By Ann Wood
PARIS—Tim Marriner takes the microphone in hand.
“Everybody square up. There you go,” he says, and starts calling the first dance. A reported 21 squares, or 168 dancers, from all over New England took to the cafeteria floor at Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School on Saturday night. This was no school dance—they gathered in petty coats and string ties for the 50th anniversary of the Swingin’ Bears Square Dance Club.
“Slide through and a right, a left through,” Marriner, a national caller from Rockland, S.C., says in what sounds to the naive ear like a country rap song. “Side couples, you ready? Lead right and then circle through the lines.”
Wesley and Susan Burgess drove three hours from their home in Hermon to join the Swingin’ Bears celebration. Like most of the men who talked square dancing Saturday, Wesley says Susan got him into it. She’s been dancing for 30 years and he began five years back.
“It’s a ball, “ he says. And he isn’t lying. The couple is so into it that they’re dressed to match—she’s in a flouncy red-and-white checked dress and he’s wearing a red shirt with a black string tie and leather vest.
Don Fuller, who’s a member of Happy Time Squares in Rochester, N.H., says that’s right—his wife got him into it.
“It took her about 20 years to get me convinced and then I got hooked. That’s what happens,” Fuller says, adding that they made the trip because the 50th anniversary of a square dance club is a big deal.
Indeed it is. In 1962, 15 friends gathered at the Bear Mountain Grange in Waterford with Bob Hersey to learn to square dance. After they received their diplomas in 1963, they decided to form a club and name it after the grange. The Swingin’ Bears Square Dance Club was born—and it’s made it to middle age.
Sandi Silva, the chair of the New England Square and Round Dance Convention, came from Concord, N.H., in a self-designed dress made specially for the convention. She says she began dancing in 1963, when her parents started a square dancing team and she joined in. Silva says she travels far and wide to square dance every weekend.
“My car has 307,000 miles on it,” she says. “I just love square dancing [and] watching the people have fun.”
Nathan Couch, a 21-year-old Norway resident, his 19-year-old wife, Bethany and their infant daughter, Susanna, were some of those folks having fun Saturday night. Nathan says that he and Bethany were engaged when he looked through an adult education flyer for something they could do together, and found square dancing. Though their daughter is still in a stroller, she’s become a Swingin’ Bear.
“She became an honorary member for attending every class since she’s been alive,” Nathan says.
Nathan doesn’t say they’re hooked on square dancing—but it’s obvious that they are. The weather at the couple’s wedding didn’t allow for square dancing, so the caller they hired for the celebration became the DJ. firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone interested in learning how to square dance and joining the Swingin’ Bears should attend three free lessons that will be held on Wednesdays, Sept. 3 through Sept. 17, from 6:30 p.m. until 7:45 p.m., at the Oxford Hills Middle School on 100 Pine St. in Paris. Call Bob and Eleanor Herrick at 782-4050 for more information.