Learning he can do it: Jim Johnson calls square dancing for years

Hazel Hodgson, center, smiles to Bev Hoskins, left, while square dancing Monday night at the Newton senior center. Wendy Nugent/Newton Now

By Wendy Nugent

Newton Now

 

A bunch of round tables provided the backdrop for square dancing on Monday night at the Newton Senior Center.

Folks were seated at the tables, talking and eating. Eventually, a couple got up toward the front of the room, near where caller Jim Johnson stood and declared they needed more couples to make the “square” in their square dance.

Others joined, and they all seemed to know what to do when Johnson called out a variety of dancing cues—people went around in circles, smiling and laughing, two couples went back and forth, in and out of the square, and then the other two couples did the same, and all the men and then all the women went to the center of the square and walked around in circles together. Those were just a few of their moves.

Johnson, a Newton resident, has called square dances for many years.

Johnson said he was born in Newton and moved to Hutchinson in 1981. In 1989, he went with a group of folks to Wichita to take lessons from Sheldon Lawrence and then took additional lessons from Ray Short to be a caller.

“I didn’t know I could do it, because the biggest part of doing it is believing you can do it,” Johnson said while taking a break from calling Monday night.

Then in August 1989, he started calling for dancers in his Newton home basement. At the time, people came from a variety of towns, including Arlington, Hutchinson and El Dorado. Then in 2006, he called at the Old Mill in Newton for two years. After that, he said he moved his calling to the Newton Senior Center in July 2008.

The 81-year-old seems to almost think of his calling as a calling, since he does it to help others.

“When I was in social work for 31 years, as people got older, they need body and brain stimulation,” he said.

Some people even tell Johnson it’s the highlight of their week.

“In the beginning when God created the world and square dancing, I wanted to see if I could,” he said about calling.

This past Monday night, about 95 percent of those attending were regulars, Johnson said, coming from a variety of towns, such as Circle 8 in Park City, Hesston Shoe Scuffers and Hutchinson State Fair Promenaders.

Johnson also has called a few club dances in Newton, Hesston and Hutchinson, but that was a while ago.

During square dancing at the senior center, Johnson said he often tells jokes, does trivia and gives prizes and also has Christmas trivia and gives out presents at Christmas.

In the past, Johnson has done his own share of dancing, but right now, he said he’s tired. After a few things get straightened out in his life, he could go back to it.

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