Swing your partner ‘round and ‘round!
Square dancing is fun at any age
ALPENA – Now, here’s a fun way to get moving.
It’s been around for centuries, but square dancing still provides an entertaining way to exercise and socialize at the same time.
The Association of Lifelong Learners offers square dancing classes from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. each Wednesday at Alpena Community College’s M. Briggs Center.
The caller joins via Zoom from California, directing dancers on which moves to make.
Deb Westgate has been square dancing since the class started in June.
“Not very long at all, and already, I love it,” she said. “I like that it’s good for your mental exercise. You have to think quickly, and you have to have good recall, and I find that as I get older, I need more practice with those. So this is just really good for that.”
Westgate and some others were dressed in traditional square dancing attire, but wearing anything comfortable is fine for class attendees.
The 69-year-old added that it’s good exercise for your body and mind, and it’s very fun.
“Everyone we square dance with is just very easy-going and a pleasure to be with,” Westgate said. “We all enjoy it.”
At the Oct. 6 class, Westgate paired up with 91-year-old Virgil LaHaie, who dressed to match her in traditional square dancing attire. LaHaie has been square dancing since 1980, so 41 years.
“It just keeps you moving,” LaHaie said of why he enjoys the activity.
He’s a pretty active 91-year-old. Just looking at him, you might think he’s about 75.
“I cut the grass, and I go camping. I do everything,” LaHaie said. “I walk.”
Square dancing is something he looks forward to each week. He used to dance a lot with his wife Margie before she passed away a little over a year ago.
“We danced in Florida, and we danced over in Maryland, and Ohio, and Indiana,” he recalled. “And all over Michigan.”
Glenn Taylor and his wife Katie coordinate the classes.
“It’s gone much better than we expected it to,” Glenn Taylor said of participation.
He added that people have been coming from the Alpena and Presque Isle areas.
They have a caller from California because there are very few callers left in Michigan, Taylor said.
“Eight is what I was told,” he noted.
He said square dancing clubs have been dwindling, but he’s happy to be able to bring the pastime back to Alpena.
“When we first moved here three years ago, we were dancing over in Gaylord,” he said. “The club over there was a combination of about three northern Michigan clubs.”
He said once the pandemic hit, the Gaylord club ceased meeting as well.
“I think a lot of people just don’t realize what it is,” he said of square dancing. “Henry Ford was a big square dancer. Everybody here knows a little bit about square dancing, but what we’re doing is called modern square dancing … so, square dancing, now, has uniform calls throughout the world.”
Taylor said there are 68 standardized calls in modern mainstream square dancing. Then, there are several levels above mainstream that more experienced dancers can enjoy.
Taylor and his wife have been square dancing for about six years.
“It’s fun, and it gives you something to think about, and get a little exercise,” he said.
The California caller’s name is Tom Kaiser, out of Sacramento.
At the class, he is pictured live on a large screen, and it’s as though he is in the room with the attendees. He knows most of them by name, and introduces himself to newcomers. He tells you exactly what to do, and has more experienced dancers demonstrate moves prior to the whole class doing them.
You don’t have to have a partner to come to the class. You will be paired up with others when you get there, and you don’t dance exclusively with one partner.
For more information, visit associationoflifelonglearners.org, or call the ALL office at 989-358-7207.