On the second and fourth Friday of every month, local square dancers crowd into the St. Stephens Church in Qualicum Beach, clad in flouncy dresses, lacy two-piece numbers, embroidered men’s jackets and wearing ear-to-ear grins. Many of them have been coming for years and all of them at the local club have had the same two callers directing them dance after dance, since they began.
Mike and Lena Groenendyk have been square-dance calling and round-dance cueing in the area since 1979, and they have recently called their last dance.
The couple, originally from the Netherlands, came to Canada in 1952 and took their first steps onto a dance floor in 1973 to give square dancing a try. The pair fell in love with the dance and Mike began teaching classes in 1978 in Bowser. He even volunteered to teach the lessons in his basement when numbers dropped to only eight people (known as one square), and so began the name Circle Eights, which remains the club name today. By the end of the club’s first season numbers rose to four squares, or 32 people.
In 1980 Mike attended a callers college in New Hamsphire, where he worked from 8 a.m. to midnight for five days. Those classes proved to be invaluable for Mike, and he continued to use those teachings until his last day of calling.
“What we learned was something else,” he said. “I still use some of that stuff they taught us, anytime you get into trouble you go back to basics.”
Mike and Lena decided she would do the round-dance cueing and Mike would do the square dance calling at that time, when they were busy calling for four separate clubs. The two have both attended many caller seminars in both Canada and the U.S. over the years and have called and cued in Alaska, among other states.
Mike said a good caller can call without looking at a piece of paper and can get the dancers back to their partners at the end. This skill takes a few years to figure out, and often Mike would try out new routines at home before trying them out at a dance. It also takes practice, practice, practice, he said.
Tony Antoniuk has been square dancing with Circle Eights Square Dance Club since 1993. He said the amount of time Mike and Lena have devoted to practicing and delivering great dances is incredible.
“They are totally committed to square dancing, it’s a way of life for them,” he said.
Tony described Mike as a dedicated, no-nonsense caller who wants the best out of his students and dances.
Mike said the best part about square dancing is the friends you meet, the fun you have the exercise you get. Lena agreed.
“It doesn’t matter where you go, they’re a stranger when you meet them but they’re friends when you leave.”
Mike said he and Lena will continue to attend dances but it was time to step down as callers.
“We are getting to an age where we’re both crowding 80, so time it’s time for us to lay the mic down,” he said.
Calling for Circle Eights Square Dance Club will be taken over by Mike and Lena’s daughter, Elizabeth Hohner, who has been working under her father for the last couple of years.
Those interested in joining square dancing need to first take classes from Hohner before they can attend the dances at St. Stephens Church.
For more information on local square dancing clubs and lessons visit www.region8.squaredance.bc.ca.