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Nonactuarial Pursuits
Square Dancing, Rising Sun-Style
Brian D. Haney 

As exams rapidly approach, I find myself performing the semi-annual ritual of dreaming of what I would rather be doing than studying (fire walking comes to mind). Several times before exams I have thought of leaving the profession and becoming a missionary, or a monk, or maybe joining the Peace Corps. I never dreamt of going to Japan to square dance.

Strange as it may seem, and almost nothing seems as strange as square dancing in Japan, people do go to Japan to square dance. In fact, a member of our Society has done this very thing.

Our FCAS, let’s call him Ronin (Japanese term for wandering samurai), started his career in typical fashion at Aetna. During his long and fruitful career at the big A, he got a yen for square dancing. Now, square dancing is NOT a big item in Hartford, which, given the number of actuaries there, is a shock (with so many of us being squares, after all). Some of the best square dancing in the world is found in Japan.

Ronin and his wife began commuting to Japan on a regular basis to sample the local square dancing scene. After a few years he wisely decided that the actuarial business was simply getting in the way of his pursuit of square dancing, so he packed his bags and headed east. He spent four years in Japan, occasionally working as an actuary (just so that life didn’t get to be too much fun). Ronin enjoyed Japan tremendously, remarking that the people are extraordinarily polite and hospitable, and that Japan itself is a very clean and beautiful place…AND there is no need for a car! What a perk!

But getting back to square dancing…The sport, although not scored, does have grades or levels, eight of them in fact: basic, mainstream, advanced 1, advanced 2, and challenge 1, 2, 3, and 4. There are only 100 people in the world who dance at the highest level, challenge 4. Square dancing is not a formal competitive sport—there are no winners and losers—but the dancers themselves are competitive and are deeply satisfied if their square, consisting of eight people, performs well. It’s serious business.

The amazing thing about square dancing is that unlike regular dance, no one is trying to be the most graceful or elegant—these aren’t the objectives at all. The dancers are just trying to perform the maneuvers that the caller is giving—this is the challenge of square dancing. The caller (the person yelling out "do-si-do") is giving instructions that the dancers have to interpret and execute in a prescribed fashion. The caller gives out increasingly difficult instructions until the dancers are hard-pressed to execute them in time. It is more a test of one’s wits than a test of one’s fleet feet: Think of it as a 2-D puzzle which a group of eight people must solve while it’s being told to them, and there happens to be music playing. This puzzle-solving aspect of square dancing is exactly what attracted Ronin (who hated "real" dancing) in the first place. Ronin assures me that the music is purely incidental—no rhythm or particular dancing skills are required, which leaves hope for people like me.

So whatever happened to Ronin? He returned from Japan, settled in State College, Pennsylvania, and became a stamp dealer, of all things. He still hasn’t returned to the actuarial profession—by his own admission, he doesn’t have enough time to work. Our Ronin has now moved on to greener pastures. But Chuck Berry informs me that he may go back to work as an actuary when he turns seventy, by which time I may have passed Part 10.

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