Eldeen and Emmett Henderson lived on Lake Road 14 and dance with the Docey Dandies. Photo from Henderson family archives
Special to The Gardner News
Eldeen Henderson’s basement closet contained five full-skirted dresses, in yellow, red, blue, green, and pink. Each dress had its own pretty petticoat and a matching pair of sparkling dancing shoes. Her husband, Emmett, had shirts to match each one of her dresses, and a bolo tie. He had to wear special shoes, ever since polio caught him in childhood, but nothing stopped that Gardner Lake couple from dancing with the Docey Dandies.
Sometimes, they’d bring a big quilt and put the grandchildren on the quilt to watch them. A love of dancing got passed down in that family and many others from one generation to the next, thanks to the Docey Dandies Square Dance Club, creating fun in Gardner since 1956.
“We often refer to square dancing as friendship set to music,” the website says. “We are all about building friendships and having fun, while engaging in a healthy and wholesome activity. The real benefits are the people we meet and the memories we make.”
People who square dance tend to stick with it for years. Mike Salerno has been the caller for Docey Dandies dances for more than two decades.
“I am still the club caller for the Docey Dandies,” Salerno said. “Have been since September 1996. Wow! Over 23 years.”
Calling dances has been Salerno’s own calling since he was 15 years old. Salerno, the state director for Kansas and Oklahoma of the National Teachers Association for Country Western Dance. He has been a dance caller all his adult life for the pure love of it.
“Learning to call is a long process with little or no return on your investment,” Salerno said. “There is always room for more.”
While dancing families often pass the heritage from one generation to the next, often dancers today have taken a few lessons. Even some elementary schools in Kansas have taught square dancing as part of the cultural heritage of the Midwest. A square dance consists of four couples in a square, moving to the music according to the directions of the caller.
“Allemande left with your left hand, right to your partner, right and left grand. Face your partner around the ring. Now swing, swing, swing,” a caller proclaimed at a Docey Dandies dance back in the 1960s. “Now promenade.”
The same calls could be heard today. Square dancing came to this continent in the 1600s with the first European settlers. Experienced square dancers hear the calls and move to the music without having to think about what the words mean. Salerno teaches square dancing lessons on Tuesdays at the Gardner Grange, and he encourages everyone of all ages and backgrounds to come to the dances.
“If you can walk, you can square dance,” the Docey Dandies website proclaims. “It may look complicated but it really is several simple moves called in a pattern.”
Dancers come from all over the Kansas City area to join the Docey Dandies every second and fourth Saturday night. The February dance dates are Feb. 8, with caller Chuck Owings, and Feb. 22, with Salerno doing the calling. Dancers these days often dress casually, and sometimes dress to match the themes of the evenings. The Feb. 8 theme will be “ and the Feb. 22 theme will be “Pretty in Pink.”
For folks who want lessons, the first lesson is free, and then the cost of $40 covers 20 dancing lessons, a first year membership in Docey Dandies, a badge and insurance. Children ages 8 to 18 get the same benefits for $20. Folks who want to learn to call can learn from listening and get lessons, too.
“There is a caller’s school coming up in June in Topeka,” Salerno said. “There are others across the country.”
In the past, club callers have included T.J. Miller, Dick Enderle, Russ Grove, Bruce Bird, and Jim Ellis.
Square dancing can be great for health as well as happiness, dancers agree. One dancer using a FitBit counted 8227 steps in a single evening of dancing.
The club also organizes special activities, such as going to Royals games and doing community clean up. Tom and Susan Bender represent the Club at the Heart of America Federation of Square Dance Clubs, with Rob Jochem as alternate, and Mike and Rachel Denning representthe club at the Kansas Square Dance Association State and Northeast District, with Renee Wyckoff as alternate. Doug and Sandy Finnicum lead the Executive Board as presidents, with Marvin Knoche as vice president. Charlie and Donna Valazan act as club historians.
“The club has danced in the school cafeteria,in the city auditorium, in the school band room, above the Old Farmers Bank,on the school patio, in the American Legion Building, in Gay’s Little Gray Barn,in the 4-H Building and now dance in the Grange Hall at the Johnson County Fairgrounds,” the club history states. “At one time, lesson space was provided by Argo’s Furniture Store. The Argo Folks would move furniture out of the way to provide dancing space.”
Many things have changed in Gardner as the population surges, but the Docey Dandies Club remains strong in the same spirit enjoyed by those very first members — friends laughing and having fun together, dancing.