he said he, “always thought it was so cool.”

He studied other callers when he attended dances and online and he practiced at home.

The McNeils had quit square dancing for 23 years while they raised their family. After their kids moved out of the house, Bernadette said they went to go watch a dance in 2000, ended up dancing and haven’t stopped.

They also teach square dancing and will be starting a new round of lessons Sept. 22.

Square dances and lessons are listed weekly in the Farmer’s Forum.