Three couples square dance on a concrete floor.
Couples square dance at the Ashland County Fair on Sept. 23, 2023.

ASHLAND — As some of you might know, I moved here to Ohio from Montana, for this job, in July. 

I get a lot of funny looks when I tell people that. Montana and Ohio are different, and my transition here came with many changes. 

Ohio doesn’t have mountains, and Montana isn’t quite as green as it is here. The cities around here are new, and I’ve found the maxims about Midwesterners and their kind nature to be true.

But, I find myself missing things out West often. 

So, when I saw square and line dancing on the Ashland County Fair’s schedule, it almost felt like a relief.

Admittedly, while I haven’t thought much about square or line dancing since I learned how to do it in high school gym class, it’s something I do know. 

I had friends in college who did it regularly. To this day, how to do-si-do and do all the steps to “Cotton-Eyed Joe” are pieces of knowledge ingrained in my mind.

How different could it be around here?

The answer: not very. 

Watching people learn the steps I knew, stumbling through them for the first time with smiles on their faces, hesitating to dance and laughing along with their mistakes made me remember my 16-year-old self doing the same thing in a gym class in Montana. 

People learned to line dance and square dance at the Ashland County Fair on Sept. 23, 2023.

The steps around here were pretty much the same. They came back naturally as I watched people do it and then tried my own hand, er a feet. 

You do-si-doed around your partner. You did the grapevine, some kicks and went forward and backward, turning with a hitch step.

One of the band members told me I picked up the steps naturally. It made sense, considering I knew a lot of them. 

Even with things occurring in slightly different configurations, line and square dancing are pretty much the same.

It was just the music that was really different. It was less Western and more bouncy. There was a lot more piano and a lot less twang in the singer’s voice.

I definitely missed the “Boot Scoot Boogey” and “Watermelon Crawl,” the staples of line dancing that I learned.

The Stocksdale Band played in the Byers Building, teaching people different line and square dances at the Ashland County Fair on Sept. 23, 2023.

But the Stocksdale Band was still fun. And the familiarity of the steps still stuck out over the differences in the music. 

That’s exactly the same story I could tell about moving so far from home. The steps stayed pretty much the same. 

Those steps of making friends, connecting with people and getting involved in the community are of equal importance in both places. People care about local news, and family, and each other. Kindness matters. 

It’s just the music — the landscape and the street names — that are really different. But they’re still fun to learn.

For those of you interested in learning more about line or swing dancing, Wayne County Rural Youth — the organization running things at the fair — will be putting on a square dance for free at Lehman’s Hardware from 12 to 3 p.m. on Sept. 30. The dance is open to people of all ages and skill levels.

A handwritten sign taped to the piano onstage at the fair’s line and square dancing event on Sept. 23, 2023, shows when future dances will be held.

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Ashland Source's Report for America corps member. She covers education and workforce development, among other things, for Ashland Source. Thomas comes to Ashland Source from Montana, where she graduated...