For over 60 years the Williams Lake Square Dancers, better known as the Stampede Whirlaways, have kept traditional line dancing alive in the lakecity.
Square dancing and line dancing are a quintessential part of the western lifestyle that Williams Lake associates itself with so deeply.
Ensuring it remains a living part of the community, however, takes the work of dedicated people like Williams Lake’s own caller Nick Turner and his wife Mary Anne Turner. For the last few decades, the Turners have been a stalwart presence within the Williams Lake Square Dancers and Stampede Whirlaway community organizing dozens of events, lessons and dances.
Nick and Mary Anne have been married 26 years this year and actually met through square dancing, celebrating their anniversary around the same time as the Williams Lake Square Dancers Annual Jamboree. Together they serve as the groups cuer and caller, Mary Anne has been cuer for 27 years while Nick has been a caller for 41 years, directing the flow and tempo of dances across Williams Lake.
Square dancing was something Nick got into just for something to do, back when the group used to listen to music off records and move from basement to basement throughout the Cariboo. One night he said the record they were using with the caller on it had become so scratched it was unable to be understood. The side with only the music, however, remained intact and he decided to call for the night.
Eventually, after the previous caller left he started coming into town from Alexis Creek twice a week to call for the club, often after a day of teaching and through snow Mary Anne added. Now 41 years later he admits that he must have “caught the bug” for it.
Mary Anne became involved with the club more regularly in part because of Nick and in part because of her father, himself an avid square dancer. advising that she should give it a try for the community aspect for it. As a single woman at the time, she remembers it as being a safe place to go and spend time with a friendly group of people without alcohol.
“We’ve danced all over the province and people from all over the province have come and danced with us. We make a lot of friends and the square dancing community is quite close-knit, we all know each other and it’s an extremely friendly bunch,” Nick said. “I think we both enjoy the challenge of square dancing as well, it’s a mental exercise as well as physical.”
Both Nick and Mary Anne feel square dancing is a great activity for families that gets people active and socializing with one another in a fun environment. They feel people spend to much time sitting around at home and that their club gives them a chance to get out and be active.
An enduring appeal of the activity, Mary Anne feels, is that no matter where in the world you may be, the dance is still called in English. No matter what language or genre of music is playing, the commands are always familiar and understandable to dancers of all experience levels.
Nick also added that the stereotypical square dancing clothing, while very pretty and fashionable, isn’t required for new or current dancers to don for dancing.
“People don’t realize that square dancing changes with the times. They still have the picture of hay bales in the barn, scratchy fiddles, puffy clothes and men in pink shirts, but we’ve changed with the times the same as everyone else has,” Mary Anne said. “We use computers, we don’t use records anymore and we wear fancy clothes if we want to and if we don’t want to we don’t. We change like everybody else but its really hard to get that across to people.”
The music too has changed Nick said and is not all just “country twang” these days. Genres and songs from the 1920s up until the 1990s are all used, though Nick said it’s difficult to find modern songs that fit the square dancing beat. As a caller himself, Nick enjoys trying all types of music to call to from swing to big band and pop to Broadway.
One thing Mary Anne hopes to see in the near future is a younger person, or any person, becoming interested in learning to become a caller for the club. While Nick is still happy to do it if he was to quit she said the club would be gone. Nick would be more than happy to teach anyone with a good singing voice interested in commanding a roomful of people on stage, she said.
“If you’re calling the dance, you’re a pop star for the night,” Nick quipped. “You’ve got the microphone you’re controlling the night and it’s a great thrill.”
Come September 19 at the Cariboo Chilcotin Child Development Centre’s Gymnasium the Turner’s invite the whole community out to their next round of beginner lessons and hope to see the whole community turn out and give square dancing a try.