An animated group of youngish old timers met recently over lunch to share their love of square dancing, and their hopes of creating an East Mountain square dance club.

Meet Greg and Lynn Tillery (Any relation to the Tillerys of Moriarty would be “way down the way” said he, as his wife quipped, “We drive Fords”), who are the driving force behind the effort to start an East Mountain club.

Along with them are John Taylor, and Rick and Betty Follett. Seated for lunch at Chili Hills in Moriarty, the five look like they’ve stepped from a Norman Rockwell painting, just a little old-fashioned and very down-to-earth.

They’ve been handing out flyers all over the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, hoping to get enough interest to start a club.

While numbers of dancers had been declining, the Covid pandemic put a lot of square dancers out of business, and groups have had a hard time recovering their numbers.

Lynn Tillery started square dancing at 21. “Lynn was dancing about 9 years before we got married,” Greg Tillery said, adding, “I didn’t have a choice—I had to get into it.” After dancing for a few years, he thought he’d give calling a try. “I started calling in 1989, and been calling ever since,” he says with the drawl of his native Oklahoma.

The group will bring a square dance demonstration to Moriarty’s annual Pinto Bean Fiesta, Sept. 17.

In the past, clubs may have had rules requiring the traditional flouncy dress, but these days they are more interested in attracting warm bodies. Still, there are clothing banks where people donate their square dance costumes when they no longer fit or after the death of a loved one.

The latter was the case for Taylor, who donated his wife’s dress to the Harvey House in Belen, which contains a Square Dance Museum. “They put our club [Bosque Quadrilles] in the museum,” he said. The club had danced there since 1969, he said.

Time spent square dancing among the group ranged from under 10 years to close to six decades.

Square dancing is done around the world, but the calling is always done in English, Greg Tillery explained. He has called in several states including Alaska, on ocean cruises, in jails, football fields and even caves.

Some of the dancers performed on a flatbed trailer in the State Fair parade; in other years dancers walked in the parade, taking the stops as opportunities to show off a few dance moves.

The calls of “left alaman” or “do-si-do” are used by the caller to direct the dance, Greg Tillery explained, laughing as he referred to himself as “the captain.”

Lynn Tillery says anyone who can walk can square dance.

There are various levels of modern square dancing, and most dancers are in the Mainstream and Plus levels. That’s a total of 68 moves for dancers to learn.

“The caller will explain in layman terms every move,” Greg Tillery said. “You learn so many moves one night, and the next time you dance, you add some more, and keep adding. It’s just repetition, you don’t think about it after awhile.”

In traditional square dancing “they had a certain pattern that they did,” he said. “It was all memorization, the whole dance. This, the caller is telling you what to do.” A group of dancers is called a tip.

Greg Tillery said he can call square dancing over the top of any song with the right beat, and he’s experienced enough to end the song with everyone back in their original spot.

To start a viable club, at least eight people are needed, and this group would like to see more, because at least four couples are needed for a tip. If anyone gets sick or goes out of town, there aren’t enough dancers to form a square.

“You gotta try it—I didn’t think I would like it either,” Taylor said. He’s now been square dancing for almost 30 years.

Left to right, Rick and Betty Follett, Greg and Lynn Tillery, and John Taylor. Photo by Leota Harriman.

“I enjoy it,” said Lynn Tillery, adding, “I’ve always liked to dance, and I enjoy the music. There’s fun and fellowship. It’s a good activity, not expensive, and anybody can do it.”

Rick Follett said he and his wife, like most dancers, do Mainstream and Plus, with no aspirations to get more complicated than that. He said a lot of the moves are self-explanatory.

“It used to be you always had to have the outfits,” Lynn Tillery said. “Anymore we care more about the bodies than the outfits.”

There used to be a club in Edgewood, called the Two by Fours, Greg Tillery explained. His wife added that they had quit dancing for the summer 34 years ago, and never started back up. There was another club in Tijeras.

New Mexico’s square dancing community is tightly knit, and regional dances are “like a family reunion,” Betty Follett said. “Square dancers are a really nice bunch of people to be around.”

She got started in Germany, later relocating to Los Lunas.

The Folletts started dancing in Belen to support the club there. “We were down there a couple of years, then the pandemic hit us.”

Why should people give square dancing a shot?

“It’s friendship set to music,” Greg Tillery said.

To learn more, find the square dance group under the tent at 11 a.m. at the Pinto Bean Fiesta in Moriarty, or contact the Tillerys at 505-350-1149, 505-883-8681 or tillerysdcaller@aol.com.