|The Golden Dancers, from left: Marie Schmidt, Leota Janzen, Ray Kellett, Joe Henderson, Vi Henderson, Margie Zingg, Ron Morris, Rosalie Nusser, Karin Sanchez (representing her husband Wilbur), Frank Bezzina.|
"He said, 'They're square dancing on Friday night and I'd like to have you there,' " Henderson recalled. "To me, that was the same as a command. I went."
More than 50 years later, Henderson is still dancing. He and his wife Vi have square danced together for almost half a century, including the last 20 years as members of the Canyon Lake Twirlers.
The Twirlers meet every Wednesday night in the lodge at Canyon Lake. The group is open anyone 12 and over, but the majority are senior citizens from Canyon Lake, Menifee and surrounding communities. In fact, the group recently celebrated a milestone by having 10 octogenarians in the club at the same time.
Dubbed the "Golden Dancers" of the group, these club members in their 80s wouldn't miss a practice or performance for anything. They credit the activity for keeping them physically fit and their minds sharp. They dress up for competitions around Southern California on the weekends and simply have fun socializing with each other.
"I'm grateful for the friendships I have in this club," said Rosalie Nusser, hospitality chair for the group. "Having been widowed, I found it a marvelous way to make friends. It's been wonderful, and the fact you're kept so physically fit is very important."
Vic Kaaria is the "caller" for the group. He's been performing that job in various clubs for 39 years. Following his commands of "Do Sa Do," "Promenade" and "Right Grand," the dancers move about the floor to improve their skills.
This is encouraging to Kaaria, who realizes that participation in square dancing has decreased over the years. Many people only remember it as an activity they did in elementary school.
"In 1976, at the height of its popularity, we had 35,000 at a convention," Kaaria said. "The last figure I saw was about 7,000. The numbers are waning, but as an activity, it's still going strong with a lot of people. Plus, they say that if you dance every 'tip' (dance sequence in a workshop), you have walked five to seven miles."
"I really didn't want to dance in the beginning," he said. "My wife said, 'Let's go to San Diego to a square dance. I told her, 'If I don't like it, I'm leaving.' I found it was kinda neat. By the second time, I was hooked."
Andy Abeles, co-president of the Canyon Lake Twirlers with his wife Lorie, explained that there are nine levels of square dance participation. Members pay a $15 annual fee and $5 per week for the workshops. Newcomers wishing to join the group pay $25 for the first year. All area residents are invited.
The octogenarians love to have the younger ones around. Last Wednesday, the members of Brownie Troop 2425 stopped by the dance hall after their meeting in an adjacent room in the lodge. Every man on the dance floor came over and invited one of the girls to dance.
A woman named Linda was learning to square dance years ago when her partner left the group. She asked Frank Bezzina to dance. Now they have been married 16 1/2 years.
"It's a lot of fun and fellowship," Linda Bezzina said. "We also do round dancing, which is like ballroom dancing. We do at least three square dances a week."
For more information on the Canyon Lake Twirlers, visit their website, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Rosalie at 951-244-0672.