MICKEY ROGERS WANTS IT ALL — the money, the fame and the excitement of a life lived on the road, in front of thousands of people.
Mickey, who will be 17 next week,figures he can follow two different roads to the top. He can make itas a singer. Or -- no, make that and -- he can make it as a square dance caller.
Now, lots of people dream of a career in music. But tell somebodyyou want to be a nationally recognized square dance caller and chances are he'll look at you a little strangely. Square dancing's for, well, for squares and county fairs, isn't it?
Nonsense, says Mickey,who lives in Ferndale -- not exactly the backwoods -- and has never once danced in a barn.
Square dancing's countrified stereotype "keeps a lot of people out of it," he says. "But if they saw how much fun we all have, I think a lot more would be interested in it. It's notjust hoedowns and country music."
The principle behind square dancing is simple: a set of couplesbegin in a square formation, and fromthere a caller moves them around using calls such as promenade, swing-your-partner or do-si-do. At the end of the dance, the couples end up where they started.
The dance can be complex, however, with calls that are extremely difficult to execute. It can take years to reach the sixth and highest level of square dancing.Mickey, after eight years, has reached the second.
Calling is Mickey's real love. "I like dancing, but if I'm not calling, I'm not happy," he says.
When Mickey was 12, his caller handed him a square-dance record and told him to call the next dance. Mickey memorized the record, called the dance and began a quest to become a nationallyknown caller.
He has been through a caller's school in Pennsylvania and attends week-long refresher courses every other year. He also belongs to Caller Lab International, an organization which develops and sends out new calls.
Most callers never progress beyond the second level of skill, Mickeysays. But he wants to master all six levels so he can call big festivals throughout the country.
Already, he calls 60 or 70 dances a year, in Maryland and up and down the East Coast, at a fee of about $40 an hour. Most of the money goes back into equipment and recordings."This isn't a hobby, it's a profession," Mickey says.
Saturday, Mickey was on Kent Island, calling a dance for the Kent Island Dance Club.
"We feel very fortunate to get in on the ground floor with Mickey," said Vel Garlington, founder of the Kent Island club. "He draws a crowd from other clubs, and I give him all the credit for this. They are coming for him."
Mickey, who will be a senior at North County High School this fall, is pretty much as Garlington describes him: "A nice, clean-cut young man." An only child, he lives with his parents, Jim and IdaRogers, also avid square dancers. Last year, he sangthe lead in the school musical.
Singing is Mickey's other big interest. He can sing either tenor or baritone, and the pop romantic ballad is his specialty. "I'm like a Tommy Page-style," he says.
Mickey has been busy sending demo tapes to such major record labels as Atlantic and Scotti Brothers. The first company he heard from "liked the tape, but said I sounded like Barry Manilow, and they weren't interested in somebody who sounded like somebody else."
About two weeksago, Mickey heard from Wendy Berry, who handles new talent for Atlantic Records. "She said my delivery just needed to be a little stronger and I needed a better hit song. She wants to hear more music. I'm happy."
"I liked the way he sings a song. He does seem talented," said Berry. But she cautioned, "It's far, far away from Atlantic putting a deal on the table. He's in the developing stage."
Mickey's producer, Frank Starchak of Toyz Productions in Parkville, believes Mickey has a future in pop music, perhaps as a teenidol.
"I like the guy. He's a real nice kid. He picks up the phone and gets things started for himself. He makes some noise and shakes some trees," Starchaksays. "His singing is second to his overall delivery. He just has that teen-idol thing down. He knows how to make the girls swoon. And he's making friends at these labels. I think it's just a matter of time."
Mickey already has enjoyed modest success, selling about 600 copies of a square dance recording of "When I Fall in Love," an old ballad re-released several years ago by Rick Astley. He has made a conscious effort to introduce more popular music into square dancing.
Mickey got hooked on square dancing when he was 9, after he saw some dancers perform in Chestertown. He and his mother started taking lessons when he was 11; his father got involved later. They belong to the Kent Island Dancers (though there are square dancing clubs in Anne Arundel) and dance about two nights a week.
"We have cut back some. We used to dance five nights a week. You can really get hooked on it," Mickey says.