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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dance Troupe Teaches Teens The Right Moves

It’s hell being a jitterbugger in a mosh pit world.

Such is the sad dilemma facing one of the nation’s longest-running teen dance troupes - Spokane’s half-century old Silver Spurs.

The Spurs are still kicking up their heels, although the famed organization is on life support if numbers or notoriety mean anything.

Back in the 1950s, 3,000 school kids packed the old Coliseum like gumballs for Saturday Silver Spurs dance lessons. They learned how to polka and Charleston as well as the tricky steps to scores of western and foreign folk dances.

The goal of each would-be Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers was to be hand picked for the Silver Spurs performance troupe that toured the nation and Europe.

Today, the Silver Spurs are no longer a Spokane icon. Less than 30 die-hard dancers are brave enough to buck trends and sometimes the scorn of peers.

“Couple dancing is just not considered cool anymore,” laments Susan Dankovich, Silver Spurs executive director.

“I think it’s sad because this is a great opportunity to learn some social behaviors that you can’t learn in any other activity.”

Friday night, the Spurs present their annual spring performance at the Met.

Like their graceful counterparts of yore, these young movers and shakers will revitalize such rhythmic relics as the Lindy Hop, the boogie woogie, the can-can and the old soft shoe.

Here’s something guaranteed to make a lot of us feel about as relevant as a stegosaurus: There will be a disco number complete with Bee Gees soundtrack. Yegads.

The Silver Spurs practice Tuesday nights at Lewis and Clark High School. I dropped in to see what keeps a kid in something that may be considered out of step with the times.

Dancing has always been a tougher sell for boys. Only three of the dozen members of the Silver Spurs senior dancers are guys.

“A friend thought it was dumb,” says LC sophomore Joel Preuninger. “But when he saw, he thought it was cool.”

“It’s fun,” adds Ferris junior Dwight Smith, who is also an accomplished break dancer.

“I got in trouble here once for busting a move during a Ukrainian number,” he says.

Busting a move?

Edwin “Red” Henderson wouldn’t have thought much of that.

Henderson, who died 10 years ago, is the beloved founder and patron saint of the Silver Spurs. He viewed dancing as not only a way to better fitness, but a graceful metaphor for life.

It’s said a youngster spending six years in the Silver Spurs would leave knowing 250 different dances. As well as the steps, Henderson always taught the cultural significance of every dance, be it Italy’s Sicilian Tarantella or Israel’s Mayim Mayim.

A Spokane physical education teacher, Henderson hatched the idea for the Spurs in 1946 while watching a group of Colorado high school dancers perform.

The following year, he brought folk dance classes to School District 81. By the early 1950s, Henderson and his best dancers were impressing audiences around the world with flashy footwork and elaborate, hand-sewn costumes.

Though no longer part of the school system, the Spurs still tour Europe, thanks to fund-raisers and generous parents.

That the Silver Spurs have lasted this long is testament to Henderson’s indomitable spirit and drive.

How to keep his baby going through the 1990s, well, that’s the question nagging Dankovich.

She wants to somehow tap into the thousands of Silver Spurs alumni who are undoubtedly out there. (Call 533-9966 if you want to help.) With their effort, maybe folk dancing for kids can be kept alive.

“This is based on clean, wholesome activity,” says Dankovich.

“There’s a greater purpose to this group than dancing. The Silver Spurs is needed now just as much as when Red Henderson started it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo

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