Decisions. Decisions. For Clare Gill, there are so many records in her vast music collection (she estimates more than 5,000) and so little time to dance to them all. Still, the 87-year-old gives it her best shot several times a week between dancing, teaching and cueing for round dances in Jerome, Rupert and Pocatello.
“My late husband, John, and I danced our way to happiness,” says Gill who has taught hundreds of Southern Idahoans hundreds of round and square dance steps. Most of these lessons took place at Round-A-Square Center, a dance hall she and John built in Rupert during 1982 for their dance club, the “River Reelers”.
“In round dancing you have one partner like ballroom dancing, while in the square you’re one of eight people in a square and you’re dancing as much with your hands as your feet,” she explains of varying techniques.
While waiting for dancers to arrive at Round-A-Square she flips through her records putting them in order beside the turntable.
“We’ll start with ‘Colors of the Wind’ then ‘Louie and Lefty’ and ‘Robin Hood’. They have some really interesting steps. Sometimes we get tangled up but no one has to be perfect here and the more mixed up you get, the more you laugh, and the more fun you have. That’s what it’s all about,” she declares.
“Dancing the patterns keeps your mind and body nimble and limber,” she continues. “These dances are great exercise and so much more fun than jogging or walking on a tread mill.”
Clare, who is as slender as a teenager attributes the trait to decades of dancing. She began dancing in the 1950s and undertook teaching in 1984.
An evening of dancing with Clare could be considered a workout.
“Once, I wore a pedometer to class and in two-and-a-half hours, I had walked five miles,” says Colleen Winters, a 55-year-old Heyburn resident who detested dancing until meeting Clare five years ago. “I remembered awful square dances during my ninth-grade gym class but my dad needed a partner while his wife was vacationing so I came. With Clare, I found I really liked it. She loves what she does and does what she loves. Dance is the main thing in her life and informs just about everything she does or says, which makes her such an excellent teacher.”
Along with decades of knowledge, Clare’s sense of humor makes dancing fun.
“She has a dry, sneaky sense of humor that comes out and grabs you when you least expect it. When I first met her, I thought she was a quiet serious lady, a sugar cookie type, then sometimes out comes a remark that makes you do a double take and laugh the rest of the night. She has these little stories about her life adventures from living all over the West. She has seen and done all sorts of different things,” Winters adds.
For Colleen round and square dancing are like solving a fluid riddle set to song.
“You’re figuring out a geometric puzzle as you move through a pattern in the squares, and at the same time you’re expressing your creativity through dance. When you start out, it can be confusing, but sometimes, the more confused you are, the more fun it is. Then sometimes we all have a ‘dunce’ night instead of a dance night, when you can’t get anything right and Clare has endless patience. She really cares and gives us everything she has.”
As dancers slide, twirl and glide it resembles a kaleidoscope with colors the continuously shifting petticoats of every color.
“At first I said I’d never wear those foo-foo petticoats; then I was persuaded to try one. It’s such a total sensory experience. Feeling the silkiness, hearing the taffeta rustle and seeing the colors blur as I twirl,” muses Winters.
More dancers arrive including Ralph and Brenda Wahlquist from Paul, who have been dancing with the River Reelers for more than 20 years.
“We’ve made the best friends here,” says Brenda. “Square dancers are the most loving people. They take you in and make you feel welcome. Square dancing is friendship set to music.”
As couples fill the floor Clare taps her toes, starts the music and cues the movements, selecting from her repertoire of hundreds of cues.
“Basketball four, turn, open vine four, face-to-face and back-to-back, step away, ferris wheel, swing through…” she chants.
Hours pass like minutes, and soon it’s time to go. As people head out the door, Clare calls after them, “See you next week.”
Winters notes that the dances always accompany her when she leaves. “At home, when I close my eyes and start to drift off, I still keep hearing the music and seeing the movements. It’s so much fun.”
That’s what it’s all about.
For more information about monthly dances and weekly lessons at the center on 215 West 100 South in Rupert, Clare may be reached at 208-436-4088.
Great article the best I’ve read in along time. Thanks Jason and crew. Great pictures also!
We dance in Pocatello, and so enjoy Clare and her young spirit. She’s a good example of how to stay fit in our older years. We really appreciate her helping our Choo Choo Club in Pocatello!!