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Banks square-dance club members meet in Hillsboro for Saturday fun

Sunset Promenaders enjoy camaraderie as they welcome newcomers


Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Twice a month, the Odd Fellows Hall in downtown Hillsboro fills up with square dancers who love to swing and seesaw. Most of the time, the cavernous second-floor dance hall in downtown Hillsboro sits silent. But two evenings a month, dancing shoes scurry across polished wood. Skirts twirl as dancers twist. Lively music bounces off the walls and fills participants with rhythm.

Bend the line, four ladies chain, couples wheel around and slip the clutch aren’t some sort of mechanics’ secret code. They’re square dance moves — and they make up a routine that appears effortlessly choreographed.

The first and third Saturdays of each month, Sunset Promenaders square dance club members fill the room with their music, dancing and camaraderie. Some come for the exercise, some for the friends, some for the cheap entertainment and potluck dinner — but all have kept on coming for the fun.

This square dancing is far from the grade-school PE class kids remember mostly for the trauma of having to learn an old-fashioned dance and touch hands with the opposite sex. This kind of square dancing is organized and fast-paced, and everyone on the dance floor blends naturally together.

“There are no strangers in a square,” said Lila Jones, a Banks resident and charter member of the Sunset Promenaders. “I love it. I love the dancing and I love meeting people.”

“It’s more than just dancing,” said Mike Stout, the club’s “caller,” responsible for calling out the square dancing moves. But Stout doesn’t just stand on stage yelling at dancers. His rhythmic delivery accompanying the upbeat instrumentals has him resembling a country western singer more than an announcer. A former gym owner, Stout likes to keep his cardiovascular workouts going with dancing. Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - The Sunset Promenaders switch off between square dancing and round dancing when they meet up.

Dorothy Sullivan credits the dancing with helping her recover from the stroke she suffered a year and a half ago.

“It’s definitely helped her with her movement and muscle memory,” said Ray Sullivan, Dorothy’s husband.

The Sullivans are Banks residents and charter Sunset Promenaders members who danced with the club even before the group split off from the original Verboort club nearly 30 years ago.

After the split, the club met at various locations around the county before settling into the Odd Fellows Building at 267 E. Main St. in Hillsboro, where the approximately 40 members get together twice a month and for special occasions such as their New Year’s Eve dance.

“I hope to continue as long as possible,” said Jones, who once won the statewide Randall Award given to those who have contributed the most that year to square dancing.

Jones won the award with her husband, Otis, who passed away about five years ago.

“Once I got him into square dancing, you couldn’t stop him,” Jones laughed.

Otis always danced with the club’s single women, making sure everyone got a turn, Jones added. Now Jones relies on the club’s single men to return the favor. George Locke, for example, rotates through the women sitting on the sidelines.

“We need everybody to get a dance,” he said.

For Locke, a Hillsboro resident clad in a plaid button-up, the club is as much a source of moral support as it is a source of entertainment. When Locke had cancer surgery a few years ago, club members brought him meals for three weeks, he said.

“At least I didn’t have to worry about food,” Locke said. “And I’m not the only one they’ve done that for.”

Locke is a valuable asset to the club, which has more women than men.

“We need more men,” said Ken Pratt. “Once you get the men into lessons, they’re always the ones who are pushing to come back.”

Pratt serves as a cuer, calling out the moves for the club’s round dances, similar to square dancing but in which only two people dance together as partners — and it’s a bit more formal. The club switches off between round and square dancing throughout the evening.

The Sullivans like round dancing the best “because you only screw up yourself if you mess up,” they joked.

Ken met his wife, Dianne Pratt, at a square dance many years ago, a common story among the Sunset Promenaders.

Gary and Joyce Clark, long-time members, also met square dancing. Joyce’s mom, now 86, acted as the club’s cuer until five years ago. When Joyce was younger, she was reluctant to join, but her mom bought her an outfit and signed her up for lessons. Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: STEPHANIE HAUGEN - Round dancing is a couples dance thats more formal and romantic, and square dancing is a lively group dance.The Clarks have been dancing together ever since.

When Bette Hahn met Club President Gary Hahn a few years back, he let her know up front square dancing would be a relationship requirement. Now her club name tag says “president’s lady,” and she loves it. The Hahns even dance at other local clubs’ events, so they end up going at least once a week — and in August, they’ll host a barn dance open to the public at their farm in Banks.

When asked their favorite part of belonging to the club, almost everyone said it was “the camaraderie.” Club members even go camping together on the coast near a square dance hall, and many look up local halls wherever they travel across the country.

“We’ve become like family,” Gary Clark said. “Everyone should give it a try.”

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