A Brief History Of A Long Square Dance Career
In the fall of 1975, Les Henkel reluctantly agreed to give up Monday night football to take square dance lessons just because his daughter Leslie asked him to. She wanted to take lessons and asked her parents to take the lessons with her. Les loved it so much that he began learning the art of square dance calling soon afterward. Once he started dancing, there was no going back. He had to learn everything there was about dancing.
He went to several caller schools in 1976. He practiced daily in the afternoons, while Doris, watched the grocery store they ran in Tobias. Their five children soon learned the words to "MaryAnn" the song Les learned first and practiced incessantly. Les and Doris would dance several times a week and the callers would let him call a tip. He encouraged several friends to take lessons and as they were learning, they would tell Les what they covered and they would all get together and Les would go over it with them. This helped Les learn to teach and their friends got in extra practice.
Les called his first dance in Western, Nebraska in 1977. Les and Doris took round dance lessons in 1978. That same year they started the Geneva Curly Q's and Endicott Ma's and Pa's square dance clubs. Les and Doris gave square dance and round dance lessons in their garage, or what became known as the Henkel Civic Center. He finished the inside of the garage and put in a propane stove and air conditioning just for the lessons. His family had to park their cars outside so the garage would not get dirty. If they did not have enough couples to complete a square, they would call on their two youngest daughters to come out and help dance. Sometimes they weren't too happy to give up their TV shows to dance but Les was very persuasive (and would pay them part of the gate).
In the 1980's Les and Doris had a dance almost every night. They called dances all across Nebraska and throughout the Midwest. They attended the state and national conventions. Les attended numerous Callerlabs both as a student and as a teacher. He wrote a number of articles for various square and round dance magazines. He wrote "Come Dance with Us" a beginning guide to square dancing.
Les and Doris owned and ran Tobias Grocery at the beginning of their square dancing career. After a fire in 1982, it was never reopened. They then started a house painting business. When they had a dance, they would not work that day so that Les could prepare. He always wanted to leave early so that he had plenty of time to set up and get ready for the dance.
Les spent hours practicing his calling. He was always very particular and set high standards for himself. He had thousands of records and would buy all the new records and design calls to go with them. One that he was best known for was the song "El Paso City." He always bought the latest in equipment. He would take several different audio speakers with him to a dance and choose from them depending on the hall. He spent hours diagramming dances and had all sorts of different aids to assist him.
While Les was setting up for the dance, Doris would greet the dancers. She enjoyed socializing and talking with everyone. Les was all business during the dance but enjoyed talking to everyone during the breaks or the lunch. While they still had children at home he would bring back a few snacks for his kids after each dance as a treat. Doris was an integral part of their square dancing endeavors. It was truly a partnership and they complemented each other. He would not have been as successful without Doris.
Les also became known as an entertainer. He performed skits and pantomimes for after parties at dances. He also entertained at nursing homes, schools, and church groups. He taught square dancing at elementary schools around the area. Les spent one winter writing a book called "Sharing a Treasure of Dances." This book contains all types of dances suitable for a community dance program. Les enjoyed a variety of dancing, including Contra and ballroom dancing. He started teaching Contra dancing because you didn't need a partner. He thought this would allow more people to enjoy dancing.
For several weeks before his children got married Les insisted on gathering the kids and their spouses or fiancÚs to brush up on the waltz, the two-step, and the polka. He even gave each of them a practice cassette tape of music with his prompts on it. When Les and Doris' grandkids visited they would inevitably end up with Grandpa in the garage learning simple children's dances from him. These are great memories of sharing time with him.
Les enjoyed teaching all kinds of dancing. He was recognized by Callerlab in 2001 for 25 years as a square dance caller. He was a very patient teacher that loved to dance and share that love with others.
Les Henkel passed away in 2004.