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Swingin’ and Swayin’ in Elkins

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February 8, 2012 by wcobserver

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ELKINS – If you are anywhere between the ages of nine and 90 and like to dance, the Community Center in Elkins is the place to be on Friday nights.

On any Friday night, you can find 120 to 150 friendly people dancing, enjoying snacks from the concession booth and just generally having a good time. Among them will probably be Whitley Anschutz, who has been volunteering there since she was five years old while her father, Ray Anschutz, patrolled the area as a deputy sheriff. Whitley is part of the band Shadow Creek, which plays there three nights a month.

Other members of the band include Lisa Turner on the drums, Rick Jones on the keyboard, Jackie Baker on bass and Billy Mounce on guitar.

“A few years ago, the disco ball had to be retired,” said Whitely. “But the floor is nicely lighted by multiple strings of tiny white lights while dancers scoot their boots to country tunes and swing their partners to square dancing numbers.”

And boy, do they swing! In the soft light of the overhanging bulbs, folks like Wiley Hobbs and his sister Evelyn Hayes twirled around the Community Center’s dance floor with aplomb. After the band ended the tune, they, along with mother Geraldine Hobbs, explained why they keep coming back to the Elkins dance nearly every weekend.

“It’s a family tradition,” said Ms. Hayes when asked where she learned to dance. She bounced from one foot to the other, keeping time with the band’s next song. “I square danced when I was younger.”

“There’s a lot of old country here,” said Mr. Hobbs. “You go to clubs and there’s a mixture of stuff, you know? This is just straight country dancing.”

(Go to the Observer’s homepage to see a slideshow of the Elkins dance)

Mr. Hobbs and Ms. Hayes are bit younger than the average Elkins Dance participant, but they’re by no means the most mobile. Everybody was out on the dance floor cutting a rug. Occasionally, everyone came together for a line dance. And every Friday, from 7 p.m to 11 p.m., there’s always more than a few couples swaying sweetly in the middle.

Violet Hutchins, who will be 90 years old in May, has been coming there with her husband Bob for about 12 years. Despite having suffered a stroke and other illnesses, Violet, who looks lovely and lively in her purple pantsuit, was eager for the opportunity “to get out and do something.” Other couples, singles and groups of friends sat at round tables surrounding the dance floor, swapping stories while they waited for the music to start.

Chuck Sruder his partner around the edges of the dance area, skimming those chatty tables. Both are ballroom dancers, but they come down to the Elkins event for a “good little dance” and a complicated two-step.

Simply creating the space for this successful community event was another complicated two-step, said the center’s director Joyce Bunch. Begun in 1987 with little in the way of grants or support, the organizers had bean suppers, telethons and fundraisers to raise enough capital to build a center. By 1998, organizers were able to begin construction on the current facility. More than just a Friday dance hall, the Elkins Community Center — located near the town’s schools and the senior home — is just that: Elkins’ center. Ms. Bunch said the local 4H club meets here; the center built a bigger stage for a group of Irish Dancers; and holds after-school programs and events for seniors. It has also hosted weddings and funerals, reunions and birthdays. When the auditorium opened about 13 years ago, the town began hosting the high school dances along with this regular Friday Night corral.

For a $5.00 cover charge you can shake, shimmy and glide to tunes. As with the other events, the money taken in goes back into the Community Building Fund.

“It’s family oriented,” said Geraldine Hobbs, her voice just barely rising above Shadow Creek’s new swing number fluttering out of the auditorium. “There’s no drinking, no smoking. It’s pure country, is what it really is. Down home.”

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