POV: What inspired you to make this film?
Lindsie Reitz: Courtney Hermann brought in a clip from the Oregonian website that depicted a group of older folks dancing at a Grange Hall in Oregon, and I completely fell in love with the outfits and the choreographed dance. I really wanted to make a film that said something about love, and this subject seemed perfect.
Jameson Posey: After reading about how much fun they were having and watching the video, we decided to check it out for ourselves.
POV: How were you able to film without getting in the way of the dancing?
Reitz: Most of the dancers step in the same formation around and around, so once we knew where they were going to go, we were able to stand in the middle and move around them.
POV: Were you fans of square dancing before you made the film?
Posey: I personally was not a very big fan of square dancing before making this film. Like many others, I thought it was hokey, easy and boring, to be honest. However, after five minutes of being on the floor behind our camera crew, I realized it is intense, and truly a skill that is not easy to come by.
Courtney Hermann: Part of a square dancing call somehow got into my head in fifth grade and never escaped. Sometimes, on a whim, I’ll just start calling it out and doing the dance. I always liked square dancing but have never done it outside of school.
POV: Since you made the film, have you found yourself defending square dancing?
Hermann: When I tell people who haven’t seen Not So Square that my students and I were honored with the POV award, of course they want to know what the movie is about. I find myself bracing for either their judgment or their confusion, but ultimately, I think a lot of people in the Portland area are open to investigating “old school” entertainment and activities (barn dances, knitting circles, burlesque performances, bingo, etc.) It’s not that big a stretch for them to imagine that square dancing is cool. In fact, I don’t think it’s out of the question that there could be a square dancing revival around here. People like throwback activities. I think it has something to do with how exposed we are to tawdry, edgy or uncensored material in media, so “innocent” activities have gained a certain cachet in recent years, almost as a reaction to that.
POV: What were the biggest challenges you faced in making a film in five days?
Reitz: Being the producer, I was just doing the best I could to help motivate the crew while also checking in with the subjects of the film to make sure they were comfortable on camera. In the end, it’s always well worth the hard work, and those who have done this before can attest that there are going to be incredible highs and extreme lows, especially when you’re not getting much sleep.
Hermann: Documentaries usually take a long time to edit, and not just because there’s a high ratio of footage shot to footage used in the final product. It also has to do with letting the story evolve over time. Priorities at the onset of editing usually change a lot by the time the final cut is ready, and with the Doc Challenge, you just don’t have the time for that. You have to make quick decisions about the strongest themes and ideas you can represent and just go with it. It’s really tough to tell a decent documentary story in just a few days of shooting and editing. I have been doing the Doc Challenge with my students at the Art Institute of Portland for four years now, and it’s difficult even to describe what an intense experience it is. It’s stressful and also kind of magical — like you’re in a bubble of documentary storytelling and nothing else seeps in for those few days. So it is pretty intense, which means it is also rewarding.
POV: Where do the dancers get the swanky outfits used for dancing?
Reitz: One of the places our subject get their outfits is in the basement of the Grange Hall. It’s filled with matching outfits from floor to ceiling and only accessible to the members. One of our subjects was hand-crafting skirts in the basement of the Grange Hall while we were shooting.
Hermann: We didn’t have the time to delve into that aspect of the story, but there is definitely a DIY ethic there when it comes to putting the costumes together. It’s part of what makes the world of square dancing so interesting.
POV: Is this group typical? Is square dancing “graying” nationally? Or is it more popular with youth in other areas of the country?
Posey: What we gathered from the group was that square dancing as a whole was becoming less and less popular throughout the nation. The group cited the many new forms of social interaction available to the younger generation as a reason for the dropping numbers of young people in its ranks.
Hermann: Incidentally, square dancing is currently the official dance of a lot of states, including Oregon. It was made official here in 1977. I’m glad they chose square dancing over disco.
POV: Do you square dance?
Posey: I personally have only square danced when it was required in gym class in the eighth grade. However, one of the groups we focused on was generous enough to offer us free lessons in September, so maybe that will be a chance to give them the cameras and let us take the floor.
Reitz: I haven’t since we’ve filmed, but I have kept in touch with a few of the subjects, and I am planning to make a skirt and try it out at some point!
The filmmakers also provided a few links that can be helpful in trying to find a square dancing group in your own community!