South Charlotte

Two left feet? That’s OK on this square dance floor

Groovy Grovers Square Dancing Lessons

The Groovy Grovers Square Dancing Club and caller Gene Baker offer lessons on Thursday nights.
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The Groovy Grovers Square Dancing Club and caller Gene Baker offer lessons on Thursday nights.

Diggie Pesakoff likes to try new things. Between she and her husband Lee, of 54 years, Diggie is definitely the go-getter of the two.

At age 75, Diggie enjoys exercising, dancing and walking. In September, she decided she wanted to try square dancing, which in many ways is a combination of all three.

Last month, Diggie and Lee, who live in Charlotte’s Stonehaven neighborhood, finished up a 20-week course with the Groovy Grovers Square Dancing Club that congregates weekly at Baker’s Place, the “building out back” at the Matthews home of square dance caller Gene Baker.

Once or twice a year, Baker, 82, conducts a set of introductory lessons, wishing to recruit new, and hopefully younger, participants to a pastime that may be on the decline.

“We’ve had a hard time getting new people coming in,” said Baker, who’s been an active square dancer for 43 years. “Word just doesn’t get out.”

Baker said that eight couples started the session in September, but that two had dropped out. One moved out of town, another had transportation issues. He’s considering starting a new 20-week session next month.

The “building out back” is a wood frame structure Baker used as a workshop for his store fixture business. When he retired 15 years ago, he remodeled the space for dancing and has room to accommodate up to six squares dancing at once.

The Groovy Grovers, a group that got its name from its original gathering place, Hickory Grove Methodist Church, moved in to Baker’s Place shortly after the building conversion. The club, which is about 30 couples strong, has dances every Tuesday night.

On Thursdays, Baker opens the space for lessons. Club members often attend, serving as “angels,” or helpers, as Baker instructs them to promenade and do-si-do.

“You can get down on yourself if you forget something, but they are very encouraging.” said Lee Pesakoff, 76. “We started out with very simple basics. We have gone through four steps that we learned. Now we’ve gone through the whole repertoire.”

Like a few other activities, Lee was apprehensive to try square dancing. He admits that Diggie often knows best, just like she did when she wanted him to try hiking and biking.

Similarly, Matthews resident Steve King resisted the prodding of friends Jeff and Susan Vandervette for about a year-and-a-half.

King just didn’t like the idea of square dancing and remembered hating it when he was forced to participate in the activity during elementary school P.E. class. Finally, King could not resist the Vandervette’s “hounding” any longer.

“I came out and tried it and after that I was coming on my own,” said King, 51. “It was something to do on a Thursday night. It’s just meeting people. Everyone has been great. They treat you like family.”

Speaking of family, square dancing played a part in creating a new one just last month. George and Linda Puckhaber got married a little over a year after meeting at a square dance on New Year’s Eve 2015.

The Puckhabers are members of several clubs around Charlotte including the Groovy Grovers, the Diamond Yellow Rockers in Weddington, and the Swinging Saints, which congregate at Charlotte’s St. Andrews United Methodist Church. They serve as angels for the Groovy Grovers lessons.

“I wish we could help more people learn how to dance, especially younger people,” said George Puckhaber. “It’s getting to the point where people I’ve known for years are getting up in age and aren’t going to be around much longer. We need younger bodies to start taking lessons.”

Gene and Betty Baker, his square dancing partner and wife, had been married 59 years before she died in April 2015.

“She was the biggest part of this club,” said Gene. “She loved square dancing. And everybody loved her.”

Joe Habina is a freelance writer: joehabina@yahoo.com.

Want to go?

The Groovy Grovers Square Dancing Club meets at Baker’s Place, 2843 Williams Road, Matthews. Lessons are 7-9 p.m. Thursdays; the cost is $5 per lesson. Club dances are 7-9 p.m.; there is no membership fee. Info: Gene Baker, 704-576-0318.

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