Tech Squares: 50 Years of Do-si-do at MIT

by Elisabeth O'Donnell on August 15, 2017 · 0 comments

in Alumni Life, Arts, Athletics, Campus, Campus Culture, Student Life

A typical class hosted by Tech Squares.

A square dance club may be unexpected at MIT. But the Institute’s square and round dance club, Tech Squares, is well established –and will celebrate its 50th Anniversary September 22-24 on MIT’s campus.

“MIT students are the ideal people to become good technical square dancers,” says Guy Steel SM ’77, PhD ’80. “They have what it takes mentally to learn definitions and to apply them in half of a second. Square dancers perform like little computers, ‘Here’s the instruction, here’s the data, and perform.’”

The origins of Tech Squares dates to 1967 when Don Beck ’70, Bill Mann ’70, and Judie Kotok (wife of Alan Kotok ’62, SM ’66) hosted the club’s first meetings and often pulled students from the hallway to complete their eight person squares. The group grew and was named official MIT club in 1969, thanks in part to Veronica McClure, a non-student who lived in the Boston area and danced with the club.

Co-founder Veronica McClure (left), who established Tech Squares as an official MIT club in 1969.

The club grew steadily over time and later earned mentions in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, and the book Up the Infinite Corridor. Today’s group boasts more than 80 active members, including 24 MIT students, 17 MIT alumni, and 45 other members.

“Because of Squares, I have friends from a really diverse set of ages, from both MIT and the surrounding community,” says Tech Squares treasurer and MIT doctoral student Britt Huhmann. “I like being surrounded by people who aren’t all students all the time.”

The group is known in square dance terms as a “Plus” club, meaning its programs have 97 calls, or moves, its dancers must memorize. What does modern Western square dance look like? It may be easier to watch:

Performing the calls can be similar to solving a puzzle. A caller attempts to break down the square by ordering calls in a pattern that dancers must quickly decide how to execute. Regardless of how precisely dancers have memorized the calls, putting them together can be challenging.

Kevin Chen ’06, MEng ’07 initially joined Tech Squares through an MIT course that would help fulfill his physical education requirement. Chen stayed with the club after the class finished and has been active member for 13 years.

“I’ve stuck around for the people I’ve met, plus the Advanced and Challenge level dances,” Chen says. “Squares helps expand my MIT life. Like work and classes, it boosts my MIT experience and brings a level of balance.”

Ted Lizotte (on mic) calling a dance at Tech Squares. Lizotte is noted as the best caller to satisfy the club’s hunger for difficult and interesting squares.

Tech Squares’ staying power can be traced back to the club’s combination of physical activity, intellectual challenge, and collaboration—all integral parts of life at MIT.

“It’s something that is really interesting and absorbing and takes me away from work for a little while,” says Huhmann. “I can see myself improving, a nice feeling that most don’t get from graduate work.”

The 50th anniversary celebration will feature dancing, reconnecting with friends, and board games (a club tradition). Club favorite Ted Lizotte and Rob French ’90 will call squares, and Roy and Janet Williams will cue rounds. All are encouraged to register, regardless of rusty dance skills.

Tech Squares fall classes begin on Sept. 12 at 8:00 p.m. in Morrs Hall in Walker Memorial, and will continue each Tuesday through the term.  Classes, free for students and $5 weekly otherwise, are held in the Stratton Student Center after the first class. Learn more about Tech Squares by watching their documentary film. 

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