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Dancing up a storm

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By Kirsten Laskey

Tom and Marlene Kelley’s dancing shoes are well worn. The couple has strapped them on since 1977.

That was the year they joined the Mountain Mixers, the local square dancing club.

Tom is originally from Los Alamos but they lived for some time in Florida. The Kelleys returned to Los Alamos in 1976.

For an anniversary present, Tom’s parents gave them square dancing lessons.

Thirty-two years later, they are still cutting loose on the dance floor.

“It kind of stuck with us,” Tom said.

Not only has it stuck with Marlene and Tom, but they have taken their love of the dance all the way to the state level.

On the local level, the Kelleys have served as treasurer and secretary of the local club.

Additionally, Tom said they are always there to help new students.

Besides being involved in square dancing activities in Los Alamos, Tom has served as the president for the state organization from 2001-2002.

As a result of their commitment and involvement in square dancing, the Kelley were inducted into the New Mexico  Square and Round Dance Association’s Hall of Fame in May during the state festival in Albuquerque.

Marlene said their induction was quite a surprise. “It’s humbling for us to think about being in there on the list.”

To be inducted, the Kelleys were nominated by an individual and selected by a committee.

Although the Kelleys are modest about their achievement, Bob and Sally Nolen said it is very well deserved.

The Nolens are friends of the Kelleys and serve on the board of directors for the International Roundhouse Teacher Association, the executive committee for the association, and they were recently elected to the board of directors for the International Choreographed Ballroom Dance Association.

Sally said the Kelleys had been dancing before they arrived in town, which was 25 years ago.

Besides their involvement in square dancing on a local and state level, Sally said Tom and Marlene can always been found in different festivals and conventions.

“They were always very supportive of the classes and the club and supportive of square dancing here in town, as well as in the state,” Sally said.

“It takes that support to keep these things going,” Bob said. “Both attendees and workers to sponsor and put these things on.”

There are several reasons that have contributed to Tom and Marlene’s long-time membership in square dancing.

“It was our social club,” Marlene said. “It was inexpensive, it was a great way to get some exercise and have some fun.” “It’s sort of a challenge, mentally. (You) have to listen to the caller … it takes practice to get these aspects drilled into you,” Tom added.

Square dancing, Marlene explained, “is more like walking fast and listening.”

According to the website, ceder.net, square dancing involves eight people forming a square with two people on each side. A caller announces a series of movements, which the dancers perform.

There several varieties of square dancing including round dancing, which is a form of choreographed ballroom dancing, the website reports.

Have images of old-timey barnyard dancing? Modern square dancing is a far cry from that.

The Kelleys said anything can be put to square dance; in fact, the Mountain Mixers perform to everything from classic music to rock n’ roll tunes like “Pink Cadillac.”

Young and old participate in the club, which meets from 7-9:30 p.m. the first and third Saturday in the White Rock Community Building.

The club is very relaxed. Marlene said participants do not need to be perfect.

Additionally, she said there is no need to wear any puffy skirts or ties. In the past, the club use to emphasize formal dress but now people can come in their jeans.

“We’re just happy to have dancers,” Marlene said.

Being a part of the club has had an impact on the Kelleys’ life.

Tom said, “We learned to cooperate with each other and coordinate our dance.”

Teaching newcomers to the dance has also affected them. “As we danced more and see more dancers go through (the classes), we learned to be more patient and learned to help other people,” he said. Plus, it just seems to make them happy.

“You can tell they’re having a good time because they’re always have a smile of their face,” Bob said.