by John Bealle
The Northside Square Dance arose some years ago as a sly witches’ brew of motives. Local callers who wanted to practice. Old-time musicians who loved playing together. Dancers who wanted the special warmth of traditional square dancing. And Northside residents who wanted to make their neighborhood a better place. The early dances struggled to find themselves.
Then came T-Claw. T-Claw is a whipper snapper, a whoop short of brilliant and a holler short of crazy, a new-school west-coast-style millennial dance caller who was living in Louisville. “You can do it, John,” he’d say, when we had doubts. Then he’d disappear, only to be found dragging strangers from the street to come in and dance. By the force of his will he defined what we would become.
The dance happens monthly on the 2nd Tuesday, sometime after 8pm, in the warm confines of the Northside Tavern’s famous back room. The Tavern is a special place, one of Cincinnati’s best music venues, but also an honest-to-goodness tavern, where the neighborhood comes to mourn, to celebrate, to console. The Square Dance has its own bartender, Melanie Quallen, who loves us as we love her.
The band is the renowned Northside Volunteers, a mighty powerhouse of talent, an outpouring of all that drives the hungry soul to want to make music together. In the front row sit the stalwarts of our old-time scene: Warren Waldron, Judy Waldron, Russ Childers, Jeff Custis, Jeff Gushin. Around them fiddles and banjos crowd in tight, a shimmering beehive-mass of sound.
The upcoming May 12th dance is special. Like T-Claw, the finest callers have graced the Tavern stage: Lexington native Gabe Popkin, Tamara Loewenthal of Bloomington IN, Peter Rogers who grew up at the Pine Mountain Settlement School, Dayton OH caller Kathy Anderson. The May dance features one of our favorites, Frank Jenkins, the world’s gentlest man, who farms and builds gravity rock walls near Berea KY.
Traditional square dance is serious stuff, a sincere nod to the forebears who nurtured it through the ages. But it doesn’t feel that way. Once the square I was in got confused, and circled left when everyone else in the room was going right. When we saw this we just erupted in side-splitting laughter. Later someone from the set came up and said that silliness had made her feel so comforted, that she had been afraid of making mistakes and saw that it just wasn’t about that. I thanked her and smiled, knowing she’d tapped the wisdom of the ages in her own way.
IF YOU GO:
Monthly on the 2nd Tuesday, 8pm to around 10:30
Northside Tavern back room
4163 Hamilton Ave. in the heart of Northside
Parking: street parking or the pay lot across the street
Admission: donations encouraged for traveling callers