It’s hip to dance square

SMOKEY POINT — If Leslie Young has her way, square dancing will never die.

The 45-year-old Marysville woman is one of the younger members of the Happy Hoppers square dance club, which recently pledged to donate at least $15,000 to the planned renovation of the Stillaguamish Senior Center.

The donation will help pay for the installation of a wooden activity room floor that’s easier on the knees for dancers and other exercisers and provides a place for square dancers to gather for generations to come, Young said.

“My goal is to get younger people up off the couch and out to dance,” Young said. “Square dancing is great exercise and a great social outlet.”

The number of square dancers in the state has dwindled from a high of about 35,000 in the 1970s to about 4,200 today, Young said.

“It used to be hip to be square,” she said. “Just because your grandparents danced, it doesn’t mean you can’t. We’re not a bunch of old codgers. We’re one of the finest square dance clubs in the state, and we have fun.”

The Marysville-based Happy Hoppers have been around for 51 years. The club has more than 100 members who travel from as far away as Mount Vernon and Seattle to dance with the group every first and third Saturday at the Stillaguamish Senior Center in Smokey Point.

Young, a nurse, joined five years ago when her youngest of two children turned 18. A single mother for many years, she decided she needed to spend some time on herself. Now a square-dancing grandma, Young said her granddaughter can’t wait to join her.

Young was reared in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. A difficult childhood was made better when she spent time with her grandparents, who were square dancers. Her grandfather, the late Jim Mitchell, was a Lynnwood-based square dance caller who was well known in Western Washington, she said.

“When I decided to go back to square dancing, I also did it to honor the memory of my grandfather. I feel him pushing me whenever I’m promoting square dancing,” Young said.

As caravan chairman of the Hoppers and as corresponding secretary of the Mount Baker Council of 18 regional square dance clubs, Young has encouraged members to travel more to other dances, to open their ranks, promote teen square dance clubs and think about offering community dances.

If you’re expecting nothing but country music and poofy skirts at a square dance, don’t, Young says.

She prefers the Swedish ’70s group Abba playing on her cell phone and car stereo and especially enjoys it when classic rock songs are used for a square dance.

“And you don’t have to wear the square dance skirt to come to a dance. You can wear jeans if you want,” she said.

Young, however, does wear the frilly, multipetticoat square-dance skirt, which stands straight out as she twirls on the dance floor. On her matching blue peasant blouse she wears a bright yellow pin announcing “Yes! Ask me to dance!”

Jean Raymond, 74, a retired Everett school teacher who lives near Lake Roesiger, is not single, but she wears the same type of pin.

“Leslie is a single dancer, but she doesn’t let that get in her way. She’s very outgoing and has come up with a lot of new ideas for the club,” Raymond said.

Arlington resident Doug Newman, 61, the club’s treasurer, said the club has embraced Young’s enthusiasm, as evidenced by the $15,000 donation to the senior center’s new floor.

Individual members have come up with about $9,000 and about $6,000 will come from the club’s treasury, Newman said.

“The center uses that floor all week long for many activities. Our contributions are a matter of giving back to the community,” he said.

“We are can-do people and it’s a win-win situation for us.”

Retired Marysville teacher Karl Wiederspohn, 59, of Arlington, is president of the Happy Hoppers. He calls the club’s efforts to reach out in the community the result of enthusiasm by members such as Young.

“Leslie is a ball of fire. She’s doing a good job trying to break the stigma that square dancing is just for old people,” Wiederspohn said.

Young calls herself a big-mouth and promises not to let up.

“If people in my generation would just come and check us out and bring their families, they would see what a great time we have,” she said. “All you have to do is be able to walk and know your right from your left. It’s a lot of fun.”

Reporter Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427 or gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Swing your partner, do-si-do

The Happy Hoppers’ next square dance is set for 7:30 p.m. March 15 at the Stillaguamish Senior Center, 18306 Smokey Point Blvd. Donations to improve the dance floor at the center will be accepted at the door. For information about the club, e-mail Leslie Young at ljyoung425@aol.com or go online to www.sqdance.org.

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