David's Blog

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
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.

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Zonker & Square Dance

Today's Doonesbury is a Flashback to an earlier strip, which reminds us that Zonker is well aware of the social benefits of square dancing. Enjoy!



David Millstone, Dance Caller

Lebanon, NH


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