Yes, it is true, I am teaching square dancing in Santiago.
Well, most of my time is spent teaching academic writing to students in the English Education departments at two public universities. My students are preparing to teach English in high schools after they graduate, so while I am helping them improve their own writing skills I also get them to think about how they are going to teach writing in the not so distant future. And, every now and then, we take a break from it all and do some good old fashioned square dancing!
This is how it all started…
I was still living in Dubai, and was just about to wrap up my second phone interview for this job in Chile. It seemed certain at this point that I would get the offer, because we had moved away from questions about how I handle problems with students, my preferred methods of teaching, etc. and were already talking about when I could arrive in Santiago, how much Spanish I speak, and whether or not I would mind having a roommate. Just when I thought we were going to say goodbye one of the interviewers popped the question that has, in some ways, changed my life, “Can you square dance?” Since a few promenades around the gym in 5th grade didn’t seem to qualify me to answer yes, I responded like any good interviewee would, “No, but I can learn.”
Thankfully I had six months to hang out at home, in Lancaster PA, after leaving Dubai and before heading to Chile. An Internet search and a few phone calls soon landed me in a gymnasium at the Lititz Church of the Brethern on a Wednesday night where the Lititz Swing Thrus welcomed me into their club and taught me how to dance. I joined them every Wednesday night for that six months, and during that time I not only discovered a new sub-culture I had no idea existed in my hometown, but I also became friends with some great people who I might not have met otherwise. I gained new respect for the complexity and art of square dancing, and for the talent of the advanced dancers and especially of the callers. Six months of dancing with the Swing Thrus taught me many things, but I was still far from graduating from their class and being allowed to attend the real dances. So, I tucked a square dancing manual, a DVD and a few CDs in my suitcase to use in Chile.
One of the universities where I work has an hour and a half blocked off every Wed afternoon. There are no classes scheduled at that time so that students can attend “cultural activities” that are organized around campus. My job is to provide the “culture” for the English Department, so every Wednesday I give a presentation or offer some kind of workshop. It ends up that the director of the department thinks square dancing is the ultimate cultural experience, and so many months ago he had requested that the US Embassy send an English teacher who could teach it. Thus, here I am. The students love it, and I realize that it is also a good way for them to practice their listening skills in English. I promise to soon post a video clip or at least some photos soon so that you can see me and my square dancers in action!