By Mark Dreger
You’re never too old to dance.
West Kelowna’s Westsyde Squares celebrated their 60th anniversary as a club Saturday with a party for current and former members at the Westbank Seniors Activity Centre.
“Square dancing is awesome entertainment,” said Lynda Bjalek, Westsyde Squares president and 30-year member. “It’s good for the brain, it’s good for your physical fitness, it’s good for everything. When the music turns on you can be in a real sour mood or had a real bad day, you come to the dance and I guarantee within five minutes you’re a totally changed person.”
Initiated in 1957, the Lakeview Recreation Commission were planning how to celebrate the British Columbia centennial the following year until someone suggested square dancing as part of the Old West heritage.
“And basically the dancers decided, ‘this has been so much fun, that’s not going to be it,’” said Brian Elmer, who’s been a part of Westsyde Squares for 46 years. “We want to establish a regular dance club and continue to enjoy this activity beyond the centenary year.’”
It was Ray Fredrickson from Summerland that met with the group at the Lakeview Elementary School cafeteria and that began the Westsyde Square Dance Club. They’ve been dancing from fall to spring ever since.
“I think the fact that we’ve been going for 60 years is testament to the longevity of the recreation as a social recreation,” Elmer said. “People can gather together, learn this dance form, meet at least weekly, and apart from the time spent on the dance floor there is a lot of time on the sidelines socializing. And over the years—in fact pretty well right away—you begin to solidify friendships with people who were strangers not too long ago, and that lasts a lifetime for many of us.”
Over the years, the club jumped from location to location, moving to the old Westbank Community Hall until the Mount Boucherie Community Center was built; and then once the City of West Kelowna moved into the Community Center, they moved to the Westbank United Church for their Wednesday night dances.
“When I joined the club in 1971, we danced in what is now the Westbank Lions Community Hall,” Elmer said. “The hall was in its original state back then and the floorboards had collected dust and wax particles over the years and when we danced there in the early ‘70s—as a man often wearing dark pants—I’d come off the dance floor after a couple hours with a white coating up to about my knees because we moved on the floor and worked that dust out of the cracks and it had come up onto our clothing.”
With most of the members in their senior years, Westsyde Squares hopes to attract younger members. Their dance caller—Dustin McGifford—is currently only 26-years-old, showing that all ages are welcome to join.
“Right now we’re hoping that it will be younger,” Bjalek said. “We range right now from 50 to—well we got people right up into 90. It’s very good for everybody.”
With 60 years spent in the community, it has become a second home for its members.
“It’s my family,” Bjalek said. “If I have a conflict of something, two or three different things going on, if there’s a square dance I’m here. It’s my priority.”
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