Thursday, August 21, 2014

Third Thursday Hoedown offers old-timey fun in Germantown

"I would definitely say it all started with T-Claw, and he brought us together,” says Johanna Sims, a member of the Louisville Old Time Squares Association (LOTSA). That crew, which also includes Chet Gray, Jane Mattingly, Jim Bennett, Alex Udis and a few others, was officially formed by the caller known as T-Claw in July 2012. They have been putting on square dance socials on the third Thursday of each month since then at AmVets Post #9. But wait – what’s a caller?

It’s simple, really: The caller announces the dance steps so you know where you’ll move next as the Appalachian music plays; the good ones also entertain with lively commentary. Their energy is important to keeping up the dancers’ energy. Sims says it takes a lot of practice and has to be mastered through experience. “Sure, you can call dances to yourself to recorded music, but it is nothing like calling to actual dancers. So you just gotta get out there and do it! Make a fool of yourself a few times.”

A native of Nashville, T-Claw came through Louisville a few times while on tour. He and Sims had met at old-time music festivals and had mutual friends, so she helped him get started here. Sims had been introduced to the activity via those festivals, where bands play all day and a square dance follows every night.

“Before we started having regular dances here, I had been known to drive all the way to Columbia, Mo., for a square dance,” she says. “I’ve loved old-time music for a long time and started playing it when T-Claw moved to town and started giving me lessons.”

The organizers held early dances at Derby City Baseball, the Rudyard Kipling and Nachbar before landing at AmVets, which is also home to Danny Mac’s Pizza.

“It’s a wonderful event that’s fun to watch and join in the fun. Lots of good people and smiling faces,” says pizza proprietor Dan McMahon. The son of a vet, McMahon also appreciates that money raised from each event goes to a fund for the veterans, their families and the community at large. “We have so much fun with these Third Thursday square dances that we designed a square pizza called the Schnitzelburg Square. It fills up the square box. More food for the customer, same great price.”

“I have loved their pizza and karaoke for a long time now,” Sims says. “It started as a hangout for us. The hall already had a dance floor, a disco ball, a bar, pizza, and it is all right in our neighborhood … It is a beautiful arrangement because the guys at AmVets Post #9 love us and the music we bring in, and we love them!”

Sims also introduced T-Claw to a friend of hers who became his special someone, which is how he came to live here for a spell (the couple now calls Denver home). Over time, “He taught us everything we needed to know through monthly meetings, showing us all that goes in to planning and organizing the dance. He is still very active in booking the bands and just general support.”

He also encouraged the Louisville crew to learn how to call so they would have a regular caller. Sims says the LOTSA members have practiced together at house parties, and have added an open mic to their Third Thursday nights to practice and train new callers, beginning at 10:30.

The night has other features, like an old-time jam led by veteran musician Harry Bickel starting at 7 p.m. Local and regional vendors sell their wares. Different nonprofits come out each month. Most important is the community that comes together. “I have seen three generations of a family represented,” says Sims.

A beginners dance workshop starts around 7:30, with some more experienced dancers helping instruct. Sims says some folks seem nervous at first, but “I have yet to see that beginner dance end without a smile on everyone’s face … I would say the majority of beginners stay and dance all night. The new people always dance the most at their first hoedown! Once you start, it is hard to stop.”

“Third Thursday Hoedown” with The Leveetoppers and caller Chrissy Davis-Camp
AmVets Post #9
1567 S. Shelby St.
$5 (free for vets and children); 7 p.m.

photos by Robert Broussard

c. 2014 Insider Louisville

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