‘Friendship set to music’: Arlington Heights square dance club turns 75

Marilyn Applebey has been square dancing for 48 years. And at 92, she does not plan to stop anytime soon.

“It keeps your mind going, it keeps your body going and you have a lot of fun,” said the South Elgin resident, one of more than 150 square dance enthusiasts who attended the Arlington Squares Square Dancing Club 75th anniversary celebration last week.

Seventy-five years and counting. Established in 1948, the Arlington Squares Square Dancing Club welcomes neophytes and experts to dances on the second, fourth and fifth Fridays of the month. Karie Angell Luc/for the Daily Herald

Founded in 1948, Arlington Squares is one of about 30 square dance clubs in the state, said Pam Maloney of Palatine, the group’s vice president. That’s far fewer than the 200 that existed during the 1980s, when attendance surged in the wake of the “urban cowboy” trend. Since then, the number of clubs have dwindled, but enthusiasm remains high.

“It’s good, clean fun, great exercise and super social,” said Arlington Squares Co-President Denise Hopkins.

The Prospect Heights resident describes square dancing as “walking to music” and says everyone, from youngsters to seniors, is welcome.

Richard Worley, second from left in red shirt, dances behind Arlington Squares Co-President Denise Hopkins at the club’s 75th anniversary celebration. The Naperville resident says square dancing requires concentration and is like trying to solve a puzzle. Karie Angell Luc/for the Daily Herald

Richard Worley, 58, took up square dancing in 2018, after he lost his eyesight. Members of the Downers Grove Square Thrus, he and his wife typically dance four nights a week.

“It’s great to get out, socialize and breathe from the stress of life,” said the Naperville resident, who compares square dancing — with its various steps and patterns — to solving a puzzle.

John Harden, right wearing a cowboy hat, twirls his wife Katharina Harden, who’s been square dancing since she was 7-years-old, during the 75th anniversary celebration of the Arlington Squares Square Dancing Club. Karie Angell Luc/for the Daily Herald

Tracing its roots to the 17th century, square dancing is derived from European dances including England’s Morris Dance and the French quadrille. A caller announces the dance moves and determines the order, which is typically improvised, said John Harden, a caller and teacher from Caledonia, Illinois.

“None of it is scripted,” he said.

The challenge for callers is to get dancers back to where they started.

“Start with eight, end with eight,” he joked, referring to the number of dancers in a square.

Pam Maloney, right in black, says if newcomers give the Arlington Squares Square Dancing Club 15 weeks, its members can teach them to dance. Karie Angell Luc/for the Daily Herald

The Arlington Squares host dances monthly on the second, fourth and fifth Friday. Most take place at the Arlington Heights Senior Center, but dances also take place at St. Thomas of Villanova Catholic Church in Palatine and the Christian Church of Arlington Heights. Like other suburban clubs, including the Downers Grove Square Thurs, Arlington Squares offers lessons.

“We can get people dancing in 15 weeks,” promises Maloney.

Mona Lockhart, 85, took up square dancing 10 years ago. As with any skill, practice makes perfect.

“Once you learn, you have to go out and dance,” the St. Charles resident said. “You have to keep doing it.”

Harden, 61, has been dancing for 17 years. That’s nothing compared to his wife Katharina, 45. Born into a family of enthusiasts, Katharina has been square dancing for 38 years.

“I remember watching my parents dance thinking ‘I want to do that,’” she said.

“I had to learn to date her,” jokes her husband.

Devotees typically cite stress relief and exercise among the benefits of square dancing, with Maloney estimating square dancers can take 5,000 to 7,000 steps over the course of a three-hour dance. But the camaraderie — the friends made, the laughter shared — is what keeps so many coming back.

Explaining what keeps her and her family dancing, Katharina Harden expressed a sentiment she and her fellow dancers share.

“Square dancing is friendship set to music,” she said.

For more information on upcoming Arlington Squares events, see For information on lessons and other activities in Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will counties, see

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