About 100 of the world's most experienced square-dancers showed off their best do-si-dos, promenades and allemande lefts as they kicked off a four-day Callerlab convention Sunday in the Conference and Events Center Niagara Falls.
They are among about 250 Callerlab members from six countries, most of them professional square-dance callers, who are attending this year's 37th annual convention. Callerlab, headquartered in Topeka, Kan., is an international association of about 1,400 square-dance callers.
"Square-dancing is friendship set to music. People out there on the dance floor are having a great time," said Dana Schirmer, executive director of Callerlab.
"And the calls are a standardized, international language -- the calls all are in English. The calls are the same in Japan or Australia as they are in Canada and the United States," Schirmer said. "If you can square-dance here, you can square-dance anywhere."
At square-dance clubs in Japan, Sweden and Germany, people "dance in English, but they don't speak it," Callerlab boasts.
Among the dance callers at this year's convention are members from Switzerland, Great Britain, Japan, Canada, Australia and the United States.
Some of them showed off their calling techniques Sunday night at a two-hour session that was open to the public. Otherwise, convention attendance is limited to members who paid about $200 apiece to attend a series of seminars, conferences and meetings designed to hone their skills as callers.
"They are here to learn and to make friends," Schirmer said. "There is something magical about touching hands. There are no strangers among square-dancers; there are just friends you haven't met yet."
"Modern square-dancing is exercise for the body and mind," Schirmer said.
"Moving in rhythm to the music keeps you physically fit," according to the organization's recruiting pamphlet. "Reacting quickly to the square-dance caller's calls keeps you mentally on your toes. And your team of eight dancers depends on you to keep those toes moving."
Almost every popular song has been adapted for square-dance calling, Schirmer said.
Noting that square-dancing attracts many older people, Schirmer said younger people seem reluctant to commit the amount of time it takes to become a professional dance-caller.
"We are trying to attract more young people," he continued. "I do a lot of teenage parties. And we're having a seminar here this week to talk about how to do more of that."