For most of his life Bernie Onderwater was a bit of a restless spirit; he never stayed in one place for more than five years. But then two things happened, he moved to the Shuswap and he met Sheila.
“We’ve been together for 15 years and we’ve been dancing for 15 years,” says Bernie. As soon as she came into his life, so did square dancing.
“I didn’t do dancing of any sort, I’m not musically inclined. I don’t flow with the music but you don’t have to with square dancing, it’s like walking and everyone can walk.”
Sheila made him promise to come three or four times and if he didn’t like it, he wouldn’t have to come back. Now he is the president of the Salmon Arm Square Dancers and he works hard promoting the group. He carries yellow pieces of paper in his shirt pocket advertising their open house on September 13. He’s hoping for a great turnout for the open house.
“The first three lessons are free, then we hope you’ll like it enough to pay your way. It costs $3 a night for beginners. New dancers go from 6:30 to 7:30, then hang around and watch and socialize. You can come as a couple but there’s lots of room for singles.”
Although many of the ladies wear the traditional frilly dresses it isn’t mandatory.
“Even jeans are acceptable. Men generally wear western type shirts, but casual wear is quite acceptable,” says Bernie.
“If I had to sum it up I’d say, ‘It’s fun, exciting, inexpensive, non-alcoholic – you don’t have to have a few drinks to get in the mood – and it’s very social activity. It’s good for the brain and body. There was one dancer in Enderby who was 103.”
There’s not really an age restriction. Some of the dancers bring their grandchildren along once in a while and they have a great time, he says.
“Most of us are north of 60,” he says with a smile, “but I would love to get younger people. At the coast there’s a teenage club.”
Bernie and Sheila have stories of the fun they’ve had, and people they’ve met in their travels. In fact, before they go on a trip, they do a little research into square dancing.
“You don’t make reservations you just show up. We don’t shake hands, we always start with a hug. You meet awfully nice people across Canada.”
They’ve even been on a square dancing cruise to Alaska.
No matter where you go in the world, you can visit the local club because English the the international language for square dancing. The caller always does the calling in English.
The open house is Wednesday, September 13 starting at 6:30 p.m. at the Seniors’ Centre, 170-5th Ave. S.E. There are also clubs in Blind Bay and Enderby. For more information visit squaredancebc.ca (region 9)