Bow to your partner. Now bow to the corner.
It’s how every square dance starts, with a polite gesture that sets the tone for the entire experience.
When a young Sheila Mahathey first learned these words during square dance lessons with the Brindlee Mountain Promenaders in Marshall County, she never expected to find a partner for life.
“My mother, daddy and I started lessons in 1980, and that’s when I first met Wayne,” said the former Sheila Nabors. “We didn’t have just one dance partner, but Wayne was part of a group of teenagers that was taking lessons at the same time.”
The two started dating a few years later and have been married 30 years. While they stay busy with their day jobs — Sheila is a CSR with Alfa Insurance in Arab and Wayne is a mechanic with Arab Electric Cooperative — their Monday evenings are still spent on the dance floor.
The Mahatheys are members of the Guntersville Lake Twirlers, one of over 40 clubs associated with the Alabama Square and Round Dance Association (ASRDA). The club meets weekly at the Guntersville Senior Center.
“In today’s environment, you won’t find many family oriented activities like square dancing,” Sheila said. “There’s no alcohol or bad language, so you feel good about bringing your family.”
From dosido and allemande left to square thru and grand square, the Mahatheys know every step that can be called, in part because Wayne has been a square dance caller since he was 16.
“When we were taking lessons, the gentleman who taught us, Jim Hydrick, noticed I was singing every word of the song as he was calling,” Wayne said. “He gave me a couple 45 records and said ‘Next week, you’re going to call these for me.’ So that’s how I got started.”
Wayne learned his calling skills from Hydrick and training sessions called Callers Colleges. Wayne said calling requires a love for music, good musical timing and attention to detail.
It takes four couples to make one square. During any given dance, Wayne might be keeping track of up to six squares on the floor at the same time, each with dancers of different skill levels and ages. Guntersville Lake Twirlers range in age from 12 to 84.
“The dancers execute the caller’s calls. And if you’ve done it all successfully, everyone should have their original partner by their side at the end of the song,” he said.
Even though it’s almost an hour drive from their Huntsville home, John and Jan Bloodworth joined the Guntersville Lake Twirlers because of Wayne’s calling style.
“He calls fast, and he calls by sight. He doesn’t memorize all the calls, so it’s always different,” Jan said.
John was reluctant to start square dance lessons in 1980, but now he’s serving a one-year term as Guntersville Lake Twirlers president.
“When Jan told me we were going to learn square dancing, I told her ‘I don’t think so,’” John said. “But she convinced me, and as it turns out, I like it just as much as she does.”
While both couples enjoy the activity, the Mahatheys said they look forward to weekly dances because of the people involved.
“This is friendship set to music with the nicest folks you’ll ever meet,” Wayne said.
To find a local square dance club, visit AlabamaSquareDance.com.