The Denton Civic Center was packed Friday night. The men and women were there for two reasons: to dance and to surprise a square dance caller of four decades with an induction into the Texas Callers’ Hall of Fame.
“Not everyone who gets nominated gets in,” said Mike Bramlett, a hall of famer who announced that Denton resident Toby Thomason would join the ranks of a small group of Texans.
Bramlett explained to the cheering crowd — many of whom wore navy neckerchiefs with Thomason’s name and induction date printed on them — that a caller has to have called dances for at least 25 years, met professional and leadership conduct standards and taught at least 300 students the national folk dance to be considered.
Bramlett praised Thomason for his dedication to square dancing, a form that is part formula and part art.
“I’ve known him since I started, and I’ve been calling for 38 years,” Bramlett said. “He’s very deserving of this. It’s really sobering to be inducted, because it’s from your peers.”
Thomason said the induction was a complete surprise. He got tears in his eyes at the caller’s stage when he saw his extended family walking down the Civic Center floor to line up behind a banner with his name on it.
“I knew something was up when I saw them,” he said.
Thomason said the simple joys of square dancing have kept him calling for more than 40 years.
“I tell everyone the same thing. There are three main reasons to square dance: food, fellowship and fun. Everyone will learn to dance at some point. And if you mess up, no one cares,” Thomason said.
Dance clubs from all over the state attended. The buffet lines were brisk and the dining tables were shoulder to shoulder. Only about a foot of space separated the folks eating from the folks dancing energetically. Thomason looked out over the dancers, and dropped his chin humbly when a dancer patted a shoulder and shouted “congratulations!” One woman threw her arms around Thomason and drew him in for a hug.
“I’ve never met you,” she said, “but I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about you.”
Thomason calls dances in a confident, sing-song baritone. During group calls, he takes a harmony line; all the hall of famers in attendance sang the dancers through a dance to a version of “Amazing Grace” with the musicality of a long-running Southern gospel group.
Thomason said he especially loves the wholesome atmosphere of square dances. The event was kicked off with the Pledge of Allegiance and a sober chorus of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
“No drinking, no drugs,” Thomason said. “In 43 years, I’ve only had one guy who got rowdy. We asked him to leave, he pulled a knife, we kind of surrounded him and the police picked him up. Once that’s happened in 43 years.
“I just love doing it,” he said.
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877. Follow her on Twitter at @LBreedingDRC.
Experience: president of the North Texas Callers Association, 1979-2007; president of the Texas State Callers Association, 1987-88; has called square dances in Texas, New Mexico and Colorado.
Years calling dances: 43
Years calling for the Triangle Squares: 38
What: Denton area square dance club
When: The club meets at 7 p.m. on the first and third Friday of each month, with a 7 p.m. workshop for new dancers, 7:30 p.m. dinner and 8 p.m. grand march into squares.
Where: Denton Senior Center, 509 N. Bell Ave.
On the Web: www.trianglesquaresdanceclub.com