Young or Old, These Square Dancers Know How to Have Fun

The Golden Dancers, from left: Marie Schmidt, Leota Janzen, Ray Kellett, Joe Henderson, Vi Henders...

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.
Joe Henderson was receiving an orientation at a U.S. Army base when a commanding officer told the soldiers about square dance lessons being given on base.

"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."

Ray Kellett, one of the Golden Dancers, is a life member of the club. He also is one of