Shufflin’ night away

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, January 1, 2009

When Gene Game took up square dancing five years ago at the urging of his wife, he almost gave up on it. A swing of a partner and a do-si-do proved to be more difficult than he imagined.

But Game kept at it, and now his wife says you can’t get him off the dance floor.

Gene and Wanda Game are members of the Shelby Shufflers, a square dance club that originated in Helena in 1976. Game is the club’s vice president.

On Dec. 19, the Shufflers had their annual Christmas party at Valley Elementary School, where the men sported bolo ties and the women twirled in elaborate crinoline skirts.

“Guys, get your girls and let’s go,” exclaimed Jerry Handley, the Shufflers’ square dance caller. “Clap your hands! Slap your knees! Full do-si-do!”

To the untrained ear, most of Handley’s calls might as well be a foreign language, but the Shufflers have each call – and each step – down pat. The Shufflers can attest it takes months to learn and memorize 200 standard square and round dance calls, but they all agree it’s a worthy undertaking.

“You learn to do it and then you wonder how did I learn to do that,” Game said. “Square dancing is not something where you snap your fingers and learn all at once. It takes some time.”

Gino Krotchko, who joined the Shufflers four years ago, said square dancing never gets dull. Every time he takes to the floor, he learns something new.

“Your ear has to get in tune with the rhythm, with the music and with the words,” Krotchko said. “There are some calls that you haven’t heard in forever and you don’t know what do, but just keep moving.”

The Shufflers are part of a long, but fading American tradition. According to Game, square dancing reached its peak 15 to 20 years ago. Today, the Shufflers wish to recruit younger members to keep the skill alive. Game said the club mostly consists of retired empty nesters.

“I guess people got more things to do,” Game said, “But these are the most down to earth people you’ll ever meet in your life.”

“There’s no smoking. There’s no drinking. It’s all good clean fun,” said Wanda Game.

Beginning in January, the Shufflers will offer weekly lessons at New Hope Presbyterian Church in Indian Springs Village. Thirteen people have signed up thus far. Game said anyone who joins must follow one simple rule.

“We require that everybody has fun,” he said.

For more information, call 988-0417.