Seeing outside the square
In a converted garage in Narre Warren Melbourne, on every other Friday, a gathering of men in string ties and women in frilly skirts takes place. The music pumps. Steps are called. The men and women begin to dance.
There is something a little different about this collection of dancers. About half of them have a vision impairment and they are part of the Victorian Blind Square Dancing group.
The group was started by Margaret and Colin Cox at the former Association for the Blind in Kooyong. When renovations forced them from there, they picked up their shoes and shuffled off to a church hall. It wasn't long before square dancers Margaret and Virgil Snider offered their house for meetings.
Funding was successfully secured and the Snider's double garage was lined and fitted with air conditioning for dancing all year round.
The dancers are taught by feeling the movements of others and with verbal explanations.
There are probably only about six movements that are a little bit difficult. The rest are fine because they all include touching of hands, says club president Wanda Egerton who has a vision impairment.
In progressive dances those with a vision impairment may extend a hand to be collected by the next partner.
Like any regular square dance club the moves are called over a microphone. Of course some may think this combination is a recipe for disaster. Wanda concedes there have been some head-on collisions. Partners will call to each other to identify their position, making this a slightly noisy affair.
Turns can be tricky for those who have no vision at all. Wanda has enough vision to use the reflection of the window to get a sense of direction.
The group generally attracts enough dancers for two eight-person sets. If there are extra dancers they might sit around the edge. Some of the more mature members are content not to be dancing all the time.
After all the dancing the group breaks for lunch and conversation.
The congenial company and also the exercise. They're the best things, says dancer Gaynor Marsh about the dancing club.
Like many square dancing clubs the group is always open to younger members. It is especially eager for more men to join so it can spare ladies who have to make up the male numbers and learn male steps.
Dancer Kaye Speed points to the benefits for those who have lost sight in later life.
The big thing for me has been mixing with positive people – people who positively get out in the community, keep active and keep fit.
Those in the group clearly enjoy each other's company. Wanda even gained from the group's matchmaking possibilities by encountering her husband on the dance floor.
These dancers are moving for enjoyment not competition but Wanda and her husband have been seen at sighted clubs. And, what could be a greater measure of the group than to maintain they scarcely tread on each other's toes.
For more information on square dancing contact Blind Sports Victoria who will refer you to the appropriate people.