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Photo by Denise Baratta Wayne Weaver leads square dancers in a routine at the Rogue Valley Square Dance Center in Medford.

Last call

The dancers at Rogue Valley Square Dance Center on Table Rock Road are excited. It’s 6:30 on a Wednesday evening, and an enthusiastic older gentleman at an advanced square dancing workshop is so excited he’s hopping around even before the music and calling starts.

Wayne Weaver, caller extraordinaire, steps on the stage and leads a set of calls and dances. He leads four couples who are arranged in a square, with one couple on each of the four sides facing the middle. He works his “calls,” that is, instructions for the dancers, in what they call the “pattern” style — a style set to music that is random and does not contain words. The caller sets the rhythm of the dance, uses his own words or calls, and varies the length, something at which Mr. Weaver excels.

“He knows more than 60-some different calls,” says an admiring other Wayne Chipman, who has danced from Alaska to Washington, D.C., and even Ethiopia. He was 13 or 14 when he learned from Weaver, and he is part of Weaver’s legacy.

“Wayne uses different beats and calls off the top of his head and improvises timing, whether it’s one step or 16,” says Chipman.

If you’ve ever enjoyed a square dance event, the first thing you notice is the spontaneity involved. Callers have a repertoire of at least a dozen movements at their disposal, but they call them out randomly, in any order they like, in order to keep dancers on their toes. With Weaver, and his varied repertoire and extensive knowledge and his skill, he keeps all dancers on their toes all the time.

Weaver has been calling square dances for some 50 years.

He’s called from Cave Junction to Grants Pass and Eureka to Hoopa and, of course, Medford. He and his wife, Debbi, have supported older family members for a number of years, and now that they are on their own, they are going traveling, trailer in tow.

But Wayne isn’t finished yet — he’s having a retirement party Aug. 11 at the Rogue Valley Dance Center.

Looking back, it seems that Weaver couldn’t escape the dance. He grew up on a small cattle ranch in Eagle Point, and his parents were into square dancing.

“I always gave my dad a hard time about wearing funny clothes,” he remembers.

That changed when he was 13 or 14 and his parents gave him and his then-girlfriend square dance lessons at the local YMCA. He learned how to dance, and he enjoyed it.

When Weaver got out of the army in 1967, he and his wife bought a trailer and wherever they parked it they had square-dance nights.

He could have kept dancing, but there were other events waiting for him. He had three friends who encouraged him to take a caller class.

Since then, he’s been a caller all over Oregon and Northern California.

What makes Weaver a good caller?

He’s great with improvisation, Chipman says, but there’s more than that.

Lois Muck, who has been square dancing here since moving from Portland 23 years ago, says, “He’s the glue that brings it all together. He has humor and style.”

The key attribute Weaver has is that he is “smooth,” she says. That is, the dances are natural and well timed.

“Everything flows together,” she says. “There’s not stopping and starting that throws dancers off.”

Muck enjoys square dancing because it’s a wholesome activity, and that was certainly on display at the workshop last Wednesday, with sparkling water and cheese doodles and plenty of dancing. Everyone was actively engaged.

“Every caller is different,” says Chipman. “With Weaver, there’s no routine at all.”

Weaver says he has seen square dance evolve, both within the dance and with societal changes.

“Society has changed,” says Weaver. “In the ’60s and ’70s, square dancing was a big deal. This was when the wife, typically, would stay at home cooking and cleaning and taking care of the kids, and by the time the husband came home she was ready to go out. Most wives had to drag their husbands to the dance for the first time, and after that, they were hooked.”

He admits that with all the entertainment options out there, and the fact that many couples both work outside of the home, square dancing has declined.

Nevertheless, as can be attested by participants in the workshop, no matter what changes may come, square dancing has stood the test of time and remains a very popular pastime. It is, after all, Oregon’s official state dance, which is a great factoid to bring up at your next trivia night.

The dance itself has changed, as well.

“It used to be more of a hoe-down style,” Weaver says, “more of a social event than a dance, where you could stomp your foot and you’re done. Now it’s more structured.”

The Rogue Valley Square Dance Center is going to miss Weaver, but they’ve already got another caller on board — Phil-Billy Ramey.

“One of the things I like about Wayne as a caller is that he always lets the dancers win,” says Frances Ramey, whose husband will be the new caller. “If we make a mistake and get out of place and mixed up in the square, he doesn’t point you out.

“He often says, ‘Well, something’s not quite right here! How did I do that?’ We all laugh and look sheepish. Then he goes about fixing things without any fuss or blame. We all know that he didn’t call anything wrong, but no one is ever embarrassed or discouraged. He is only ever encouraging.”

“I will miss Wayne as the club caller for the Star Promenaders, but I will also miss Debbi,” adds Frances Ramey. “She has been an important part of our club for many years, serving as treasurer, greeting dancers as they enter the hall at dances, preparing dance flyers, and a myriad of other things. ... I only hope that we can serve the club and the square-dance community half as well as Wayne and Debbi. As Phil says, ‘Those are mighty big shoes to fill.’”

Weaver says he is looking forward to traveling, golfing and fishing.

What did he get out of all those years as a dancer, caller, and teacher? The most important thing, he says, “Were the many friendships.”

Weaver’s last dance will be held Saturday, Aug. 11, at the Rogue Valley Square Dance Center, 3377 Table Rock Road. The evening will begin with a potluck at 5:30 p.m. Non-dancers are invited too. For more information, call 541-890-6327.

Jefferson Reeder is a freelance writer living in Medford. Reach him at jeffersonreeder@hotmail.com.

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