Reeling to the rhythm for 60 years in Chilliwack

Square dancing group celebrates big milestone with reunion dance

Sandy Kidd

Sandy Kidd

Back in 1955, local kids were really digging square dancing.

Swinging your partner round ‘n’ round had become so popular, the local club was considering closing its membership.

Sandy Kidd was among the Chilliwack youngsters to get hooked on the dance craze. Exactly 60 years later, she’s still pulling on her dancing shoes regularly. Kidd was one of the original club’s members to turn up and twirl the night away for the Rhythm Reelers 60th birthday celebration at Atchelitz Hall Friday night.

“I started when I was 11,” she says, pausing for a break between dances. She keeps her eye on the dance floor, smiling as her friends swoop and swirl in colourful crinoline dresses.

“I was 11 and my girlfriend’s mother brought her and myself,” she continues. “My friend quit after a year, but I’m still dancing.”

Kidd dances no less than five times a week. She gets her square dancing fix with the Motiv8ors, the Chuck Wagon 8s, and the Swinging Hubs. She also round dances with the Quicksteppers and the Rhythm B’s.

“I’m missing my Motiv8ors to be here tonight,” she says, but points out a few members of her square who tagged along. It’s been a while since she’s danced in Chilliwack, she says, and it’s always nice to be back where she learned the steps.

Like many youth in the day, she learned under the guidance of Al Berry, a professional caller who travelled around to groups as far as Princeton and Keremeos.

A Chilliwack Progress story, published April 20, 1955, notes that Berry was hired in the fall of 1954 by the Riding Club to hold the square dance sessions. At the time, the young, tall, UBC-educated man was hoping to become a teacher. He did that, and more, bringing life not only to square dancing in town, but many other groups as well. He continued to call throughout his life, traveling to schools to share his passion for square dancing.

Berry passed away last spring, but he’s left an indelible mark on the hearts of dancers who converged at the Rhythm Reeler’s celebration.

“Al Berry was a caller extraordinaire,” Kidd said. “He taught us all. He just ingrained it in us, I guess.”

But the popularity of square dancing is diminishing. Whereas halls used to be packed with dancers and it was common to see 15 squares (each with eight dancers) in a room, now “if we get five square out, we’re happy,” Kidd says.

But there was no lack of enthusiasm among the Rhythm Reelers and their many guests. Squares, as the groups of dancers are called, travelled to Chilliwack from White Rock, Surrey, Burnaby, Abbotsford and even Lynden, WA. There were representatives from dance associations, including The Fraser Valley Square & Round Dance Association and the BC Square Round Association.

They each congratulated the Rhythm Reelers for staying active all these years, and wished them another successful 60 years — and then some.

But they all know it’s a difficult challenge to draw in new crowds, as square dancing just isn’t as popular as it was in its heyday. Kidd said it’s an all-around great way to spend time.

“There are four things about dancing,” she says, gesturing out to the twirling sea of crinolines. “You have music, friends, brain power and then there is exercise. I hope it lasts as long as I do.”

The Rhythm Reelers hold a beginner’s night on Thursdays at 7 p.m. at Greendale elementary school. A ‘mainstream’ group meets on Mondays at 7 p.m. at Atchelitz hall.

For more information, visit www.region2.squaredance.bc.ca/.

jpeters@theprogress.com

@CHWKcommunity