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Be there and be square (dancing)

Square dancers will do-si-do and area merchants hope to see more dough this weekend as an estimated 800 to 900 square dancers sashay into Brainerd Friday through Sunday for the 60th annual State Square and Round Dance Convention at Brainerd High School.

A grand march, set for 7 p.m. Friday in the school gymnasium is open to the public. Those interested in seeing the grand march may enter at the north parking lot door and sign in before 7 p.m. so they may receive a free pass and be seated in the top balcony overlooking the gym.

“It’s tremendous fun,” said Terry Orton of rural Brainerd, who with her husband, Jay, is serving as co-chair of the event. “We meet old and new friends.”

Orton said square dancing requires no fancy clothes — just casual clothes and comfortable shoes. She said the dancers’ attire ranges from poofy skirts and petticoats to dress jeans. In addition to Minnesota dancers she said there will be dancers from California, Canada and Texas, as well as other locations. Seven hundred dancers were already registered by Monday morning.

The Ortons are members of Ray’s Promenaders, the Brainerd area square dance club, founded 59 years ago by Ray O’Reilly.

She said most of those attending will stay three nights and eat meals in area restaurants.

“We have a lot of good fun and it’s good exercise,” she said.

Brainerd Lakes Chamber CEO Lisa Paxton estimated that if each couple spends $100 a day on lodging and $75 a day on meals and miscellaneous items the convention could bring about a half a million dollars into the area.

“That’s a terrific boost to our early summer season,” she said.

Accordingly, the chamber reached out to members to put together premium give-aways and coupons for the visitors. She also said Visit Brainerd, formerly the Brainerd-Baxter Lodging Association gave the convention organizers some of the lodging tax money in order to market the event.

Paxton urged community members to give the dancers a warm Brainerd welcome.

While some groups spend $2 bills in a convention city to demonstrate their economic impact, she said she thinks the dancers will attract attention in the community because of their wonderful outfits.

“They should be noticed,” Paxton said.

In a statement Orton said square dancing is for singles, couples and families. She said square dancing is a chemical-free activity.

“You can’t dance and drink,” she said.

A free introduction to square dancing, called Square Dance ABC, will be conducted from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday in the high school’s student lounge. Dick Rueter will be the caller.

“It’s just walking to music with a caller giving directions,” Orton said in statement.

Orton noted that square dancing — a low impact activity with constant movement — has been endorsed by the American Heart Association.

The public is invited to watch square and round dancing from 7 to 11 p.m. Friday afternoon, all day Saturday and Saturday night and Sunday morning.

More information may be obtained at or or by calling 764-2654 or (952) 472-0006.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860