Paul Hartman is a big man in a rust-colored Western jacket, with a gold hand-tooled clasp for his string tie and a matching belt buckle as wide as a horse bit. He knows all the words to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head" and "Tie a Yellow Ribbon."
In his world -- the much-maligned and often overlooked world of square dancing -- Hartman is a hero. He comes alive to the reeling of a fiddle, and he says he is probably the only person in the world who can get 200 members of Congress marching in the same direction.
Yesterday, Hartman celebrated his 40th anniversary as a professional square dance caller, and his fans, wearing stiff crinolines and embroidered cowboy shirts, crowded into the cafeteria at Kensington's Albert Einstein High School to help him celebrate.
Many were old-timers who had followed him for years -- people familiar with "promenades" and "allemande lefts" and who wore special shoes, including the $28.75 Magic model with one-inch heels and fat straps. Several had made their outfits; others wore garb from such stores as Dixie Daisy or Triple R Western Wear.
Their purpose was to pay tribute to Hartman, a Wheaton resident. They danced to his calls and toasted him with lime punch. They displayed a huge sheet cake, with blue and yellow frosting roses. Of all the square dance callers they know, they said, Hartman is the best.
"Some callers are hard to understand," said Virginia O'Brien, 59, of Rockville. "They have Southern accents, or they have New England accents. But, this man -- you can understand him."
"He's quite a personality," said Arthur Buswell, president of the Swinging Eights square dance club of Wheaton. "The main thing is, he really loves to do it. He knows square dancing forwards and back."
"A lot of callers leave you tired at the end of the dancing," said Roy Gosnell, a retired auto body worker. "But not Paul. He knows how to call."
And call Paul Hartman did -- tapping his brown cowboy boots to the music, and gazing out over all the whirling and twirling with the look of a man for whom square dancing is the true elixir, the ultimate fix. It was a day to share memories, too, including color photographs of him at the White House, and a 1940s magazine article.
He spoke of how his wife Fran introduced him to square dancing in New Jersey in the '40s, and of how Europeans love to square-dance. Next month, he is going to Sweden for 11 days. "Sweden is the fastest-growing square dance place," he said. "You wouldn't believe that, would you? Well, it is."
Hartman also tossed out little-known square dancing facts, such as why the men wear long-sleeved shirts: "Because ladies don't like to touch sweaty, hairy forearms."
Or, that square dancing has its heroes, too -- such as the late Dr. Loyd (Pappy) Shaw, or Joe Lewis, who still calls in Dallas. "These people are my first-rank idols," he said.
If there was any sour note yesterday, it was Hartman's frustration that people still associate square dancing with hillbillies, pitchforks and smelly cow barns.
"It's sort of a submerged activity," he said. "Unfortunately, there are people who are turned off in grade school. They don't want to get into it because, as a kid, it was a foul weather activity when the teacher couldn't take you outside.
"Most of the boys didn't like it, and most of the girls didn't either, because you had to touch the boys. This has existed since heaven knows when. And, it has sort of slopped over into adulthood. That's why people are reluctant to do it."
Square dancing could be the answer to some of the world's problems, he said. It could help to get people off of drugs, and there would be fewer incidents of teen-age suicide, if only high schools would introduce square dancing, he said.
"Teen-age suicides -- can you imagine it? Such a thing. In my day, people never heard of it. This square dancing could get them into something more interesting."
He also wishes the Soviets would start square dancing. "It would be a damned good thing if they'd stop fooling around, and start enjoying people," he said.
But, it's not just Russia. "I want to see the entire country -- the entire world -- dance," he said.