A record number of dancers swirled and twirled their way through the weekend as the Zane Grey Twirlers hosted its 21st Annual Rim Country Square and Round Dance Festival at the Tonto Apache Activity Center.
The event, which began Friday evening and continued through the day Saturday, culminated in a Saturday evening grand march and dance that attracted an estimated 275 dancers from throughout Arizona and around the country.
"Last year, we had about 250, so this was definitely a record crowd," Elva Jones, festival chairperson, said.
Mayor Ray Schum, who along with his wife Lee, led the grand march, welcomed the dancers, thanked them for coming, and jokingly urged them to spend a lot of money in Payson while here.
Then featured caller Dave Guille of Cheyenne, Wyo., stepped to the microphone, announced that he had counted 27 squares of eight dancers on the floor, and kicked off an evening of dancing with the first number.
While Jones was hoping for 30 squares, she was nonetheless very excited to shatter the old mark. "The only thing that worries me is where we're going to hold this event if the crowds keep getting bigger," she said.
Payson Town councilmember and longtime square dance enthusiast Hoby Herron served as master of ceremonies Saturday evening, with the Beeline Cloggers providing the entertainment.
The festival, which consists of two days of round and square dance workshops and dances, also featured round dance cuers Mike and Linda Liberti of Sun Lakes, Ariz. Round dancing, which originated in France in the 17th Century with a dance called a "branle," is done by couples in a large circle, and is basically cued ballroom dancing.
"About 25 percent of the people here do both square and round dancing, while the other 75 percent just square dance," Jones said. "There's a big difference between the two."
Many people are under the impression that square dancing began in the Old West, she said, but it actually originated in England in the 1700s with the May pole dance and the cotillion. She said auto pioneer Henry Ford was one of those who introduced square dancing into the United States during the 1920s.
"The interesting thing now is that all square dance calling is done only in English," Jones said. "Everybody around the world knows how to square dance in English."
She said there are two reasons why square dancing is such a big attraction the fun and the exercise.
"When we get out there and really get going, it's just lots and lots of fun," she said.
"Two hours of square dancing is equal to five miles of walking," her husband, Casey Jones, said.
For more information on joining the group, call the Joneses at 474-8773 or Duane Coyer at 472-6818.