The voice of the dance

EVERETT — Doug Coleman, wearing his bright red shirt and bolo tie, laid out his vinyl records still in their jackets side by side on the table in the front of the room.

The first record was already in the player ready to go. The dancers dutifully took their place. And then the music started.

“Promenade her,” Coleman called. “Tell her you love her whether you like her or not.”

At 83, Coleman has been coming to the Carl Gipson Senior Center in Everett to host square dancing Fridays for almost a dozen years. He calls for California twirls, pass and slide-throughs and bows to the corner. The dancers — some in their 80s and 90s — whoop and holler. At one point, Coleman called for men to give the women a hug.

“Aww,” said several people on the floor.

The Valentine’s Day theme dance on Friday was part of a weekly square-dance session for the Everett Senior Swingers. The group meets every Friday from 1 to 3 p.m. at the center.

The Snohomish man’s interest in square-dancing all started in 1958, when he and his wife, Pat, took a class in the Pinehurst neighborhood in south Everett. Back then, there weren’t as many square-dance moves to learn. That was a good thing, Coleman said.

“The caller’s wife was laughing at me quite a bit as I stumbled around,” he said.

The couple liked learning to square-dance and returned for more lessons. In about 10 weeks’ time, they were invited to begin attending the club’s regular Saturday dances.

He remembers when the club’s regular square-dance caller attempted to call a song, “The Auctioneer.” It includes fast-paced biddinglike calls. The caller couldn’t make it through the song so it went back up on the shelf, Coleman remembers.

He asked to take the record home and practiced calling. A week or two later, Coleman tried calling a dance to the song.

“I think I got about four to five words into it and completely lost it,” he said. “I took it back home.”

That led to him to practicing other calls, instructions sung out to dancers in a recognizable song. He was asked in 1960 to be the new caller for the Happy Hoppers Square Dance Club, which at the time was in south Everett but now meets in Smokey Point.

“I was no more ready to be a caller than the man in the moon,” Coleman said. “The club said, we’ll go along with you as you learn.”

He spent a little over 39 years as the club’s caller. When he stopped, Coleman and his wife visited the Carl Gipson Senior Center to square dance there. At that time, Dave Harry was the square-dance caller at the center.

Harry was busy teaching square-dancing at schools, so he offered the job as square-dance caller at the center to him, Coleman said.

The fun he has as a square-dance caller has kept him coming back ever since, Coleman said. He tries to make sure the dancers are having fun, too.

On Friday, Coleman joined in on several dances. While calling one dance, he told those out on the floor to ask each other to be valentines. When Coleman called a plus dance, or one which includes more advanced moves, he watched some dancers miss some of the steps. He remained light-hearted.

“You guys didn’t like that one, did you?” he said at the end of the song.

Before a regularly scheduled break, Coleman asked everyone to stand and sing “Happy Birthday” to 90-year-old dancer Bernie Desy of Everett.

Everett resident Wanda Pedersen, 85, started taking square-dance lessons led by Coleman in September 1961.

“I’d rather dance than eat,” she said. “I recommend square-dancing to everybody. You meet the nicest people. I can never understand why everybody doesn’t do it.”

Bob McCutchen and his wife, Iris, started square-dancing and taking lessons from Coleman in 1964. McCutchen, 89, is working with Coleman to plan a special dance in March to feature at least one square of dancers who are age 80 or older.

That dance will most likely be a St. Patrick’s Day theme, Coleman said. He’s looking forward to calling the dances that day and to attending the 61st National Square Dance Convention, scheduled June 27-30 in Spokane. He and his wife haven’t missed a state Square Dance Festival since 1960. They’ve also been to two national festivals that were held in the state and one in Portland, Ore. He was a guest caller at all three. He may sign up as a guest caller at the event in June.

“It’s square-dancing on a much larger scale,” he said.

Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; adaybert@heraldnet.com.

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