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70 years of dancing: Bill Alkire to receive a lifetime achievement award

Accolades for his commitment, expertise and dedication to American traditional dance is nothing new for Bill Alkire, who has been teaching, calling and creating dances for more than 70 years.

Ellen Pill

"When about 100 people give you a standing ovation, it's kind of impressive. It's overwhelming," Bill Alkire said.
That ovation came recently when Alkire and his wife Susan English attended a dance event in Berea, Kentucky.
On the afternoon of Feb. 25, Alkire, who is 90 years young, will be the recipient of the Country Dance & Song Society Lifetime Contribution Award for his contributions to the field of American traditional dance as a caller, teacher, choreographer, organizer and mentor.
Accolades for his commitment, expertise and dedication to American traditional dance are nothing new for Alkire, who has been teaching, calling and creating dances for more than 70 years.
Buckeye Leadership Workshop of Ohio honored Alkire with an Emeritus Award in 1998. The Kentucky Summer Dance School presented him with an appreciation award for his service in 1986.
Alkire has danced his way across the country and across the Atlantic, serving on the staff of dance schools, festivals and workshops from Alaska to Denmark.
He has contributed greatly to the local dance scene as well. In 1979 he founded Wooster's Cedar Valley Cloggers, a traditional Appalachian clogging performance group. Alkire served as artistic director of the group for 25 years. He taught at the Wooster Community Center and at the Wayne Center for the Arts as well as calling a monthly old-time square dance that ran continuously for 50 years.
A love of dance started early for Alkire. "I was about 14," he said. "It wasn't called dancing. It was called a play party."
The family church wasn't in favor of dancing, so community members would get together for a social time that was part party, part dating ritual.
"People love to dance," Alkire said. "And when it's denied to them, there are ways of wiggling out of it."
Along with the dancing at the parties, there were singing games. As Alkire described the parties, he sang snippets of the songs that he remembers so well.
"Come my love and go with me, and I will take good care of thee. You are too young. You are not fit. You cannot leave your mother yet. You're old enough; you're just about right. I asked your mother last Saturday night."
"We sang a lot as a family," Alkire said.
He lamented not having more training in playing an instrument, yet it was just that lack of expertise that led him to a lifetime of dance.
"My younger brother started a square dance band about the time I was a freshman in college," he said. "Since I was the poorest musician, they made me the caller, and I've called dances ever since."
When he found himself in the Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C., "I went dancing every night," he said.
He got to be friends with a ballroom dancer and was introduced to a wide variety of dance styles.
Prior to settling in Wooster with a career in mental health services, Alkire spent some years as a country schoolteacher.
"The basketball season was starting, and the principal said that all the teachers would have to work at the ball games. I said to him, 'Mr. Morris, I won't do that. I can be of better service to this school and community by teaching dance, and I will teach dance every opportunity I have.'"
Eventually the devoted dancer retired early to dedicate himself to his first love. "I'd like to have done more," he said.
For all the dancers touched by Alkire's delight in sharing dance, it seems he has kindled a lot of smiles and created thousands upon thousands of happy feet.
The event honoring Alkire is free and open to the public. It will be held on Sunday, Feb. 25 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wayne County, 3186 Burbank Road, Wooster.
The award presentation will begin at 2 p.m., followed by a dance until 5 p.m. Live music will be provided by Pocketful o' Gimmick with invited callers leading contras, squares, mixers and English country dancing.
RSVPs are appreciated. Go to www.woosterdance.com, click on contact and use the message area to RSVP.

Published: January 24, 2018
New Article ID: 2018180129974