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Checkerboard Squares and Friends Dance in 2010 Gresham Teddy Bear Parade

Helen Putman and Checkerboard president, Karl Jurisons, promenade on the square dance trailer during the parade.

Helen Putman and Checkerboard president Karl Jurisons promenade on the square dance trailer during the parade.

Kids’ jaws visibly dropped as they caught sight of caller Mark Wheeler standing in the back of Jim Hunt’s pickup as it pulled a trailer of dancers through downtown Gresham. The kids weren’t seeing Wheeler–they were seeing “the King.” Yes, Wheeler called in his Elvis outfit, complete with a slightly askew black wig.

Mark Wheeler, caller for the Country Capers, impersonates Elvis as he calls during the parade.

Wheeler has a good voice, and he did the Elvis tunes justice as he sang about “blue suede shoes,” waving a hand gaudy with rings in true Elvis style throughout the annual Teddy Bear Parade.

The Checkerboard Squares and Country Capers, two clubs that dance at the Rockwood Grange, danced on the uneven plywood floor as it rolled through the streets. The Rockwood Grange was sponsoring the float–one of nearly 100–and at almost every block, Wheeler gave an enthusiastic promo about the good the Grange does for the community. Many of the square dancers are Grange members, too.

Everyone met in the East Hill Church parking lot at 8:30 a.m. for doughnuts and decorating. The church members brought rounds of coffee and hot cocoa for parade participants as they set up their floats. In a short time, fabric and pennants wrapped the lower portion of the Portland Area Council’s trailer. Tinsel around the metal railing, a few teddy bears hanging here and there…and the decorating was done.

Dancers wave to the crowd as the float reaches the parade's end at East Hill Church.

Dancers lounged about, visiting and admiring Jim and Mary Hunt’s dog, Bentley, who was along for the ride. River City dancer Hunt graciously agreed to pull the trailer because Checkerboard Tony Haskins and his Dodge Ram were at a state square dance meeting in Springfield.

Onlookers waved and sang along as the truck and trailer rolled through Gresham’s historic downtown. Dancers took turns waving at the crowd and square dancing. Dancing on a trailer requires getting one’s sea legs at first. Square dancing–especially when riding backward on a moving rig–takes some orientation.

Two dancers respond to "swing your partners," a move Mark Wheeler frequently called.

Caller Mark Wheeler wisely called the same singing call routine over and over, which kept the dancing simple. And he chose moves that frequently turned the dancers outward  toward the audience.

Square dancing, which is inward facing, can be difficult to showcase well because onlookers generally see the dancers’ backs.

At nationals in Wichita, one workshop urged callers to adapt moves to make the dancers face out as much as possible.

The Checkerboards had a bag full of gold CallerLab brochures with club info on the back as well as bookmarks that members passed out to interested onlookers.

Will anyone sign up for lessons as a result of the square dance float? Perhaps. We always hope so. But the float was worth doing because dancing on it was just plain fun.

The Checkerboard Squares, founded in 1960, will celebrate their 50th anniversary at a dance on Nov. 13. This banner hung on the back of the trailer during the parade.


One Response

  1. Very nice article! Hats off to the editor -Thank you for bringing this special gift of yours, to our club and to the square dancing community.

    Tony Haskins – Checkerboard Square Member
    Portland Area Council – President

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