Saturday may the big night for the Bakersfield Fiesta but enthusiasm was still as peppy as a petticoat Sunday morning. Now in its 51st year, the three-day festival of square and round dancing drew about 900 dancers to the Kern County Fairgrounds this weekend.
That included newcomers like Mary Freutel and Wendi Round, both members of Frazier Park’s Mountain Squares club. Recently widowed, Freutel got into dancing along with Round in September as a way to socialize. The pair were among five students from the club who headed down the mountain for the event.
“This is very exciting, new for us,” Freutel said while waiting for the first call at 10 a.m. “We mess up a lot. ... (But) I’ve never met a nicer group of people.”
Round said there’s a definite sense of family among dancers and that extends to helping some newbies out.
“When you’re dancing with older members, they are gracious. Our teachers and plus-and-beyond (level) dancers, they don’t dance, they stay with us.”
One of those kind souls is fellow Mountain Square Donald Billesbach, who also served on the Fiesta committee this year with wife Bethel as “wagon masters,” helping wrangle the 100-plus recreational vehicles that camped out at the fairgrounds. Dancers come from throughout California as well as throughout the West and Texas.
Toes tapping as Justin Russell of Tennessee called the dance in the distance, Billesbach described square dancing as “a little puzzle for your mind.”
“You’ve got to think (about calls). Think and do.”
Billesbach got into dancing thanks to his wife, Bethel, who had danced before they were married. Listing the ranging dance levels — mainstream, plus, two categories of advanced and five of challenge — he said they are happy to dance at the mainstream and plus level.
The couple have traveled throughout the state to dance as well as back East. Billesbach pointed out you could dance anywhere in the world since squares are always called in English.
And speaking of callers, the Fiesta draws an elite group. Organizers were happy that Russell could fly in from the Volunteer State to fill in when another caller had to drop out due to surgery.
At lunchtime Sunday, Sylvia Roberts was done calling — having served as master of ceremonies for Saturday’s Grand March and calling a plus dance with husband Jet Sunday morning.
Roberts said her love of dancing started in Sweden at age 7. Her parents got her into square dancing and she started calling 15 years ago. She met her husband while he was visiting Sweden and she moved with him to Sacramento.
This was her second time calling at the Fiesta and she was happy to be back.
“It’s a very organized festival. People are always in high spirits here.”
That was apparent even on the last day, especially for Phil and Bev Vango, who have been attending since 1984 and each wear a chain of 34 tiny plaques, one for each year.
He said he enjoys that the Fiesta consists mostly of dances with little exhibition and that organizers make an effort to vary the callers.
“I get tired of dancing to the same callers.”
Carol Noel, who chaired this year’s event with husband Fred, said the dip in attendance — down 300 from last year — may have been due to callers since many dancers choose events based on their favorites.
But Noel was already looking ahead, registering people for next year’s event (March 16-18, 2018) and waiting for the big wrap-up Sunday afternoon.
“We’ll have a put-away party with margaritas.”