Annual volunteer honor goes to leaders of Ashland Folk Dancers, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary
By Damian Mann for Ashland.news
A 50-year local tradition kept alive by the Ashland Folk Dancers was honored at the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Jan Waitt, Ron Waitt, Art Clemons and Venita Varga received certificates for the James M. Ragland Memorial Volunteer Spirit Service Award and gifts from Mayor Tonya Graham.
“We didn’t expect presents,” said Jan Waitt.
The four dancers, who have each invested 40 to 50 years in their dancing troupe, have helped maintain interest in Balkan-style dancing, which generally involves men and women dancing in separate groups.
“We’ve done it over the years because we really believe in dance,” said Jan, a retired Central Point teacher. “You put down your worries, you put down your woes and you join the community of the dancing circle. And you and the world are always better for it.”
Graham said, “It’s an incredible gift to the community.”
Brent Thompson, also a dancer, said, “I nominated these four individuals for the James Ragland award.”
He said he’d nominated them a few years ago, so he was happy to see them get the recognition they deserve.
“There are many people who have contributed to folk dancing over the years, but they did it the longest,” Thompson said.
He said that both Ron Waitt and Art Clemons grew up folk dancing.
He said Balkan-style dancing was popular in various cultures, including Serbia Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece and parts of Israel.
Thompson said this particular style of dancing started when the Turks ruled the Balkan states and didn’t allow men and women to dance together.
Most of the time the Ashland Folk Dancers still do non-partner dancing, similar to that in the “Zorba the Greek” movie, Thompson said.
The dancers meet twice a week, and anyone in the community is invited.
At 11 a.m. Sundays, the Ashland Folk Dancers get together at the Bellview Grange, 1050 Tolman Creek Road, where they have live music.
At 7:30 p.m. Fridays, they dance at The Grove, 1195 East Main St.
Thompson said that if anyone is interested this type of dance, they should just show up.
On a typical dance night, he said typically 15-20 people are in attendance.
Thompson has been dancing with the group since August 1984.
“It’s really been a fun thing,” he said.