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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Silver Spurs still sharing international culture through dance

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

Ava Cluever, 6, spun in a slow circle, watching her blue skirt swirl.

“I love dancing!” she said.

On a recent afternoon at the Clutch on East Sprague, sunlight streamed through the windows as Ava and several other children practiced a traditional Mexican folk dance.

“I like doing this,” said Elliot Swanson, 4, as he demonstrated his heel-toe step.

The two children have joined the ranks of hundreds of kids who’ve danced with the Silver Spurs Youth Folk Dancers over the years.

Founded in 1947 by E.S. “Red” Henderson, and sponsored by Spokane Schools and the city of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department, the organization is now an independent nonprofit.

In recent years, the group has been a staple at events like the Fall Folk Festival and Art on the Green, but for decades their reach included European tours and performances in Canada and Mexico.

The Silver Spurs is for youths ages 5-19, though they sometimes include younger kids like Swanson. Their folk dance repertoire represents over 40 cultures, including Mexican, Japanese, English, Ukrainian, Filipino, Norwegian, Haitian and traditional American dances.

“This is about being as culturally respectful as possible,” said executive director Susan Dankovich, as she pointed out several costumes from the group’s extensive wardrobe.

Student Rosamond Grim, 16, wore a full-skirted tangerine dress as she prepared to dance a fast-paced Latin number with Lowell Geottert, 15.

“Wait ‘til you see me twirl in this,” Rosamond said. “I love to dance and learn about different cultures.”

She’s been a member since age 12 – and is why Lowell joined.

“I heard about it (Silver Spurs) from Rosamond,” he said, tipping his sombrero back. “It’s really fun and helped me a lot with self-confidence – I’m usually pretty reserved.”

Spurs’ alumnae Caleb and Jared McDougall agreed that dancing with the Silver Spurs boosted their confidence.

“My brother and I saw them at the Fall Folk Festival and fell in love with the costumes and the cultural aspect,” said Caleb McDougall, who danced with the group for seven years.

“All the dances have their own personalities.”

He might have aged out of the group, but he’s still dancing.

“I’m a member of the Scottish Country Dancers,” he said. “We’ll be performing at the Expo event this summer.”

His brother, Jared McDougall, now a senior at Whitworth University, relished performing Cuban salsa and the Argentine tango.

“The Spurs are a great opportunity to build social skills and learn about history and other cultures in a respectful, physically embodying way,” he said.

Even though he is not a current member of a dance troupe, he is still performing.

“I’m a member of Spokane Shakespeare Society,” Jared McDougall said. “We do Shakespeare in the Park.”

He credits the direction of Dankovich for his enjoyable experience with the Silver Spurs.

“Susan is a wonderful director,” he said. “She makes everyone feel so welcome.”

Dankovich has served as executive director since 1990.

“Why do I do it? For the joy – joy for the kids, the parents, the community, as well as me,” she said.

June Dickmann understands that joy. She and her sister joined the group in 1972. The Silver Spurs danced at the World’s Fair in 1974, and her sister, wearing a yellow gingham bonnet and dress, is pictured in the Expo ’74 souvenir book.

“When I was in high school, we did a European tour for five weeks,” she recalled. “I enjoyed the cultures behind the dances.”

They also performed in Mexico City and Guadalajara.

She still remembers the stories she learned about the origins of certain dances – for example, the tarantella.

“If you get bit by a spider you do this dance to get the poison out of your body,” she said.

Dickmann enjoyed the Silver Spurs so much, that she returned as an instructor from 1998-2002 and still meets monthly with friends she met at the group.

Over the years, class sizes have greatly diminished. Where once dozens of dancers filled several classes, now just a handful of students remain. One reason could be because today’s children have so many activities available.

“When I was in Silver Spurs, there were no girls’ sports to be involved in,” said Dickmann.

Dankovich remains determined to teach children the joys of learning about other countries and cultures through dance.

“I want these dances to survive, and I want people in the States to do them,” she said.

Dickmann agreed.

“It was life-changing for me to be in Silver Spurs – it gave me confidence,” she said. “Everybody needs to dance.”

For more information about the Silver Spurs visit or call (509) 533-9966.