At downtown Duncan’s 39 Days of July summer music festival, Richard Dwyer is hard to miss. And he likes it that way.
With a fuzzy white beard and, in a new touch this year, pink hair flowing beneath his floppy white hat, he is often the first one up to dance no matter the type of music, traversing the dance area in bare feet with painted toenails. Much of the time, Dwyer faces or is sideways to the audience as he contorts his body in various positions, including a signature move featuring shrugged shoulders, a slightly bent knees and one arm outstretched forward.
Dwyer, who is “well past retirement age,” says he is enjoying his later-in-life notoriety as a fixture at the festival, which wrapped up on Monday.
Dance classes gave him confidence
Dwyer has been dancing to the music at 39 Days of July since the festival’s inception in 2011. “But I wasn’t as open at the start,” he recalls. “It’s just in the last while that I’ve gotten really open about doing it in front of a lot of people.”
Born and raised in Duncan, Dwyer worked for many years as a welder but also did stints in logging camps as well as a couple of winters in California selling crystals. Dancing was something he always enjoyed, but never did seriously.
Then about 10 years ago, he decided to start taking classes, including contact improvisation at the Raino Dance school in Victoria, and local belly dancing classes with Lara. He says these classes gradually gave him confidence to express himself publicly. “You just have to believe that you can do it,” he says.
Dwyer, who says he’s not very good at partner dancing, prefers improvisational dancing. “I wouldn’t really call it dancing but just sort of moving your body,” he explains. A cousin of Juno Award-winning jazz saxophonist Phil Dwyer, he adds that he often concentrates on a particular instrument such as the saxophone to inspire his movements.
He likes dancing to all kinds of music. Of late, Dwyer has been enjoying the tempo changes in funk music, a genre he only recently discovered thanks to 39 Days. “If it’s just a steady beat I don’t care for it as much,” he says.
‘It’s making him happy’
Dwyer’s daughter Laila lives in Sydney, Australia but usually visits her father each summer.
She says she enjoys seeing him active on the dance floor and has come to accept that she has a father who paints his fingernails and dyes his hair pink. She thinks it’s “cool” that her father has become a local character.
“It’s making him happy and it’s making other people happy,” she says. “You need people in town like that.”
Dwyer’s stature as a local festival icon was affirmed last year when a likeness of him appeared on the cover of the 39 Days of July program, which featured a painting of the festival by artist Kaye Smillie. He appreciates that the artist depicted him leaning a bit backwards.
“A lot of dancers don’t realize that,” Dwyer explains. “It’s quite tiring to lean forward a lot. But if you just lean back, you’ve got a better posture and you don’t get as tired out.”
Whether it’s posture, great conditioning or the thrill of having so many eyes on him, Dwyer has the stamina to dance almost every day at what may be the world’s longest annual music festival. Now that the festival is over, Dwyer will spend much of his time back at his six-acre property in Sahtlam, where he has several tenants living in tiny homes that he has built.
He relishes the recognition he gets throughout the year when, at the hardware store or grocery store, people he doesn’t know compliment his dancing. “It’s pretty exciting,” he says.
While the official 39 Days are over for this year, the festival fun continues. It wouldn’t be out of character for Dwyer to make an appearance at Wine Down Wednesdays, August evening concerts in City Square, or the 40th Day of July celebration on Sept. 4 in downtown Duncan.