By Buffy Pollock
for the Mail Tribune
If dancing is good for you, then after more than a half-century of spinning, swinging and hopping, Rogue Valley square-dancing icon Denny Lantz is the poster child for good health.
The 73-year-old will celebrate 50 years as a square-dance caller this week, and the Grants Pass native will be honored Saturday night at the 22nd anniversary bash for his club, Lantz's Dantzers.
Lantz says he began dancing in grade school when square dancing was commonplace in most communities.
Lantz has held a slew of jobs in his life, including banking, milling, a travel agency and even running a mercantile in downtown Medford, but his passion has been dancing, providing a way to meet people, stay fit and be part of his community.
"It's just a great activity, and they've shown in studies it keeps people sharp both physically and mentally," he says.
"I started dancing in grade school and probably started calling about 10 years after that, then clogging about two-dozen years ago. I've never thought of calling as a job. It's just a hobby that I really enjoyed and never stopped."
As a caller, he has traveled to South America, New Zealand and Australia, and he still calls for dance groups in Klamath Falls, Grants Pass and Medford.
In addition to square dancing, Lantz teaches other styles of dance, including clogging.
A master of several stringed instruments, he's an active volunteer for the Southern Oregon Music Festival, formerly the Medford Jazz Festival, each October.
Lantz initiated what he calls "The Crock Pot Army," with his dancers bringing crock pots of food to dance events with invited bands.
Watching Lantz work with students at a class on Monday, dancer Arlis Duncan smiled as Lantz nudged a reluctant beginner into trying a new song.
"Denny is one of the best teachers, and he's great at inspiring people," says Duncan, who has danced with Lantz's clogging group for two decades.
"He's a wonderful, wonderful man, and he loves what he does. Anyone can see that. If he had one thing he could do in his life, he would probably just spend it dancing."
Jacksonville resident Mary Nutt says Lantz is the "type of man who would give the shirt off his back if somebody needed it."
"I've known Denny for over 30 years -- we've danced together and known each other. He's just a very patient man. I've watched him teach a class, and I have no idea how he does what he does," Nutt says.
"He has the patience of Job when people have a hard time learning something new, and if a class dwindles down to just a few people, he's so dedicated he'll stick with it and make sure those students learn whatever it is they came to learn."
Gwen Matocha credits Lantz with her active lifestyle.
"My husband and I are both near 80, and this is so good for the body and for the brain," she says. "Denny is just the guy to get people going. He teaches so many classes and he's just totally devoted and a real happy-go-lucky guy. It's hard not to have a good time when he's around."
Lantz says he's grateful for a lifetime of music and a chance to share dance with anyone willing to try.
"I love that it keeps me fit and young and all that, and I love when I'm calling, getting to see people's faces light up when they get it right and they get excited to be dancing," he says. "I've just always really loved it and never imagined not doing it. It's a great life."
Lantz's Dantzers will hold a "Birthday Dance," celebrating its 22nd anniversary, at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Rogue Valley Square Dance Center, 3377 Table Rock Road. The event, featuring guest caller Chuck Garner, also will recognize Lantz's 50th anniversary as a square-dance caller.
The event will include a raffle and door prizes.
For details, call 541-621-1927 or see www.lantzsdantzers.com.
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.