Dances teach community

Boots scoot across the well-worn wooden floor of the Camp Branch Community Center in Saginaw every Saturday night.

Even before the band strikes up, people take to the dance floor.

“We’ve grown to love the people here,” said Chris Morgan, who teaches dance twice a week at Heardmont Senior Center. “We usually get here a little early so we can hug and practice.”

Chris and her husband Grover live in Pelham.

They almost never miss a Saturday dance though. They even made a point of being at the center to celebrate on their anniversary.

The center opened in 1928 as the Camp Branch-Saginaw School, according to former student Charles Seales. Students from kindergarten to sixth-grade attended in the two-room building.

Seales began attending there himself in 1935. Dances struck up in 1968 after the school closed and were going strong in the 1970s when Seales first got involved. He became a member of the community center board about 10 years ago.

“They wanted to give (the center) away but I couldn’t stand the thought of it,” Seales said. “So, I came back and took charge of the dances.”

Now, an average of 75 pairs of feet tap their way into the late hours of the night each Saturday. But this is all clean fun, Seales said.

“There’s no alcohol and lots of elderly people come that just like to dance and want a safe place to do it,” Seales said.

The money made from the dances — admission is $4 — keeps the grass cut and helps maintain the center’s ball fields.

“There’s no other place, really, you can go on Saturday night for $4 and have so many laughs and be with so many good people,” regular dancer Sherryl Martin said.

For all the dancing and laughing going on, the center hasn’t lost its roots. It might not be reading, writing and arithmetic but the center still provides a venue for learning.

Jessica Burchfield, a 16-year-old from Hoover began coming to the center when she was just 13.

“I never thought I’d get into dancing until coming here,” Burchfield said. “I was a little shy at first because I didn’t know all the dances but learning has given me a lot of self-confidence.”

Martha Paulk of Helena comes each weekend as does Delma Williams of Birmingham. Both women’s husbands play in the band.

“We can’t do what all they can do, but we can do a few steps,” Paulk said. “Really what we’ve learned — we’ve learned from them.”

In fact, just about every dancer, regardless of their experience learns something new every Saturday night.

Thomas and Edna Walton of Columbiana started square dancing together in 1979. They’ve been country western dancing almost 20 years ago.

Thomas loves teaching newcomers the steps to a good waltz and he enjoys picking up new ideas from fellow dancers.

“Its a real challenge. With this type of dancing there is always something new to learn,” Thomas said.

Although they said they don’t need many more excuses to come out every weekend, dancers also find physical benefits from the dances.

“Its really good exercise and we just really love dancing. We fell like it’s keeping us going,” Edna said.