Story and photos by Paul Wahl, Chieftain editor
One Saturday night each month, the Wallowa Wallowa Music Alliance creates dance-central for those who enjoy old-time dancing. The community dance program kicked off its 10th year Jan. 20.
“Every month we get new dancers coming to try it out,” said Laura Skovlin, who coordinates the sessions. “We keep the dances at more of an entry level to accommodate all ages and abilities.”
Between 50 and 80 dancers show up for square and circle dances, reels, contras, waltzes and polkas with Skovlin providing instruction.
Contra dance is a folk dance made up of long lines of couples and reels feature dancers performing traveling figures alternating with “setting” steps danced in one place.
“For me, it’s all about the infectious, high-energy live music and seeing a room full of smiling faces,” Skovlin said. “It’s what keeps me doing it.”
Music is provided by an open band, meaning anyone who is able to read chord charts and keep good time can join.
Fiddler Caleb Samples has been the band’s mainstay for years. Other musicians include John Raines of Wallowa on guitar, Rusty Woods of Enterprise on the upright bass and Mike Ragsdale, Marcia Malstrom, Larry Richerson and Brian Oliver, all of Joseph and all guitarists.
“Last month we only had a band of three, but they sounded tight and put out plenty of sound,” Skovlin said.
Occasionally a mandolin, banjo or concertina player will throw in. Sometimes more than one fiddler walks through the door.
“It’s a good way for a beginning musician to practice playing tunes over and over, as the dances can be up to 10 minutes long,” Skovlin noted.
No special clothing is required. Participants should wear comfortable shoes.
“Unlike modern western square dance with the matching outfits, this kind of dancing requires no partner or special get-ups,” Skovlin said. “It is a great opportunity to learn something new, to meet new people in a safe environment and get some exercise.”
There is usually a table of donated snacks, and water is provided. Admission is $5 per person, children under 12 are admitted free. The next dance is Feb. 17 at the Odd Fellows Hall in Enterprise. Dances are listed in the Chieftain community calendar.
Volunteers are being recruited to help run the program. Call Skovlin at 541-398-0800.