Lifestyle

One Sweetheart of a Dance

Ferdinand and Diana Wagner of Coupeville finish with an embrace while dancing at the annual Senior Prom Friday afternoon. - Cynthia Woolbright
Ferdinand and Diana Wagner of Coupeville finish with an embrace while dancing at the annual Senior Prom Friday afternoon.
— image credit: Cynthia Woolbright

Not much had changed for Liz and Jim Dickens.

The gymnasium looked pretty much the same. Streamers and balloons remained the decoration of choice. The band up front was still swinging out the tunes of Bennie Goodman and Duke Ellington. The timing was appropriate: the afternoon, seemed suitable. The dancing was great, too, even if both had to be careful not to over do it.

The annual Senior Prom last week hosted by Langley Middle School for local senior citizens was a reminder of many happy dances for Liz and Jim Dickens of Freeland.

“Our’s was in the afternoon, just like this too,” Liz Dickens said.

The Freeland couple met while both attended Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angles, Calif., and prom was one of their first dates. Over sixty years later (they celebrated the milestone Sept. 16) they were dancing and mingling with dozens of other seniors at the middle school hosted function Friday afternoon.

Not one, but two young men invited Toni Hagglund to the Senior Prom. Both of them were seen smiling at her from the bandstand and stopped by her table for a kiss. Hagglund is a repeat offender at the Senior Prom: she has grandsons in the Langley Middle School Jazz Ensemble, which, along with the South Whidbey High School Jazz Ensemble and the Swing Again Jazz band, provided swinging retro tunes to dance to for the seniors and middle schoolers.

The Senior Prom was a dressy occasion for the middle schoolers and seniors alike. A group of eighth-grade girls walked around on a dreamy cloud nine, sashaying like the retro 50s teen pop queens their clothes and hair mimicked. Skirts were knee length and full. Twinset sweaters and jeans jackets kept them warm. Bangs were swept to the side. Earlobes were bangled. They shuffled around giddy in ballerina flats. Pink was everywhere.

It was their second year attending the prom and they couldn’t have been more excited. Earlier that day, they helped decorate the Langley Middle School multipurpose room with pink, red and white streamers, balloons and a painted backdrop for couples’ pictures.

As self-taught swing dancers, they couldn’t wait to get out and boogie.

“Oh, it’s Route Sixty-six!” one of the girls cooed as the Langley Middle School Jazz Ensemble struck up a new tune.

It appeared the Senior Prom was as much about fun for the seniors as it was for the younger set.

“They’re fun,” said eighth-grader Olivia Hamilton said. “They tell great stories and laugh at our jokes even if they’re not that great.”

Within two minutes of stopping by one table to chat, eighth-grader Sarah Muncey-Gordon had learned the life history of one of the seniors, or at least the abridged version.

Olivia Hamilton learned this much: The seniors have been with their spouses for about 50 years or so. She and her fellow middleschoolers “go out” with people, but they don’t do much other than walk down the halls holding hands. The duration of the typical middle school courtship? A few weeks, a month if you’re lucky — world record length is a couple of months.

“Mine only lasted a couple of days,” said one bashful pre-teen at the dance.

Ferdinand and Diana Wagner of Coupeville have been partners in life for 43 years and partners in dance for 45.

Their first date was spent at a ballroom dance lesson that Diana got roped into attending. It wasn’t that she didn’t like dance or that she couldn’t dance — she just couldn’t say “no.” Ferdinand asked her out in front of everyone standing in the crowded student union building at Cal State Los Angeles. They’ve been in step ever since and couldn’t pass up a golden opportunity to strap on their dancing shoes and glide around the dance floor at the Senior Prom.

“This is the age when kids need to learn to dance — our parents had us in lessons by their age,” Diana Wagner said. “It’s great there’s an opportunity for them to have great music like this to dance to.”

Like any other dance, those who didn’t care to dance — or simply needed a break— gathered around some of the festively decorated tables in the multipurpose room. Jan Gosselin, Lucille Nourse, Fran Holum and the Dickens’ were among the laughing bunch at a table full of friends and neighbors who live in the Maple Ridge in Freeland.

“I like being able to get out and be around people my own age,” Gosselin said.

Just then, a group of young boys making the rounds stopped by the table and to ask the senior ladies for a dance. They bashfully declined this time, but later they and others were seen scooting out on the floor with younger gents.

“They treat us like we’re no different,” Betty Lehman said. “They ask us like they really want to and not because it’s something they’re supposed to do.”

The prom was truly a multi-generational event for one family. Langley Middle School eighth-grader Amanda Mosler was out dancing with her grandfather Buzz Strout in between Buzz’s sets with the Swing Again Jazz Band. Mosler’s mother, Marta Berry, was capturing everything on video and film.

“This is great. It allows the kids to hear great music and see what great dancing looks like and the boys learn to be gentlemen,” Berry said.

Berry still remembers all of the Bayview Hall dances she enjoyed while growing up on South Whidbey. She moved to the area while in the ninth-grade and graduated from Langley High School in 1973.

She and her husband Roy Berry met while in high school, but they parted ways and both had lives and families of their own. They reunited years later and have been married for the past six.

At another table, Esther Erickson showed Toni Hagglund an instant picture that developed to show her and her grandson posed in front of the couples’ backdrop.

“I was so surprised, ‘He said Grandma, come here, I want to have my picture taken with you.’ It was so sweet,” she said.

That doesn’t surprise young Muncey-Gordon and her friends.

“Seniors are really cool people,” Muncey-Gordon said. “They are such a big part of this community and so many of them helped shape it into the way it is and that’s what today is about.”

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