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Square dance at Al E Mo’s in Gravesend

Hip to be square: Ridge couple keeping rural dance alive

The Brooklyn Paper
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They’re the original hipsters.

A pair of septuagenarian Bay Ridge residents have been bringing a slice of Americana to Brooklyn for more than 30 years — and they’re not being ironic about it.

Kentucky-born Don Coy and his Brooklyn-native wife Dot teach square dancing at Kingsborough Community College and call dances for a group called Al E Mo’s in Gravesend. The pair said the countrified dance had a bigger foothold in Brooklyn decades ago, but now it’s growing out of step with the times.

“It’s been in New York for a long time, but its not as popular as it used to be,” said Dot Coy, 78, whose mother taught American folk dance at Fort Hamilton High School. “It was very big in New York — most of the schools had square dance classes in those days.”

Rural rug-cutting came to New York during the 1950s folk revival, and it was taught in practically every public school in the city, according to a professional dancer who takes instruction from the Coys.

“I did folk dance many moons ago when I was in school,” said Katherine Shorr, who lives in Midwood but went to junior high school in Manhattan in the late 1950s. “When I was going, we all did some type of square dancing.”

But newfangled entertainment is threatening to send square dancing the way of the Charleston, the Hustle, and the Macarena.

“Attendance is way down since I began in 1973,” said Don Coy, 75, who moved to Brooklyn from Louisville, Kentucky, in 1990 to be with Dot. “There are too many things for people to do — they’re interested in their computers and iPods.”

But the duo has been keeping the dance alive, teaching classes at Kingsborough — which requires physical education majors take dance classes — and to Al E Mo’s, a group that meets weekly in the basement of Gravesend’s Saint Simon & Jude Parish on Avenue T.

“That’s practically all I do these days,” said Don, who retired in 1995 and recently cut an album of original music called “Don Sings from the Heart.”

Meanwhile, up in Brooklyn’s more hipster-populated neighborhoods, old-timey dance has seen a resurgence among a younger set, in tandem with a revival of fiddle and banjo music.

Borough-wide, the dance is actually on the upswing, thanks to stalwarts like the Coys, the president of Al E Mo’s said.

“We are getting more people interested, so I think it is getting more popular,” said Kathy Colucci, who leads the 76-strong Gravesend group and has been dancing together for 12 years.

Hoedowns are de rigueur in the Hudson Valley, as well as in New Jersey, where the state dance is square, she said. A decades-old push to make square dancing New York state’s official dance might even get new life from the new blood.

“Maybe we should try it again,” she said.

Reach reporter Max Jaeger at mjaeger@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–8303. Follow him on Twitter @JustTheMax.

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