I have done some pretty amazing things in my life but this past Sunday I had one of THE best experiences I could have ever imagined. I met and had lunch with the infamous Dancin’ Dave. My quest to find and meet Dancin’ Dave all started way back in March when a seat mate on a flight from Dothan, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia told me about him. This man is an icon and a legend in the Wiregrass region where we are living temporarily. Dancin’ Dave is Dave Whatley, an 88 year old southern gentleman who has lived a life filled with all of the ups and downs of growing up in a large family. He was one of 15 children and his father died when he was only 12 years old. His parents instilled a love of music early in his life when he was given a radio for a gift. He learned to dance a bit and the rest is history.
Dancin’ Dave became a standard fixture in the Wiregrass region and he was one who let his feet do the walking. He walked from town to town, doing odd jobs here and there to make money and then there was the dancing. Some of his jobs included picking blackberries, shelling peanuts, pulling corn and he told me he could pick 400 pounds of cotton a day. Somewhere along the way he became known for the dancing. Residents would see him, stop and smile and he would return the smile and do a little dance. Sometimes people were moved to give him money or other things and it became a goal for many to have a “Dancin’ Dave sighting”.
He wears all white including a sailor hat with his name in big black letters. He got his first “Navy suit” and after that he often found boxes of sailor suits on his porch in a box that local sailors left for him when they did not need them anymore. Let me tell you – he looks good in white. Very good.
I was so intrigued with his story that after that short flight I looked him up and discovered that he had an official celebrity fan page. You can become a friend of Dancin’ Dave by clicking here to go to his Facebook page in a new window. Right now he is at just around 7,563 fans and it would be amazing if we could get him to 8,000.
So how did I get to meet and dine with him? Dave has two wonderful ladies that Chris and I lovingly refer to now as his “handlers”. Debbie Yurevich and Lori Barefield have known Dave for years. Both of these ladies currently work at Dothan Pediatrics together and they have the sweetest hearts of anyone I have met. Debbie first met with Dancin’ Dave at a local restaurant to interview him for an article that she was working on for a publication she wrote for. After that she became a fan and now she and Lori make sure that they get together with Dave at least once every ten days or so. Debbie and Lori, who manage his Facebook page, do an amazing job of chronicling their adventures with Dave through video and pictures all the time on the page so everyone who visits has a personal relationship with Dave. They really are his little angels that look out for him.
They graciously agreed to meet Chris and I at a local (and our new favorite place) restaurant, The Blue Plate, for lunch. I was so excited and when they drove into the parking lot I could honestly barely contain myself. Dave was bigger than life. He is witty and polite, subdued at times and then charming the very next second. He does not get around as well as he once did but his quick wit is evident and his love of Debbie and Lori is something that is also plain as day.
As we entered the restaurant Dave was received as the celebrity that he is. The staff greeted him and took pictures with him. Dancin’ Dave can smile, let me tell you, and he has a pose and a smile to match no other. He had meatloaf and sweet potatoes and cornbread casserole with gravy and one thing that was evident was that he loved that food. As we ate he imparted some of his wisdom with us and I was just amazed at what a gentle spirit he has. Debbie shared a lot of stories about Dave with us and dispelled some myths as well. Dave is not homeless. He actually lives with his 90 year old sister, Lilly outside of Dothan. He is uneducated but definitely not “special needs”. He has a memory that is sharp and sometimes he just made me laugh with his matter of fact way of answering things.
After we enjoyed a wonderful lunch with Dave we drove to Headland where we spent some time admiring the fiberglass peanut that was erected and dedicated in July in his honor. I have written about my quest to see all of the peanuts around Dothan here and here and seeing this one will most likely be my favorite memory. All because I got to see it with Dancin’ Dave himself. A campaign was started to raise the almost $5000 necessary to purchase the peanut, have an artist create the likeness and install it and this was all done through the Facebook friends who shared the GoFundMe campaign and raised the funds in less than 4 months.
Dave is such an amazing man with an amazing story. Chris and I were so happy to be able to share a few hours with him and I hope to be able to spend some time with him again some day. His dancing is a bit more subdued these days, his walk is a little slower but his smile and wisdom is still there. Check out this video from the day they unveiled the Dancin’ Dave peanut in Headland.
Before we left we gave Dancin’ Dave some Little Debbie snack cakes because I was told they were some of his favorites. One of the kinds I got for him was Banana Pudding Rolls and he wanted one of those right away. Judging from the way he chowed down on it they won’t last long once he gets the rest of them home. Oh and in case you want to know some other favorites include potted meat, Fanta orange soda, Ritz crackers, cheese crackers and most recently Moon Pies. Can’t get much better than that.