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Doin an Irish dance

That's what a group gets together regularly in Tualatin to do for fun
by: Jonathan House, Participants at Tualatin’s Winona Grange Friday night whirl through a mix of fast and slow dances.

When Sam Keator sees someone walk into the Tualatin Grange for his Wednesday night Irish dance classes, he expects at least one thing: that they try to have a good time.

'The biggest joy I have is when you see someone who has never done this before. They're just bashful, shy, their face is blah, and before you know it they're smiling and the spirits come out,' he said. 'And what better joy? It's more than money for me. It's just part of what I love.'

He is hopeful for the same amount of enjoyment during the monthly ceilis he holds at the Winona Grange (ceili means 'celebration') and the concerts held at the music room he built on the back of his home in Tualatin. You could almost say he has a passion for encouraging social interaction.

'A ceili is truly a gathering and not just a dance. It's a social experience,' he said. The same goes for the drop-in dance lessons held during the week.

'I make sure [everyone has] nametags on, that way they can get to know each other, meet each other,' he said. 'The drop-in class is that way because every week I don't know who is going to be here, so it's a nice surprise when I see someone I haven't seen in a while.'

Keator's two-hour classes are relatively simple - participants grab a nametag at the front and then follow him along for some step-by-step moves that will later be strung together into more complex dance maneuvers. The music rings through the air, but Keator's strong voice carries out above it with instructions, compliments and critiques - always infused with a bit of humor.

Mary Meyer is a familiar face at the Wednesday night gatherings, with regular attendance since around the time the class formed. The 82-year-old from Tualatin has more than 28 years of dancing experience under her belt, and she said she appreciates the opportunity to continue what she loves.

'In the first place, it's good exercise, it's fun, you get to meet a lot of good people,' Meyer said. One of the things she makes a point of doing is talking to people who look like they are unsure or a little out of place, which coincidentally furthers Keator's goal of everyone getting to know everyone else.

'I make a point of talking to everyone who comes in . . . I like to involve everyone,' she said. 'It's an outing, so it's something different to do. It's just people that you try to get involved.'

Meyer also tries to get her neighbors to come out to the class. On this particular Wednesday, she arrived with two other women she knows from around her neighborhood. Donna Witten is one of Meyer's neighbors who was encouraged to give it a try about a month and a half ago, and she has been coming ever since. She said she likes getting to know the other people there and also the great workout she gets from it.

'I like coming to the grange because it's still old fashioned, country, with a small-town feel,' she said.

Meyer said she likes to encourage everyone of all skill levels to at least give the Irish dances a shot.

'Come and try it, and see if you like it,' she said.

To celebrate St. Patrick's Day, Keator and crew will be at PPAA, 618 S.E. Alder St. in Portland, on March 14, with a lesson at 7 p.m. and a dance at 8 p.m. Music will be offered by Dale Russ, Tom Creegan, Mikey Beglan and Bob Soper, and Keator will teach and call the traditional dances. Special guest pipers from the Tualatin Fire and Rescue Pipes and Drum Band will round out the evening.