Arts and Entertainment

Coupeville’s Smith Barn plays host to WSU Extension fund-raiser

Tali Alona swings Winter Arndt, 2, in beat with the music. - Jenny Manning/ Whidbey News-Times
Tali Alona swings Winter Arndt, 2, in beat with the music.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/ Whidbey News-Times

It began like a scene out of a frontier musical (“Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” comes to mind), as couples paired off opposite one another in rigid lines. The men were dressed in slacks, cowboy boots and the women in floral skirts. The scene was an awkward standoff until Walter Dill commanded, “triple step, triple step, rock step, rotate,” beginning a geometric choreography.

The swing lesson at Saturday’s barn dance started at 6 p.m., accompanied by the sound of cars crunching gravel as about 150 attendees filed down the driveway of Coupeville’s Smith Barn. WSU Extension hosted the third annual fund-raiser to support programs such as Master Gardeners and Beach Watchers.

“People say they couldn’t ask for a better ambience here,” Judy Feldman, interim director for the WSU Extension 4-H program, said.

Canopies of Christmas lights were strung from haylofts to illuminate the wooden dance floor, and the rest of barn was covered in hay, with haystacks used for makeshift seating. Weathered saddles and John Deere tractors lined the walls.

“It’s real warm and friendly here; very community,” Karla Mackintosh said.

The dance lesson by Dill and his daughters Twyla, 16, and Celina, 13, was a new addition this year. Feldman said most people expect traditional country music, but Dill’s lesson was described as “triple time east coast swing.”

“We make it easy for people. Dancing together and having that human contact is very important. But because of shows like ‘So you think you can dance?’ where even good dancing is criticized, people have a harder time being vulnerable. So we emphasize screwing up.”

After dividing the group by gender, he demonstrated a simple stomping motion and described the shift to the other foot as “a walk, but with hesitation.” If there was a misstep, Dill encouraged people to celebrate with a hokey-pokey move, waving their arms and spinning in a circle.

“He’s a good teacher and he made it really fun,” Langley resident Lynn Parr said afterwards.

Twyla and Celina began their dancing career at ages 8 and 5, when a babysitter didn’t show up before their father’s dance lessons. Today the family tours the country, stopping at schools, even Stanford University.

With a crowd of about 60 students, Twyla said the enthusiasm impressed her.

“I’m surprised by how many people danced,” she said.

Shortly after 7 p.m., the Coyote Blues Band emerged onstage with energized covers of bands such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Freddie King. Couples spun and turned, rocked back and forth, swung apart and then dipped close. A tenor saxophone alternated its shrill pulse with a bluesy bass riff.

“We play everything from classic rock to hip-grinders, belly rubbers and anything that gets a foot tapping,” Matt Nash, tenor saxophone player, said.

Between songs, the 21-and-older crowd gathered at the saloon-style bar for a beer from Flyer’s Brewery or wine from Greg Osenbach’s Whidbey Island Vineyard and Winery.

Extension program volunteers served up the brews and food.

“We try to focus on local farms and foods and bring in more sponsors,” Jackie Vannice, 4-H program coordinator, said.

Planning for the barn dance began a year ago, to improve upon last year and also to push the event two months ahead to September. They were hoping for better weather, and Saturday’s 65-degree forecast did not disappoint.

Feldman said the dance re-introduces WSU Extension to locals every year, in an atypical fashion.

“Usually the extension events are very educational,” Feldman said. “But this is more about bringing the community together.”

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