Pat Wintermeyer and six other line dancers are practicing their steps and humming along to Christmas tunes as they prepare for this weekend’s Santa Claus Parade in Elmira. This will be the first year that a group of line dancers from Pat’s Country Connection line dancing class will be performing on a moving vehicle, specifically the Guys and Dolls float, and instructor Wintermeyer has her fair share of concerns.
“It is supposed to snow that day, so the floor might be a bit slippery. Everybody is a little cautious. You never know – you hit a bump in the road and you could all go flying,” she says with a laugh.
The troupe, which dances every year at the Wellesley Apple Butter and Cheese Festival, is run through Woolwich Township’s department of parks and recreation, but it’s mainly the work of Wintermeyer herself.
Wintermeyer began line dancing more than 20 years ago, down the street from her home at a class which ran each Friday evening at John Mahood Public School. She didn’t know much about dancing before joining that class, but was immediately hooked. After that class was cancelled, she moved to ‘Uncle Bill’s’ dance class at the Royal Canadian Legion in Waterloo, and it was then that she never looked back.
“Bill was so encouraging, a wonderful teacher and so patient. It is so important to have patience when you are teaching new dancers.”
‘Uncle Bill’ developed cancer in 2005, the year after Wintermeyer had started dancing with him, and wasn’t able to run the intermediate class. When he asked her if she might be interested in helping out, Wintermeyer began teaching tentatively. Then her commitment to it grew and the new retiree found herself dancing sometimes up to 15 hours per week.
“I told Bill, ‘I will do anything in my power to keep it going.’” And she has.
A retired lab technician, Wintermeyer said that she feels as though she has ‘started a brand new career’ with dancing. Now there are more than 24 students signed up for the ‘Country Connection’ and the numbers keep on growing.
While teaching in and around Woolwich Township, Wintermeyer has realized that the love of country music and line dancing is something that she shares with a great many people, of all ages. She has had students ranging in age from their 20s to their 90s over the years.
“The small towns, they do want to dance,” she said with a smile. “When Barry [her first instructor] started dancing here in Elmira, and that was over 20 years ago, he filled that gym. It was amazing.”
In addition to simply being a fun time for the class, Wintermeyer sees many therapeutic benefits to the activity as well.
“We have had a lot of widows who have come out, women who have lost their husbands, and you can just remove yourself from all of the cares of the world when you’re dancing. You have to concentrate on what you’re doing, you get some exercise, you get to enjoy the music, and you get to socialize. I love getting people up to dance.”
Although you may not have been able to participate in this season’s lessons, you will get to watch Pat in her signature cowboy hat with the blue ribbon, and the rest of the group box-stepping (“or just swaying if it’s icy that day!”) through the streets of Elmira in the parade.
On tap for this weekend’s show are numbers choreographed to such Christmas classics as Let it Snow, I’ll be There with Bells On, Rocking around the Christmas Tree, Jingle Bells, Holly Jolly Christmas and Silver Bells. To Wintermeyer’s granddaughter Jackie’s dismay there will be no Taylor Swift this time around, but Wintermeyer is open to the idea in the future.
“I like a lot of the new country too. It really is something for people of all ages.”
For those interested in doing some dancing of their own, classes resume Jan. 7. Information can be found on the Woolwich Township website (www. woolwich.ca) or by contacting 519-669-1647.