After the death of her husband, Don, in July, Yvonne Martin needed an outlet. She belonged to a knitting group, but wanted something more, something that kept her connected with Don. She honed in on square dancing.
It was an activity the Martins had enjoyed for many years. The problem, however, was that Yvonne couldn't find any square dancing in the Santa Ynez Valley. It had been decades since there was an active club here. But Martin was persistent, and her research eventually led her to "Vic and Debbie Ceder's Square Dance Resource Net."
"I got Deb on the phone and asked if they'd be willing to set up classes," Martin recalled. "We needed at least eight dancers. She told me if I could make that happen, they'd do it." She did and classes began Tuesday nights in October in the Santa Ynez Valley Grange Hall.
What Martin didn't realize when she made that first phone call was that she'd hit the motherlode in terms of local square dancing professionals. Vic Ceder is an international superstar among square dance callers. In addition to calling a weekly dance in Santa Barbara, he's called dances throughout California, and in more than 30 other states. He's called in Taiwan, Denmark, England, Germany, Sweden and Japan. He has future bookings all the way into 2019 in Philadelphia. He's recorded dance tapes, and with Debbie, authored a book on square dance definitions.
The couple have lived in Los Olivos since 1987 and raised daughter, Caitlyn, at their home just blocks from the flagpole. Vic and Debbie both commute across the San Marcos Pass for their day jobs. He's a computer programmer at Northrop Grumman; she's the clerical assistant for the physics department at UCSB.
They met, appropriately enough, at a square dance club for teens in Santa Barbara in 1975. They were both in high school and hooked on square dancing, although not immediately on each other.
"It took a few years before we became a couple," Debbie laughed.
Vic and Debbie quickly outgrew other kids their age and sought out an adult "advanced level" club. Taws 'n' Paws, a Santa Barbara square dance club that dates back to 1958, took them in albeit with some reluctance initially because of their age.
It was only a few years later, in 1981, that Vic started calling. It happened one night when a few dancers went outside to smoke and didn't return quick enough for the caller's liking. He took it as a sign of disrespect and walked out. Vic picked up the microphone and kept the dance going.
Self-taught, Vic gives at least partial credit to his academic and professional backgrounds for his success. He's even written square dance programs for Windows-based PCs.
"I have a degree in mathematics and square dancing is very much math oriented," he explained.
That became surprisingly obvious as Vic called for a class of a dozen dancers, including his mother, Dana Ceder.
"Circle right," "circle left," "ladies sashay," "shake a right with your sweetie," Vic called so melodically it's almost like singing.
"Load the boat," he instructed the group. It's a four-part call and it went off flawlessly. Not all the movements do. The dancers at the Grange include some beginners. There's occasional confusion, with a bump or two and a wrong turn, but that's met with good-natured laughs by the dancers.
There are 10 levels of square dance calls, with 50 calls at each level. Vic can call them all. He's careful not to overwhelm his Grange group. They are learning as well as dancing. There are times when Vic stopped the music to explain and demonstrate a "tip," a sequence of calls.
Square dancers come in all ages, sexual orientation and ethnic backgrounds. No matter where in the world he's calling, Vic does his calls in English and everyone seems to understand, he said.
There are dancers who dress very much the part, and others -- like many of the Grange dancers, including Debbie Ceder -- who are in jeans and T-shirts.
When their daughter was younger, she wasn't at all interested in square dancing. To her, it was all "old people." That changed when he took her with him when he was calling at a gay club. The dancers were younger, colorfully dressed and having so much fun, Caitlyn took note. She's been square dancing ever since.
Yvonne Martin thinks she knows why.
"Square dancing is fun and good exercise. What more could you want?"