Dances Under The Rim Still A Big Draw

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Tales from the Rim country's past always include a story or two about how much residents enjoyed their community dances. People would come from miles around, often traveling a whole day, to dance the night away at a schoolhouse.

Today the tradition of dances drawing all comers continues in the guise of the annual Zane Grey Twirlers' "Dance Under the Rim."

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The 24th annual Zane Grey Twirlers Festival is this Friday and Saturday, June 11 and June 12 at the Tonto Apache Recreation Center. Front couple, Elisabeth and Neil Burke; back couple, Julie and John Shipp.

This year, the square dance group is hosting its 24th annual Zane Grey Twirlers Festival June 11 and June 12 at the Tonto Apache Recreation Center.

"We're expecting 350 plus dancers," said John Shipp, president of the Zane Grey Twirlers.

Co-chairing this year's festival are Shipp's wife, Julie, and Elisabeth Burke. The two have worked the entire year putting the event together and are doing a repeat performance for the big Silver Anniversary Zane Grey Twirlers Festival in 2005. In fact, they have created "diplomas" as parting gifts for festival participants telling them all about the 2005 event.

The Zane Grey Twirlers Festival is considered one of the best in Arizona and brings in dancers from throughout Arizona, as well as out of state. Events will include dancing on Friday and Saturday nights and workshops throughout the day on Saturday.

Also on Saturday, the Zane Grey Twirlers will treat their festival guests to a pancake breakfast. During Saturday's breakfast, there will be an open mike of sorts for callers and cuers to lead interested dancers.

While most of the dancing and the breakfast are for festival participants only, the public is welcome to come watch. "We encourage (spectators), to show people how much fun it is," said Neil Burke, the other half of co-chair Elisabeth Burke.

"Saturday night is the big dance," John said.

The group has had tremendous support from local businesses, Shipp said, and there will be plenty of door prizes to prove it.

"We owe a lot of gratitude to the Tonto Apache (Tribe) for the use of their gym," John said.

"This is the second largest festival in the state," Julie said. The largest festival is held in Yuma. Other festivals are held in Phoenix and Tucson, Prescott, Show Low, Cottonwood and Globe.

Elisabeth attributes the popularity of the Payson festival to all the food available to the dancers.

"And we're a very friendly club," Julie added.

The group has never investigated the economic impact of the 24-year-old festival, but they know it keeps the restaurants, motels and campgrounds busy.

Neil said square dance festivals are not as popular as they once were. But it is still necessary to book the top talent in callers and cuers five years in advance, said Elisabeth.

A caller is the person who instructs the eight people in the squares on how to do the moves. Cuers call out the moves to be done in round dancing. Round dancing includes such ballroom favorites as two-steps, waltzes, the cha-cha and fox trots.

Calling the squares for the 24th annual Zane Grey Festival is Joe Saltel. The round dancing will be cued by Annie and Charles Brownrigg.

Saltel was introduced to square dance calling when he was only 8 and his grandfather assisted him in learning his first few singing calls. He has been an active caller since 1971.

The Brownriggs have been dancing together for more than 20 years and started teaching round dancing full-time in 1981. The couple also write dances. They have taken their talents throughout the country and elsewhere.

Neither square or round dancing is just going through the motions. The dancers have to listen to the instructions of the callers and cuers.

"It's an ongoing process learning the steps," John said. "It challenges the brain to keep up."

So, in addition to exercising the body, square dancing exercises the brain and also provides a valuable social exercise.

There are 90 members in the organization. Its summer program includes dances on Wednesday night at the Lamplighter RV Resort. Between September and May, the program includes twice-monthly dances at the Payson Senior Center and new dancer instruction on Wednesdays at the Lamplighter.

While proper dress for square dancers include the big hoop skirts or prairie skirts for the women and often complementary shirts for the men, during the summer dress is more casual.

The festival starts at 7 p.m., Friday, June 11 with pre-rounds, followed at 8 p.m. with mainstream square dancing. Festivities start at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, June 12 with the pancake breakfast; a round dance workshop at 11 a.m., and the square dance workshop at 2:30 p.m. Saturday night's action starts at 7 p.m. with pre-rounds; the Grand March is at 7:45 p.m.; and the square dancing starts at 8 p.m.

While Julie and Elisabeth were unable to arrange for clothing vendors to participate this year, they will have badge and jewelry vendors at the festival.

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