Going out for a spin

Cruise ship passengers dance at Centennial

Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2005

They left their petticoats behind on the 780-foot cruise ship Amsterdam. But for a few hours Wednesday afternoon, more than 500 tourist square-dancers brought the funk, do-si-do style, to Centennial Hall.

They're among 643 dancers who are in the middle of a seven-day Inside Passage cruise aboard the 1,380-passenger Holland America ship. Most of the dancers came straight from the 54th National Square Dance Convention in Portland, Ore. The four-day event, June 22-25, drew 8,006 dancers to 15 venues.

Cruise Masters, a Beaverton, Ore.-based vacation-planning business, organized the Alaska cruise. It did the same thing in 1994, the last time the convention was in Portland. Back then, it also stopped at Centennial Hall.

"We have some dances that are scheduled on the ship that are pretty well-attended, but mostly it's just cruising and relaxing," said Barbi Ashwill, from Portland. She and her husband, Lee, were the general chairmen for the convention.

"As you can see we're in casual dress," she said. "Normally we'd be in our very plushy petticoats, but this is a fun way to be able to relax and still be able to enjoy an activity. It's pretty amazing when you see one person up on the stage giving directions and all these people doing the same thing at the same time."

The Portland convention drew square dancers from all 50 states, as well as 16 countries, including France, New Zealand, Australia, China and Japan. There was dancing every day, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Mikiko Morizono, a third-year square dancer from Sapporo, Japan, is on the cruise with her friend, Seiko Sato, also from Sapporo.

"This is the first time I have visited Alaska," Morizono said. "Its serenity is so beautiful. I think it is a little bit similar with Switzerland."

There are about 10,000 active square dancers in Japan, Morizono said. Sapporo is preparing for a large convention of its own in 2007.

Morizono began square dancing, in part, to improve her English.

"It's difficult because the calls are all in English, and it's very hard to hear English," she said. "I think it is a wonderful language, and one of the reasons I dance is so maybe I can hear a little bit more."

Rick Ewing and his wife, Carolyn, from Kennewick, Wash., are escorts on the cruise, as they were in 1994.

"We're dancing on-board the ship several times a day," Ewing said. "I change choreography constantly. They have no clue what I'm going to call. They know the commands, and if I give the command, they know the figure for it.

"The idea for the caller is to make them interested in the choreography, yet to get them back home with their partners."

Ewing has been calling square dances since 1969.

"Square dancing isn't what it used to be," he said. "I wish we could get more people out, and more younger people. When I'm a caller, I can make it as challenging as the kids want to dance."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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