Last dance for Blue Mountain Promenaders

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The Blue Mountain Promenaders will mark a milestone anniversary with a celebration of life for their long-time caller Dean Fisher. The 65th anniversary celebration is bittersweet as it will also mark the last dance for the modern square dance club.

During its many years of square dancing in the area, the club has had only four callers: Lorne Hay from 1961- 1969; Bill Cranny finished out 1969; Al Calhoun from 1970-1975; and Dean Fisher from 1975 until his death in 2023.

Member David Ripley said Fisher kept going as a caller as long as he could, as it gave him a challenge and a lot of pleasure. He died less than two months after calling his last dance.

Unable to find a new caller, Ripley said the club was forced to make the difficult decision to disband. The remaining members will join with the Owen Sound Steppers and Flesherton Denim N’ Lace.

The Blue Mountain Promenaders Modern Square Dance Club formed in 1958 when several couples got involved trying this ‘new’ activity in their private homes dancing to records, said Ripley.

A square of four couples felt confident enough to travel to a convention and join in the fun. They did have fun but their skill level was rather dismal according to Lorne Hay, the club’s first caller.

They took it upon themselves to develop a real program, with Hay stepping forward to learn to call the dances. He even attended a University of California (UCLA) leadership conference for square dance callers in 1964.

Ripley said Hay raised his two bedroom Nottawa bungalow in order to accommodate square dancing in the basement.

The Blue Mountain Promenaders later moved to the Duntroon Hall, where they met for maybe 30 years.

By the late 1960s there were two very active modern square dance clubs in the area.

The Ski Town Squares formed for dancers at a higher skill level as an offshoot of Blue Mountain Promenaders and was active until the early 1980s. They had their dances at the Batteaux schoolhouse, purchased by three member couples for the purpose of square dancing. Ripley said both clubs flourished for many years. The Blue Mountain Promenaders were long time users of the Duntroon Hall. As the story goes, Ripley said one of the dancers worked as a school custodian and was able to procure a floor polisher to keep the hall’s floor sparkling.

Dancers now wear comfortable street clothes, said Ripley, but back then it was common practice for the ladies to sew circle skirts with layered crinoline, and sometimes a shirt to match for their dance partner. He said some of those fancy costumes may be hauled out for the celebration.

A retired dentist, Ripley was first introduced to modern square dancing during a one-year stint with the Red Cross. The military base at Sioux Lookout was offering a class that he joined with his wife in 1969. When they moved to Collingwood they were invited by a neighbour to join the Ski Town Squares.

Ripley said square dancing is a great activity for physical and mental fitness, and it’s very social.

“It’s always a challenge and it’s a great way of getting exercise. It’s just fun,” he said. “It’s got a lot going for it and it’s very popular. You just have to get hooked. Anyone new who comes out and sticks with it becomes a booster.”

Fisher started calling in 1975 when he began teaching basic square dancing. He also called for clubs in Alliston, Creemore and Honeywood, and entertained at the GNE, nursing homes and in his hometown of Wasaga Beach. He and his wife Ethel also received recognition for round dances they choreographed.

In its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s there were more than 50 members, or about seven squares of eight dancers. In its last year the Promenaders were down to about three squares. Although there is still interest, Ripley said another caller could not be found to replace Fisher.

“We tried to come up with other ideas as to how to keep the club running and the final decision was to, regrettably, close the club and move on to dance somewhere else,” said Ripley.

The club’s charter states that it has one year to dispense funds once the club ceases to function. Therefore a decision was made to empty the coffers by throwing an anniversary party and celebration of modern square dancing. On June 8, there will be a final dance at the Leisure Centre in Collingwood. There is a small charge for dancing ($10 for the full day and $5 for a half day) but admission to the memory room displaying memorabilia is free to all. Dancing is scheduled from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Founding members

Founding members of the club in 1958: Stuart and Marg Ellis (Ellis Pharmacy); Gord and Shirley Hewitt; Herb and Doris Chapman; Jim and Kate Mitchell; Guy and Myra Titus; Len and Ruth Wambold; Lorne and Betty Hay; John and Ruth Walker.

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