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Answering the call

2/22/2014

By ELIZABETH GOLDEN

egolden@dailynews.net

It might have sounded odd, but to those participating, it made perfect sense.

"She wore an itsy bitsy teenie weenie yellow polka dot bikini," Rex Johnston, Alton, sang to the eight participants.

"Heads go up and right and left through turn the girl and then star through. Pass through you do the right and left through. Turn the girl and then star through."

Men dressed in western attire and bolos, while women wore mid-length red and white dresses at the Tenderfoot square dance.

Johnston has been involved in square dancing for more than 20 years. He started in 2004 after a 20-year hiatus.

"I paid my $5, and ladies kept grabbing me. But I said no, it had been too long," he said. "So I sat down and watched. Then I watched these ladies and their hilarious laughter. I thought, 'If they're calling that square dancing, I can do that.' "

Johnson is a caller with the Shooting Stars Singles Square Dancing Club.

Caller is the official title for the person who calls out the moves.

"The real callers, it's all in their heads," Johnson said. "They can put you anywhere and do all sorts of neat things. They're essentially entertainers."

There are 68 calls in square dancing. Common calls include: Bow to your partner, circle left/right and sides forward and back. Calls typically are written into the lyrics of old folk songs.

"Square dancing is the same everywhere," Johnson said. "You can go anywhere in the world, and you'd be able to square dance. It's all in English. You may not be able to understand them though."

The club has served the Hays area for 30 years.

After the club offered for credit at Fort Hays State University disbanded due to a large majority of members graduating, those left joined a second club at the time called Petticoat Poppers.

The original members started getting older and had to quit. The remaining square dancers then joined Shooting Stars.

"There were quite a few singles around at the time," said Carol Gordon, club president. "And they felt the need to establish something specifically for singles. So a group of us got together, and about 45 minutes later, we had a club going."

Gordon was dragged to square dancing 34 years ago.

"I thought, 'I'll go once and never have to go again,' " she said. "That was 34 years ago."

Shooting Stars gave those without partners a way to be able to dance, but as it grew, married people joined as well.

"They catered to anyone," said Albert Braun, a caller who has been involved with square dancing for 45 years. "Some of the people from the college were single and young. They needed a place to come have fun, relax and dance."

Braun was a full-time caller for 42 years. He had to step down after health problems, but he still teaches lessons.

"I joined with a bunch of friends back then," he said.

"You didn't have to deal with the Internet and all that garbage. It's just a fun way to get good exercise and good companionship."

Peggy Anschutz, a caller and teacher, began at age 10 when she would tag along with her brother.

"I square danced all through high school," she said. "And I took square dancing as a P.E. credit in college."

There never is drinking at square dancing events.

"That makes it unique," Braun said. "It's better for everybody."

When Shooting Stars first was founded, it was common to have 10 to 12 squares at each event. Eight people make up one square. More recently, two to three squares are average.

Braun said the future of the club seems dire.

"I hate to admit it," he said. "At one time, entire families were involved in square dancing. Now we're losing members. A lot of them are getting older and can't do it like they used to."

Hays and Hoisington are the only clubs in Kansas west of Salina.

"There used to be square dancing in every small town," Gordon said.

Although many members are aging, Gordon said they still have a wide age range.

"We have a 5-year-old in lessons," she said. "Our oldest member is in his late 90s."

Lessons are at 7:30 p.m. every Monday. Several Saturday dances throughout the spring are planned.

For more information, contact Anschutz at (785)637-5542.