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Skirts ‘N Flirts celebrates 40 years; dancers gather for fun and socializing

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CANTON - Twirling in petticoat skirts and Western shirts, more than 100 men and women from both sides of the international border gathered Saturday afternoon to celebrate their common love of square and round dancing.

Members of clubs from Prescott, Brockville and other Canadian border towns traveled to Canton to help the Skirts ‘N Flirts club celebrate its 40th anniversary during a square and round dance party at Canton Central’s Banford Elementary cafeteria.

“This is lovely,” said Shirley Hull of Prescott, Ont. as she took a break from swirling in a skirt decorated with pastel-colored tulips and puffed out with crinoline.

A professional caller directed their dance steps, calling out phrases like do-si-do, wheel and deal, ocean wave and promenade. Participants practice modern Western square dancing which was derived from traditional square dancing and barn dancing. They also perform round dancing which is cued ballroom dancing that progresses in a circular pattern.

A square dancer for the past 10 years, Mrs. Hull said she’s drawn by the friendly people, the exercise and the music. She owns roughly 75 square dance outfits.

“I find some at boutiques. A lot of us girls make our own,” she said.

Founded in Canton in 1973, Skirts ‘N Flirts had 116 members graduate from its first class in the spring of 1974. The group was spearheaded by Maurice and Bernita Spicer with help from Paul and Miriam Clements and Lellan and LaVerne H. Freeman.

The club is part of the Seaway Valley Square and Round Dance Association, which includes groups from both the U.S. and Canada.

Several of the charter members attended Saturday’s event and spent time leafing through old photo albums and reminiscing. Refreshments and door prizes added to the festivities.

Skirts ‘N Flirts President Alan R. Brown, Harrisvile, said many of the long-time members are getting older, and he wants to encourage younger people to try out square dancing to keep the activity alive for future generations.

Several years ago there were about a dozen square dance clubs in Northern New York, but Skirts ‘N Flirts is the only one that remains, he said. By contrast, the number of Canadian clubs has grown.

“We’re trying to get new members all the time. We want people to know it’s not just an old person’s activity. Anyone can join and have fun,” he said. “It keeps you moving. It’s better than staying home watching TV.”

He noted that his 26-year-old granddaughter is a member.

Skirts ‘N Flirts now has about 26 members who gather Friday evenings from September to May at the Banford Elementary cafeteria. Newcomers start with 10 weeks of lessons. The group is open to couples and single people of all ages, as well as whole families. Besides dances, the group meets for picnics, pizza nights, covered dish dinners, theme nights and outings to other clubs.

The club’s original caller, Keith R. Hubbard of Kingston, Ont., traveled the 90 miles to Canton nearly every Friday for several years, often traveling in snowy weather that forced him to stay overnight. He spent 41 yeas as a caller for different clubs before retiring last year.

“I love it. You can’t meet nicer people than square dancers,” the 78 year old said.

Hannah and Carson Emhof of Canton have been members of Skirts ‘N Flirts since the club started in 1974. They joined the party to see old friends.

“We loved the friendships and the people,” Mrs. Emhof said. “It’s a welcoming group.”

Linda M. Dibble, Skirts ‘N Flirts club secretary, said she hopes others will check out the club.

“If people knew how much fun it is, I think more would get involved,” she said. “We are all a big happy family.”

For more information, contact Mrs. Dibble at lmdibble@gmail.com or by calling her at 518-529-7726.

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