David's Blog

It's Fun To Hunt!

Ralph Page gave this title to a regular column in his Northern Junket magazine, in which he shared information he had gleaned from looking through old newspapers in New Hampshire and Vermont. For those of us interested in dance history, he's absolutely right.

Late last month, CDSS member Karen Mueller-Harder heard a wonderful story on Vermont Public Radio. In it, VPR reporter Steve Zind tells about John Stone, who in 1956 recorded a dance in Newfane, Vermont. Stone recently donated his tape to the Vermont Folklife Center, which digitized the recording. (Dance caller and CDSS youth intern Mary Wesley has worked at the VFC—small world!) Zind's story describes how listening to the tape brought back a flood of memories for Stone.

Karen sent a link to the story to Steve Howe, at the CDSS office, who shared it with fellow staff members. Pat MacPherson in turn passed on the link to me and to Bob Dalsemer, one of my colleagues on the Square Dance History Project (SDHP). It was, indeed, a lovely and evocative story.

The VPR story included only a few snippets from the actual dance recording—the focus is Stone's reactions to hearing the music once again—but I was interested in hearing more of the source material. I went to the website of the Vermont Folklife Center and spent a frustrating time trying to locate the original, without success. I turned to Google and easily located VFC 's posted file of the recording, a beautifully preserved digital file. A few minutes later I added a reference to this audio clip of three singing squares (the Dick Perry Orchestra and caller Ira Huntley) to our SDHP website.

But wait! There's more! I wasn't familiar with all three dances, and Bob quickly identified one as "Belle of the Ball," which he knew from the calling of Otto Wood. Otto (fiddle) and his wife Marguerite (piano) hailed from Michigan, but were regulars on staff at Pinewoods and at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, as they made their way to and from Florida each winter. Bob's e-mail included a typescript of Otto's calls for that dance and an an appreciation of the Woods on a website celebrating Michigan fiddlers.

It turned out that Belle of the Ball was just one page from a larger collection of Otto's dances that had been prepared by storyteller and occasional dance caller Donald Davis, working closely with Marguerite some time after Otto's death. (Donald Davis has been a frequent staff member at our CDSS family camp at Ogontz, and he will be on staff again this summer; "Otto and Marguerite" is among his vast repertoire of stories.) After a few more e-mail exchanges we had his permission to post the complete set, so we've added Otto's calls for 17 singing squares and Marguerite's music to the SDHP website.

All in all, a very enjoyable and productive few days. It's fun to hunt!


Square Dance History Project launches website!

A project that has been a big part of my life took a giant step forward today: we launched the Square Dance History Project's digital library and website. This project, with financial support from organizations representing both traditional and modern square dancers, takes a broad look at square dancing in its many forms as well as the historical antecedents of today's squares.

The project's primary focus is to collect good examples of moving images--more than 400 videos so far--that document square dancing. This includes New England dosido and western docey-do, barn dances and hoedowns, stately quadrilles and rip-roarin' squares of the 1950s, as well as modern square dance programs from Mainstream to Challenge. The site also includes interviews, text, photographs, audio files, and much more.

Among the treats awaiting you:

  • Rare footage of the Lloyd Shaw's Cheyenne Mountain Dancers, plus a black and white silent film (1955) showing square dances in Central City, Colorado
  • A set of 100 high-definition videos filmed at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, with six nationally-known square dance callers
  • More than 150 items related to modern western square dance (MWSD), including an article by Jim Mayo looking at the early years of that style, illustrated with live recordings from the 1940s and 1950s
  • Silent footage of southern Appalachian mountain squares from the early 1930s
  • A curated assortment of more than 400 videos showing dancing from Newfoundland and Quebec to the American Southwest
  • Exhibits showcasing different aspects of the broad collection

The site is a work in progress, and additional material will be added regularly to the collection. The home page offers a way to contribute additional items; the organizers are especially interested in locating home movie footage from decades past.

Please visit the site and settle back for hours of viewing and listening and reading. Browse the Items, explore the Exhibits and Collections, read the Blog and take the survey, and spread the word to others.

Dare To Be Square!

Middle School Dances!

Two middle school dances within a week, no band, just me and my iPod at the Hulbert Outdoor Center, which hosts groups throughout the year. I'm a regular on the program for several of these schools, and it's fun to return to the same venue with some of the same adults—teachers or HOC staff—and a bunch of kids who are always full of energy.

The programs didn't vary a lot. Both times, I had 75 minutes, and in that time we did nine dances. The trick is to keep things moving. Once you have kids up and dancing, keep the momentum going. In recent years, I've started adding in one line dance with no instruction in the middle of the program. This serves as a breather for kids and adults who want to take and lets others have fun with a dance they already know

Middle School Dance Program
Traffic Jam
Galopede
The Sweets of May
The Snowball
Cupid Shuffle or Cotton Eye Joe
Polka Contry
Simple Square
the Fan Dance
Un, Deux, Trois, Poussez or Sasha

Old Timers Talk

Folks interested in the history of contra dancing in New England and upstate New York in the post-World War II era may enjoy watching a series of six videos from this year's Dance Flurry.

I was the moderator, and I started out by commenting on how strange it felt to be part of a panel billed as "Old Timers Talk." Panelists included Dudley Laufman and Bob McQuillen, New Hampshire artists well known in the traditional dance community and each a recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award; Ralph Sweet, longtime Connecticut dance caller and leader of a singing squares workshop this summer at Timber Ridge; and Bill and Andy Spence, musician (hammered dulcimer, Fennig's All Stars) and organizer (Andy's Front Hall, and founder of the Old Songs Festival). Lots of good stories!

Joan Pelton dies; created "Chestnuts" moniker

Readers here probably know of my fondness for the "chestnuts," those classic contra dances that have been at the core of the traditional repertoire. Years ago, I wrote a piece, "So Why Are They Called Chestnuts?" which was later included in the Cracking Chestnuts book and which can be found online. The person responsible for that term entering our dance vocabulary was Joan Pelton, who died on February 15, 2012. She is someone who made a difference.

Continue Reading

David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH

603-448-2950

Email David