On an early fall Saturday night, there's a handmade sign with two interlocking squares out on U.S. 278 near the entrance to Palmetto Electric in Hardeeville. The sign looks as cryptic as some of caller Sam Rowan's instructions sound to a novice.
"Girls, do a U-turn back, swing through, wheel around, pass the ocean, cast off, gents promenade, now allemande left."
The dancers rarely miss a beat, joining hands, walking around, turning and switching places in response to Rowan's commands.
Hilton Head Island's Ocean Waves Square Dance Club hosts an off-island dance on the fourth Saturday of nine months of the year in the community room at Palmetto Electric.
Club president Pat McDougall, of Okatie, welcomed nearly 50 members and guests on this particular Saturday. Many, including caller Rowan, were from Sun City Squares, an active Sun City Hilton Head square dance club.
"Look around," said Evelyn Finch, who, with her husband, Lamar, is a charter member of the Ocean Waves. "Everybody's smiling."
The Finches and a neighbor from Hilton Head Plantation, now 98 years old, started the club with about eight members 27 years ago.
"We've grown, and it's been fun," Finch said. "It's good physical exercise, great mental exercise and just plain fun."
Ellie Schramm attended with a group that included her husband, her brother and sister-in-law, and a friend. Schramm, who lives in Hilton Head Plantation, said she's been doing aerobics for years and square dances with the Ocean Waves twice a month. Like many longtime club members, she'd like to see some younger people give square dancing a whirl.
"Young people pick it up like that," said Schramm, snapping her fingers before returning to the dance floor.
To dance at the mainstream level -- the majority of Rowan's calls -- requires at least 16 weeks of two-hour classes, according to club member Rich Fanger, who explained that mainstream dancing requires mastering about 68 square dancing calls.
Another few months' of lessons and practice are needed to dance at the "plus" level, which involves mastering nearly 100 calls, Fanger said, something many Ocean Waves and Sun City Squares members have done.
Modern western square dancing has its origins in European folk dances with four couples in a square or round formation. Its influences include Irish jigs and reels, the minuet, the polka and the waltz.
McDougall said a new 16-week course taught by caller Webb Jones of Walterboro will begin in January. Jones calls the Ocean Waves dances held on the second Saturday of each month at Christ Lutheran Church on Hilton Head.
Experienced dancers also tend to take square dance attire quite seriously, turning out in colorful western wear that goes beyond blue jeans, western hats and bolo ties.
Mike and Jane Levine, who live in Moss Creek, were wearing matching outfits -- his a green country and western shirt that matched her full-skirted dress with crinolines underneath. Cowboy boots and Mary-Janes were the footwear of choice.
Another couple wore matching white western shirts embroidered with red roses. Patchwork gingham skirts and calico dresses with eyelet trim were worn with stiff, full petticoats by a handful of female dancers twirling across the floor.
"Where else would we get to wear these wild clothes?" asked Ocean Squares dancer Howard Metcalf.