Dan Beck has been a square-dance caller for more than 50 years, busily continuing his expertise right into retirement. He'll be caller for the 4-H club members’ dance at 7 p.m. Aug. 14 at the Pickworth Building at the Huron County Fairgrounds. This is open to the public as an example of this dance style, exhibiting the energy and fun of participation.
Beck's first job was farming most of his adult life, but on weekends in the mid 1960s, he found time for a second job. He played guitar and sang in Pete Good's square-dance band. An opportunity to call the dances happened when Beck filled in for the regular caller now and again. He first learned how to call the Eastern-style square dance.
By 1967 Beck took lessons to learn to dance the Western style. It is more complicated, having up to 65 figures, which makes it an excellent memory workout for dancers, too.
“Harry and Vern Gordon, the twins, taught me the calls,” Beck said.
Beck explained how square dancing started in the United States by asking, “what do you do in the early days of settlement?
“No electronics, no movies in those days of farmers far out in the country. Folks got together on occasions at barn dances. Since settlers were from different countries, the English and French had quadrilles (and the) Scots and Irish had sword dances and jigs. It all evolved from the European styles into the specific American dance, the square dance,” he said.
“Originally there were no microphones, so callers used the big old megaphones, or each square had a separate caller and all called to the same music — some of the old ones (songs) everyone knows such as ‘Red River Valley,’ ‘Birdie in a Cage’ (and) ‘Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.’ The figures are standard: Alleman left, right and left grand, do-si-do, promenade.”
Some of these are American pronunciations of French words from the old 1600s dances, which became the Eastern style.
Western style finds “everybody in the set doing something,” Beck said.
“No one is waiting for a couple to finish a figure. There are a lot more calls to learn and do and a lot more fun to dance. Those doctors who know about square dancing recommend the Western style as a light workout because you dance the entire evening. All the time you are moving to the music."
Round dancing such as the polka, waltz, two-step, foxtrot and even cha-cha, is included in the fun at many square-dance parties.
“The band I played in for 23 years liked to do weddings, anniversaries — any kind of private party, but not at bars,” said Beck, who uses all amplified, pre-recorded music these days.
He has called for the Firelands Area Dance Squares (FADS) since it began in 1958.
“Not many people want to wear the old-time frontier skirts and crinolines anymore, mostly blue jeans, sport shirts, maybe western boots, a cowboy hat, but casual is the key lately. Be comfortable,” Beck said.
Beck still farms a little and is plenty busy keeping dancers fit and happy. In his third job, he still works part time for Wellington Implement, which services and sells International Harvester agricultural equipment. He was full time until two years ago.
“I don't do nearly what I used to, just mainly advice. I’ll try to make it to 60 years,” Beck said.
He was hired by the Norwalk Implement Co. on March 14, 1959. He began by repairing tractors, slowly moving into sales.
“When I started in '59 that new equipment is what is today's old stuff, antique,” Beck said.
As a boy, he learned from his father and neighbor Carl Kramer Sr., who taught him a lot. It helped that International Harvester held service classes yearly to bring mechanics up to date on all new equipment.
Twenty-three years later, Norwalk Implement closed and Beck went to Gibbs Equipment in Bellevue. His 19-year career with Gibbs was about half-time service, half sales. He did everything including repairs “in all kinds of weather and in the field because that’s where the bigger equipment breaks down, usually right at harvest.”
“If you need advice about any International implements, Dan knows them inside and out,” his neighbor said.
Each part of his three-job career finds Beck an award winner. Most recently, he earned the Ohio Friend of 4-H Award, recognizing those “from outside the 4-H family” who have supported 4-H programs greatly.
So, if you are interested in square dancing, Beck invites you to FADS’ 60th-anniversary celebration from 7 to 10 p.m. Sept. 15 at First Presbyterian Church in Norwalk. It is open to all and refreshments will be provided. There will be a small donation at the door if you plan to dance and entrance is free for non-participants.
Square and line dance lessons by Beck start at 7 p.m. Sept. 18 at Pleasant Elementary. Free lessons are Sept. 18 and 25. For more information, call 419-681-4394.