At ASP Summer Staff Training, there is a time-honored tradition that I had the pleasure of being introduced to this year: Square dancing night. Yes, you heard me right. After dinner, the staffers are taught to square dance, learn about Appalachian music, and even sing a classic summer staff song about potatoes.

There is something so magical about taking part in such a deep-rooted tradition, especially because you can’t really mess up a square dance. You’re supposed to laugh and figure it out together. Here comes the big metaphor: Square dancing is a lot like life. It’s messy and fun and requires communication to make it work.

So, without further ado, I present to you three lessons I learned from square dancing. Kids, don’t try this at home. 

Lesson #1: Listen to your caller.

I ate dinner with the people who would later lead us in our square-dancing adventure: Frank and Deborah. From the moment I sat down with them, I was immediately struck by how kind and comforting they were. Talking with them felt like brewing a cup of tea—slow, steady, and warm.

When I asked Frank for dancing advice before the night’s shenanigans began, he asked if I could step to a beat and follow directions. When I replied with a hesitant yes, he said, “Then you can square dance.”

And he was right. If you’ve never been square dancing before, let me use my newfound expertise to explain it a little bit. All you have to do is listen for the caller, the person who shouts out instructions over the music. You’ll quickly pick up the basic moves and learn the pattern you’re dancing to and, soon, the movement becomes second nature.

Looking back, I find this to be a super reflective lesson on our relationship with our Creator. We must listen out for Him and find Him above all the noise. He teaches us, and we practice until it becomes second nature, guided by His voice.

Once, when Frank was calling a dance, Deborah offered up a suggestion for a different move. Frank nodded and changed the move, shouting “I call it like she tells me,” to the staff.

That little moment was a sweet reminder to me that sometimes, we just need to listen to our caller and call it as He tells us. Without that sense of direction, there is no way to make sense of the rhythm and no purpose to our beat. When life gets confusing and the music gets too fast, I hope that you’ll join me in listening to our caller.

 Lesson #2: Holding Weight.

As we graduated to more advanced moves throughout the night, I quickly found my new favorite technique—“Holding Weight.”

When dancers turn their partners in square dancing, they grasp each other’s hands and turn in a circle. For a faster spin, dancers can lean away from each other and use their weight to create extra momentum. This is holding weight, and it’s quite hilarious to watch. When Deborah was explaining this move, she said, “It’s helpful for life, because sometimes you need a little resistance.”

While watching my friends twirl against each other, I kept thinking about that quote. It was kind of the perfect metaphor for what the Summer Staff experience is about to be: a wild and crazy experience where all staffers would have to use each other to keep going, building up momentum. On Summer Staff, the days can be exhausting and hard. With early mornings, late nights, and heavy loads in between, the staff has to work together and support each other.

This summer and beyond, I hope that we can all hold each other’s weight. This may sound cheesy (and it is), but ask any returning staff member and they will confirm that their staff is their backbone for the summer—and without a backbone what else can you lean on? 

Lesson #3: It takes two to Dosey Doe.

At dinner with Frank and Deborah, we talked a lot about the importance of partnership between ASP and the Appalachian community. While people here can benefit from nonprofits and organizations like ASP, professionals would be unable to do any of their work without the knowledge and help of the communities that live here.

“No one knows the mountains like the people that live here,” Deborah said to me.

In the context of square dancing, think of this like a Dosey Doe—when dance partners step to the right and around each other in a square. Without communication and coordination, this move would be a mess with people crashing into one another and stepping into their partners. It takes the two steppers working together to successfully Dosey Doe.

One thing I have heard time and time again from the staff and volunteers I’ve spoken to is homeowners have changed their lives, not the other way around. The work we do is symbiotic, and partnership is vital to ensuring that the work gets done successfully and meaningfully. I hope that we never forget that we need each other—it takes two.

So, with all of that being said, here is my takeaway for this week. Life is hard, but also wild and fun. Listen to your caller, hold each other’s weight, and Dosey Doe with love.

Above all else, take the time to dance.

Lauren Rhodes

Story Gathering Intern