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Still hip to be square
By LISA BRITTON
Of the Baker City Herald
The secret to square dancing is simple: know your right from your left.
Lose your sense of direction and the dance square turns chaotic as everyone tries to compensate for the mistake.
Could be embarrassing.
But not if your partners are the Elkhorn Swingers dancers who are quick to share a laugh and forgive your blunders.
"There's never a frown on a square dancer's face," says Patricia Phelps. "They're all having a good time."
Phelps lives in Pendleton, and traveled to Baker City last month for the Elkhorn Swinger's Fall Fest.
"There's no dancing in Pendleton, so I came to Baker City," she says.
The Elkhorn Swingers gather twice a month on the first and third Saturdays at the IOOF Building at 1720 Main St. Just look for the door with the silhouette of a dancing duo.
On the second and fourth Saturdays, a few of the Elkhorn Swingers travel to La Grande to dance with the Star Promenaders.
Both square dance clubs belong to the Blue Mountain Council, a regional division of the Oregon Federation of Square and Round Dance Clubs.
Two clubs become one
The Blue Mountain Elkhorn Swingers formed in 1978 when two existing square dance clubs the Sashayers and the Crazy Eights merged into one.
"Attendance fell off and we were all going to each other's dances anyway," says Bev Schaer, an original members of the Elkhorn Swingers.
They created a new name to avoid any arguments.
"There was a little jealousy on both sides, so we just changed the whole name," she says.
Schaer said the club's attendance has fluctuated over the years as the member's priorities change, including children, ball games and school programs.
"If there was time left over, you did your square dancing," she says.
Now the active membership is steady at 24, and the average age of the Elkhorn Swingers is about 50.
"They're more or less into retirement," Schaer said.
While most have years of square dancing behind them, some are fairly new to the dance, like Schaer's husband, Duane. He started in 1998.
"When I first started four months into it I was ready to quit," he now laughs.
His biggest challenge?
"Where your left hand was. I had the same problem in the Army," he says.
The calls are another obstacle.
Throughout the songs, a caller throws out instructions for the square dancers. A few sample calls are: "promenade," "square through," "touch a quarter," and "flutterwheel."
The eight dancers in the square respond, weaving and twirling and spinning until they wind up in their original place.
Usually, it works like a charm.
Even if it doesn't, and you end up with the wrong partner, no one gets upset.
"If somebody makes a mistake, nobody cares, just keep going," Duane Schaer says.
"Stay in the same square somebody'll grab you," adds Karen Rubicam, who travels from La Grande to dance with the Swingers.
In the end, it all boils down to a few simple movements, says Lucille Thomason.
"It's more or less shuffling around and moving your arms," she smiles.
Square dancing expertise is divided into levels: basic, mainstream, plus, advanced and challenge.
The Swingers mostly dance mainstream.
Square dancers throughout the world adhere to the same definition of skill levels.
They even have the same calls.
"No matter where you go in the world, square dance is called in English," says Larry Hall. "You could go anywhere in the world you can't talk to anybody, but you can square dance."
Dance lessons begin in January
The Swingers are looking to recruit more square dancers.
No matter the age, regardless of skill.
"You get a square of 20-year-olds, you get life," Hall says.
And no partner is required.
Couples new to square dancing will be separated anyway, as they are paired with more experienced dancers.
"We make sure everyone's partnered up," says Chuck Hoover, president of the Elkhorn Swingers.
In addition to beginners, they also want to lure back former square dancers.
"We've got so many people in this area (who square dance) they just need refreshers. We want anybody," Hoover says.
It's really quite fun, they all agree.
"The best thing about square dancing is it's good, clean fun. There's no alcohol, no smoking. It's just the way it is it's always been that way," says Daphne Hall.
Plus, it's good exercise.
"That's what keeps you young," says Sandie Hoover. "It's aerobic and the music is so upbeat."
The club will begin offering dance lessons on Jan. 17, and continue each week through April, just in time for their annual spring dance.
"We try to get them graduated before the Spring Fling," Hoover says.
Lessons are $2.50 per person, per lesson.
It's not necessary to attend each lesson, but each week brings an introduction to at least two new calls.
They encourage anyone to try it at least once.
"Years ago, people used to do this all the time. Nobody does this anymore. We've got to break the stereotype that we're just a bunch of old fogies," Hoover laughs.
More information is available by calling Hoover at 524-9306 or Bob Soto at 523-0832.