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Columbia Missourian

Squared Up

April 4, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST

For more than half a century, this Hallsville couple’s love of dancing has kept them arm in arm

Just over 53 years ago, Delpha Walters met her husband at a dance in Moberly. It was her first square dance, and though she had been introduced to Frederick a few years earlier, she didn’t pay any attention until that night.

There must have been something about the toe-tapping, traditional tunes. Or maybe it was the carefree, whip-around-the-floor dancing that stirred something in Delpha. Whatever it was, two weeks later she and Frederick were engaged and within two months they were married.

Every month, sometimes twice, they took out their dancing shoes and spent an evening turning around the nearest dance floor. Mostly, it was the Lilly Dale Schoolhouse, just south of Clarence.

“Back then, if we couldn’t find a square dance to go to, we didn’t know what to do,” Delpha says.

Even having children, three of them, didn’t stop the couple; they’d just bring the kids along to join the other children who fell asleep on the desks of the old schoolhouse while their parents danced. Their baby daughter grew up doing just that, nodding off to a fiddler’s lullaby.

“(We) used to take her bassinet out there and she’d sleep through, don’t bother her at all,” Delpha says.

Their other daughter grew up to marry a man she met at a square dance, too, and today she and her husband take their 11-year-old son to square dances. A budding fiddler, the boy sits in the shadows until he’s ready to join the musicians.

Even though Frederick and Delpha can’t dance much any more — not the way they used to whip around the floor — they still come out every chance they get for the boot-tapping music, the call of the familiar steps and the friendship of strangers.

They were delighted to find that Hallsville now holds a square dance every month on the second Saturday. The dance starts at 7 p.m. in the community center; admission is free, but donations are welcome.

The Walterses have been to every dance since they began in January, driving the 40-some miles from Jacksonville for the sound of the fiddles.

There’s a good turnout on this Saturday night. The music comes from about 12 musicians, playing guitars, fiddles, banjos and mandolins. Couples and families dance or talk or eat. One woman is knitting.

“It’s a great way to burn calories,” a breathless Jennifer Visalli says, pulling out a folding chair and taking a breather. “Of course, you eat a lot, too.”

Chili and biscuits, blackberry cobbler, chocolate pudding and brownies, homemade fudge and festive green St. Patrick’s Day cake cover a long table, where tired dancers pause to revive themselves.

“All right, square yourselves up, let’s have a little square dance,” one of the callers, Steve Young, announces.

Obediently, the folks rise from their seats, scrounge for a partner and form up sets. One of the youngest, 3-year-old Katie Visalli, quickly becomes the pet and dances with everyone until her tired little toes can’t take anymore. Those whose bodies are too worn out to follow the faster sets take turns passing around a 6-week-old baby.

There is a kindness to this bare little room, with a soft, spring rain outside making everything inside seem a little warmer.

“Park your partner, go beyond, inside over, outside under, allemande left,” one of the callers says in time to the music. “Take that girl and promenade, everybody straight, on to the next and do-si-do.”

Giggling, dancers try to follow the movements. Skipping and sliding, scuffing and swinging, they finish that set, and a slower song starts up. The family with the baby becomes a threesome on the floor, and little Katie Visalli, wrapped in the arms of a new friend, gently lays her head on the comforting shoulder.

Out of the shadows, Frederick Walters stands and reaches for Delpha’s hand. Wordlessly, she rises and joins him on the dance floor. They move with a familiarity that only 53 years can bring, swaying together into the night.