Song-and-Dance Man

By staff May 1, 2004

Gordon "Red" Bates started calling square dances in 1952, mainly to lure girls from a nearby junior college to his all-male Springfield College in Massachusetts. "It worked good," he says. "Then I started making money at it." At one point, Bates, now 75 and a winter resident of Englewood, earned more calling dances than he did working as a school guidance counselor. In person and on more than 50 records, he's guided generations of dancers through fancy maneuvers ("birdie in a cage," "dive for the oyster") and back "home" to their starting positions. But times change. Conventions that once attracted 40,000 dancers now draw 10,000. "In Springfield, there were 70 clubs all within a half hour of each other," says Bates. "Today there are four."

Still, he keeps busy teaching workshops and calling dances, especially during tourist season, when he averages about 14 events a week from Plant City to Bonita Springs. "I like it because people are happy and having a good time," he says.

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