In Minnesota and across the U.S., the years immediately after World War II were a time of energy seeking new releases. In 1947, Minneapolis saw the arrival of a basketball team called the Minneapolis Lakers (where their name made sense). That same year, following a national trend originally backed by Henry Ford, square dance clubs were started in Minnesota.

I bring up the Lakers and Ford for a reason. If you’ve watched footage of old basketball games, you know the game was different then: slower, less graceful, more repetitive. And if you square danced in school long ago and groan at the memory, that was square dancing from Ford’s time: slower, less graceful, more repetitive. That style of square dancing is now called “traditional” or “old-style.”

In 1949, the Barnaught square dance club was founded in South St. Paul. I haven’t heard from anyone, but I assume that “Barnaught” is a double reference: first, as a cattle brand (O), to the meat packing industry that then thrived in South St. Paul; second, to being the best club “bar none.”

In 1963, some Barnaught members started a new club and named it The West Side Steppers. The West Side Steppers held dances at the Francis M. Grass Junior High School in West St. Paul. Tom Carroll was the long-time caller/instructor. When he graduated students, they were awarded “Tom’s Cats” badges. Larry Smith also did some calling for the club.

In the intervening years, especially after the 1974 founding of CALLERLAB, most square dance clubs adopted Modern Western square dancing, the evolving style that DGS and other Minnesota clubs use today. The old style had eight to ten calls, with songs traditionally having fixed choreography. The developing style had become a chaos with every caller making up his or her own calls and every club having its own house calls. Modern Western style currently has 69 mainstream calls, uniformly used world-wide, with dancers following the callers’ creative and sometimes devious combinations of those calls.

DGS badgeIn 1996, the Barnaught club and the West Side Steppers combined. To celebrate the reunion and its expanded geographical reach, the new club was named Dakota Grand Squares. The new badges are an outline of Dakota County with a jewel showing the West St. Paul location. Club colors were royal blue with red and white accents. Arvie Beckman sewed new banners.

Charter Members Fred and Peggy Riehm were long-time members of Dakota Grand Squares. Ed Horst was the longest-lived member of Barnaught/Dakota Grand Squares. He danced until he was 100 years old. Dakota Grand Squares now continues as Dakota Squares.

For 70 years, our club has been teaching new dancers and having monthly dances.

To show what Modern Western Square Dancing is like, starting in 2003, Dee and Ken Scott produced the cable series “Friendship Set to Music,” featuring their club, the Westonka Whirlers. Here’s a clip that shows many familiar faces, the fast pace, the smiles, a few mistakes by experienced dancers and their very speedy recovery: