Swinging partners

April 02, 1997

By Teri Johnson

Staff Writer

George Sword found his calling more than 30 years ago.

The Greencastle, Pa., resident leads the square dances for two area clubs, the Gad-Abouts and the Whirlybirds.

He started dancing in 1961, and, after a few years, he thought he'd try his hand as a caller.

"I just got the urge," he says. "I wanted to see if I could do it."

The Whirlybirds hired Sword as caller in 1964, and he started working with the Gad-Abouts in 1965.

The Whirlybirds dance the second and fourth Thursdays of the month at St. John's United Church of Christ in Chambersburg, Pa., September through May. During the same months the Gad-Abouts dance the second and fourth Saturdays at WACOHU Grange Hall at Huyetts Crossroads, west of Hagerstown. Both clubs dance at other locations in the summer.


The caller chants, speaks or sings the commands that direct dancers through the movements. There are four couples to a square.

A caller must have a good voice and be musically inclined, Sword says.

"If you have the potential, it takes three to four years to develop it," he says.

On their toes

There are two kinds of calls: hash or patter, where the caller adds extra rhymes and filler words; and singing calls, in which the caller puts movements to a popular song and sings the commands instead of speaking them.

Dancers have to be on their toes, because they never know what call will come next.

"It doesn't get monotonous or boring; it's continually changing," Sword says.

He says he feels a strong responsibility to the dancers, and he has a policy of always being on time.

"I try to give them the best dance I can," he says.

He also tries to make each dancer feel appreciated.

"I shake hands with them and say a few words," he says.

Not many callers take the time to do that, says Whirlybirds member Percy Rotz.

Rotz, 77, and his wife, Evelyn, 76, started taking lessons from Sword in September 1966. The Chambersburg couple has been dancing with the Whirlybirds ever since.

Getting the call

Sword can tell the dancers' skill level at first call, Percy Rotz says.

"If you don't get the call, he'll stop and make sure the whole group knows what it's doing," he says.

Gad-Abouts member Bernice McKee has known Sword since he was a child growing up in Williamsport. McKee, 75, who lives near Clear Spring, says Sword always works through new movements.

"He does a good job," McKee says.

Her late husband, David McKee, also was a member of the club. Bernice McKee says she fills in whenever a dancer is needed.

Sword says square dancing appeals to all ages and ability levels and is a good form of exercise.

Each September Sword starts a square dancing class. Before each scheduled dance, he leads the dancers through a 20-minute workshop. He then calls for the square dances. Round dancing, or ballroom dancing, is done to records.

Sword says a good caller has to be prepared.

"I carry about 200 records with me all the time," he says.

Practice, practice

When he receives new singing calls from record companies, he works on his calls in his basement for several hours at a stretch.

He has more time for that now. In February 1996 he retired as superintendent of maintenance from Potomac Edison, where he had worked for almost 43 years. Since his retirement, he has installed new copper pipes and a new electrical system in his house.

Sword, 63, has two daughters, one son and one stepson. He served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

His wife, Barbara Sword, sometimes goes with him to dances.

"It can get to be a long evening for a caller's wife, because they have to sit and sit and sit," Sword says, adding that some of the other men sometimes ask her to dance.

He says the sociability factor is one thing that has kept him calling for so long.

"Square dancers are some of the friendliest people you'd ever want to meet," he says.

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