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To Barbara Harrison, life's a 'square' dance

by Nicole Lindquist, UNMC public affairs

While Confined to her hospital bed in 1994, unable to walk due to an automobile accident
that injured her husband and killed the family's dog, Barbara Harrison thought one thing.

It wasn't about being ejected from the pickup she was driving or about being life-flighted to the hospital.

Instead, it was, "I'm lucky to have my leg and my life. Now, how long before I can dance again?" To Harrison, who works as an intake coordinator in UNMC's psychiatry department, square dancing isn't just a hobby -- it's life. And her fellow dancers are family.

"I've come a long way from not being able to walk," she said of her accident 14 years ago this week. "It was my family and fellow dancers who stood behind me. There wasn't a day that went
by when I was in the hospital for three months that there weren't 10, 15, 20 of them in my
room. They helped keep me motivated."

UNMC's Barbara Harrison, second from right, sports her festive dress at a Memorial Day square dance. After a car accident 14 years ago this week, Harrison had to re-learn how to walk and dance.

Originally from Waverly, Iowa, Harrison started square dancing at age 15 and hasn't stopped since. She moved to Omaha in 1977, and
married her husband, Terry, whom she met at
a square dance.

"He could sing and dance and that's what I liked," she said.

Harrison is a round dance cuer and frequently cues with the River City Squares. Terry is a square dance caller whose name is in the Iowa Square Dance Callers Hall of Fame.

The difference: cuers recite rehearsed, pre-choreographed sequences while callers provide commands called "patter" that keep dancers guessing their next move.

A caller sings the steps using strings of command such as "tag the line, step to a wave, bow to your partner, boys circulate and girls trade."

What's most impressive is that somehow, callers always manage to put two partners back together again at the end of a song.

At a recent Red, White and Blue Memorial Day Salute dance put on by the Belles and Beaus square dancers of Omaha, Harrison cued commands while recorded music played through Yak Stack speakers.

Though some may have preconceived notions of what type of music is heard at square dances, callers play everything from popular tunes to the golden oldies.

"Square dancing has gotten a bad rap," Harrison said. "Those who haven't been around it don't have a clue."

Harrison even offers to teach beginning level round dancing, square dancing and line dancing. She currently is checking into offering lessons to UNMC employees through the Center for Healthy Living.

A one-time Silver U recipient, Harrison has been at UNMC for 12 years.

"I love my job," she said. "The docs are great and the chair, Steven Wengel, (M.D.) and my supervisor, Stacie Sabatka, are wonderful."

Harrison takes a twirl on the dance floor with her friend and fellow square dancer, Mike. Harrison has square danced since she was 15.

Reprinted with permission from the
University of Nebraska Medical Center

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