Rich Little, 53, seemed more charismatic entertainer than shy, quiet, typewriter repairman as he called out square dance steps to dancersat Jarrettsville Elementary School.
With the twang and beat of a banjo in the background, Little called in a sing-song voice, "Circle to the right. Single file. All right, here we go. Oh, y'all look likeyou've done this before."
As the caller for the dance, Little, a Pylesville resident, is the designee to tell dancers what steps to take for the Happy WanderersSquare Dance Club.
The club had two free introductory lessons to square dancing Monday and Tuesday as a way to attract new members. And they didn't have trouble getting people to attend -- about 25 people attended Monday night's lesson.
Wearing a pair of shiny white cowboy boots, pink pants, a large gold belt buckle and a fancy white western shirt, Little certainly belonged center stage.
Little's wife, Verla, an executive secretary for the Harford County Board of Education, is also a square dancer and a member of the Happy Wanderers. Her husband has always been shy, she says. Shy that is, until he started square dancing.
"It was difficult for him to talk to people he knew," she said.
But in 1975, a neighbor introduced the Littles to square dancing, and since then they have met many new people and danced at hundreds of places throughout the country.
"Square dancing takes the shyness away from people. It really does," says Verla Little, 45, "When you're square dancing, you become more relaxed. And if you have personal problems, you forget about them."
Rich Little got so enthusiastic about the pursuit, that he not only became a good dancer, but also acquired numerous flashy outfits -- including 20 pairs of cowboy boots in every imaginable color and material.
After all to be an accomplished square dancer, you must do more than learn the steps, said Rich Little to wear the right clothes.
The men must wear long sleeve shirts so that the women won't have to touch the perspiring arm of a fellow dancer. Little said he tries to wear western pants, cowboy boots and a western style shirt, as well.
For the women, pettipants are a must, as well as a crinoline.
After going to numerous dances and perfecting his dancing abilities, Rich Little saidhe decided he wanted to become a caller.
In a square dance, at least eight dancers are needed as well as a caller to call out the steps in time to the music, usually country western.
Little said he didn't need to acquire any special training to learn to be a caller. Hesimply taped other callers and then tried it himself at home.
TheLittles are not alone in their appreciation for square dancing.
There are 3,090 people in the Baltimore metropolitan area who are members of the 60 square dance clubs.
"Oh, we love square dancing," said Gaye Shields of Jarrettsville.
Gaye and her husband, Jim, were among those attending Monday's square dance class.
They used to own a farm in Jarrettsville, but sold it two years ago. They bought a recreational vehicle and traveled around the United States and Canada for two years, dancing with various folk dance clubs along the way. They just moved back to Jarrettsville recently.
"You name it, we danced there," said Gaye, 64. To name a few, she said they danced in Nova Scotia, Quebec, North Dakota and Florida. "Wherever we were, we'd ask, 'Where's the nearest square dance club?' They all had identical calls. They say you can go to Japan and the steps and calls will be the same."
Verla Little said most square dancers receive a worldwide list of clubs so they can attend the dances anywhere. Since square dancing originated in England, all the steps are always called out inEnglish, even if you're in Japan, she said.
Square dancing is notdifficult, said Verla Little. Getting a handle on the "basic" steps are all that is needed to get started. There are 68 basic steps and it takes about a year of attending classes once a week to become familiar with them.
The more interested one is in square dancing, the more advanced they can become, Rich Little said.
Tom Borkowski, 55,a retired Baltimore County public school teacher and member of the Happy Wanderers, says he likes dancing because it is an affordable form of entertainment.
Dances usually cost $1.50 including refreshments.
And, to be a member of the Happy Wanderers Club, the price fora year is $23.
Verla Little said the Happy Wanderers dances are inexpensive because they are run through the Harford County Departmentof Parks and Recreation. Those dances are held in the evenings at public schools.
Bonnie Amos, a 49-year-old hairdresser, also of Forest Hill, said she and her husband Roy started dancing 11 years ago. Amember of the Happy Wanderers Club, she now dances with her 11-year-old grandson.
"Square dancing is way to have fun," said Rich Little. "There's nobody drinking. There's nobody arguing. But everybody's having a good time."