By Melissa Murray
The Quinte Twirlers, Belleville’s square dancing club, relies heavily on the person who guides them through their steps – their caller.
Wayne Whatman, 67, is from Peterborough and he’s been calling out the steps for 21 years.
But he didn’t always call in Belleville.
“They called me up and asked me if I would call for them,” said Whatman. “I was uneasy because their caller was a good friend of mine, but they said they would shut down otherwise.”
Whatman decided to make the drive to Belleville every Wednesday to revive the club. Now, he calls for clubs in Belleville, Lindsay and Peterborough.
“There were no hard feelings from the other caller. We are good friends,” he said. “You have the ups and downs of square dancing,” said Whatman.
The first night he called in Belleville, there were seven or eight squares containing four couples each, he remembered.
Whatman fell in love with square dancing in 1976 after being introduced to it by his sister.
“I got really into it when I started dancing and within a couple of years, I really knew that I wanted to be a caller.”
“I kept looking at the caller thinking, ‘Well, gee, it would be really fun if I could do something like that’.”
Eventually, Whatman took four courses on how to call out the steps. From cloverleaves and sashays to swinging their partners, Whatman always leads his dancers back to their corner. In between steps he sings the lyrics to his favourite songs including Achy Breaky Heart and Watermelon Crawl.
“I only go up as high as the third level. They say you are supposed to be able to dance to the level that you call and I never went up to that level. It gets too serious and I like to have fun.”
“We just love him,” said Lisa Van Meer, a square dancer and spokesperson for the club.
“He’s a great teacher, a little slower than others, but he takes the time to teach you the steps,” she said. “But he’s great at getting people off the sidelines.”
Whatman did just that when a woman from Indonesia visited the club.
“She didn’t know what to think,” said Lisa. “She had never seen anything like this before.”
When dealing with beginners, Whatman said, “You don’t push too hard on them, because you want them to enjoy what they have done.”
Whatman said he feels a sense of accomplishment when working with the dancers and knows to keep them happy, so they come back.
“The main thing with calling is you have to keep people happy. You have to have fun with the people, keep them happy and make sure they go home happy. The last dance of the night I make it really easy, so they go home relaxed.”
“The hardest part is to lead, to understand the figures and where you are going to put them. That’s why you go to school. It taught me how to get them back to their corner. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. You’ve got to figure out how to get them back there.”
Although Whatman is retired, calling has become his job since retiring from DeLaval, an agricultural manufacturing company, after 42 years of work.
“I would be lost without it,” said Whatman about square dancing.
“I’m going to do it as long as I am able to. You’ve got other callers older than I am and they’re still calling. A lot of them just call until they have to give it up.”