Ninety-three-year-old Rose celebrates with square dancing

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The eve of Austen Rose's 93rd birthday was spent doing what he loves most, sharing the joy square dancing with his friends and dance partner Fran Tanahill while his wife Shirley, daughter Carol Anne and friends prepared to celebrate his birthday at the Nappan Experimental Farm Pavilion.

NAPPAN – Austen Rose circled left, circled right and promenaded into his 93rd birthday last week with the Cumberland Twirlers, proving activity can keep you agile regardless of age.

Square dancing, he says, has long been a joy in his life, from when he would watch on as a youngster growing up in Springhill, to when he finally stepped up and started dancing in the mid 1980s.

“Where else can you get these three things: good fun, good exercise and good fellowship?” Rose said.

Early in his life, when his family owned a dairy farm where the Springhill Institution now sits, Rose can recall square dancing playing a role in creating fun for people. When he wasn’t delivering milk by horseback – a job he carried out until 1950 when he moved to Amherst – there always seemed to be opportunities for people to square dance.

“In the early days, every house had a room for meeting and dancing,” Rose said. “The town had dances, sometimes every night. Out in the county, the dance halls had a room upstairs, parents put their kids up there and at the end of the night picked them up and took them home.”

It was experiences like that, and the memory of a square dance demonstration at a school for the deaf in Amherst, that played a role in leading Rose to the dance floor and he’s never regretted it. In the 30-plus years he’s been involved, the only time he missed out was a five-month stint when he was recovering from receiving a new ball-joint for his hip. Beyond that, he’s always found somewhere to practice the dance, even while away.

“I had a sister living in Ontario I visited when she was living in a nursing home. I wondered if they had any square dancing and found a club. I found a club, told them who I was, where I was from and that I didn’t have a partner. The woman there told me, ‘You do now.’ Where else can that happen?”

Square dancing consists of four couples, with one couple stationed on each of the four sides of the square. For many years, Rose’s wife Shirley was his dancing partner and now Fran Tanahill helps him respond to the caller, who provides the dance instructions. It takes practice and a good ear to square dance, Rose said, something he learned as the county’s tax collector after working for Co-op Wholesale.

“You had to be a good listener,” he said. “People had a lot of problems back then, so you had to be a good listener if you were going to help them.” 

 And maybe someone will listen to some advice Rose has for public schools: bring back square dancing.

“I think it would put down a lot of problems we’re seeing in schools,” Austen said. “They’ll enjoy themselves, there’s no competition; just fun and fellowship.”

And if his recommendation doesn’t materialize, there’s always the Cumberland Twirlers, who meet at the Nappan Experimental Farm Pavilion, Tuesdays from 7-9:30 p.m.

Twitter: ADNchris

Organizations: Springhill Institution, Co-op Wholesale, Nappan Experimental Farm Pavilion

Geographic location: Amherst, Springhill

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