It was 1960. Don Krebs was a self-described teenage punk in a red leather jacket, “playing the role.”
He had stumbled into square dancing when he, his brother and a friend had gone to pick up his friend’s sister from a teenage square dance club. Two “good-looking girls” asked him and his brother to dance. He was immediately smitten – with square dancing, going to dances whenever he could.
Marlene Krebs explains that the Alberta government of the day, realizing there weren’t many activities in the winter other than ones like curling and hockey, brought up square dance callers from the U.S. to teach square dancing and callers.
“When we got into square dancing, it was nothing to have 25 squares – that’s eight people in a square. Now you’re lucky if a big dance gets that many people. It shows how much excitement it brought to those small communities,” she says.
That kind of excitement will be returning to Salmon Arm this week and weekend. It’s BC Festival 2019, where about 500 dancers from across Canada as well as Washington state, Idaho and Ohio will be promenading to Salmon Arm from July 10 to 14.
While most will likely be square dancers, there will also be round, clog, contra and line dancing. And it’s not just for polished dancers. Spectators are free throughout and there are free introductory workshops on Friday and Saturday mornings, July 12 and 13. Along with the Shaw Centre, other ‘dance halls’ will include Okanagan College, the curling club and the recreation centre.
To kick things off, a Trail in Dance, when all the dancers assemble, will take place July 10 from 7:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Shaw Centre. Other special events include: “It’s an Elvis Thing” on July 11 from 2:30 to 4 p.m.; opening ceremony July 11 at 6 p.m. including a lively display by a Métis dance group; and a bringing together of everyone in one dance hall on Saturday, July 13 from 9 to 10 p.m. A full schedule is available online at www.bcfestival2019.com.
But back to Don and Marlene, who are from Salmon Arm and will be in attendance. Don will be MCing on Wednesday night, with a singing call at the end.
In 1960 Don was a member of the Whirlateens, a teen club on the north side of Edmonton. Marlene was with the Teeneighters, a south Edmonton club. Don knew Marlene’s dad, Bill Coulter, who was a caller, so he had a bit of an in. Don began calling, and the first big dance he called for was in Penticton at the Peach Festival in 1963, with 5,000 dancers outdoors.
“I was never so nervous in my life,” he recalls.
Marlene was his girlfriend by then and she was at the bottom of the stage, offering moral and practical support if he had any trouble with his calls. She laughs and says when she was in the washroom, some other girls were asking each other if they’d seen that handsome young caller.
Marlene replied: “Yes, that’s my boyfriend.”
Now having square-danced for 59 years together, they still enthuse about it.
“Marlene and I have tried curling, dance club, everything in our lifetime, but the most exciting and fun thing is square dancing. You know why?,” Don asks.
The number one reason, he says, is no one drinks. You can’t drink alcohol and square dance. Also, you can dance with other men and women and there’s no jealousy. It’s part of the dance. And you meet so many people.
Marlene points out it’s a good form of exercise and one you do while interacting with people.
“They can come as couples and as singles, and be asked to dance even as a single.”
It’s great for families, for all ages and you can do it in other parts of the world.
Don is a member of a shrinking group who still likes to call using 45 records rather than a computer. He has about 800 songs he uses. And as technology is changing, so is some of the music.
“Some of the guys are even using rap music. One guy… uses a lot of classical,” he says.
To see Don and Marlene and hundreds of other dance enthusiasts, visit BC Festival 2019.