Category Archives: History & Archives

Trad Dance & Music Exhibit Opens in New Hampshire

by Lisa Sieverts

2015_sieverts_monadnock exhibit

Image: mid-1850s Dance Prompter’s Notebook

Interested in the history of contra and square dance? Come to Peterborough, New Hampshire, to view an exhibit opening on January 24, 2015:  “Gents Bow, Ladies Know How: Traditional Dance and Music in the Monadnock Region 1750-2015.”

“Gents Bow, Ladies Know How” traces the long history of traditional dance and music in southwestern New Hampshire from Colonial times to the present, with an emphasis on the 18th and 19th centuries. The Monadnock region of New Hampshire is one of the few places in the country where these dances have been done continuously since the mid-1700s.

The exhibit features artifacts, documents, instruments, photographs and audio recordings.  In addition to the on-going exhibit, there will be a series of presentations scheduled monthly beginning in February.

“Gents Bow, Ladies Know How” will be open to the public through May 23, 2015. The Monadnock Center’s regular hours are Wednesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 4 PM, and admission is $3.00 (free for Monadnock Center and Country Dance and Song Society members). The exhibit takes place in the historic Monadnock Center building in Peterborough, New Hampshire at 19 Grove Street.

Two local organizations, the Monadnock Center for History and Culture and the Monadnock Folklore Society, have partnered to develop this exhibit. Generous grant funding was received from the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts. In addition, the Animal Care Clinic-Monadnock has sponsored the exhibit—the owner is the grandson of the caller Duke Miller.

The Country Dance and Song Society was the inspiration for this exhibit—the idea arose as the Monadnock Folklore Society brainstormed how to participate in the celebration of the CDSS Centennial.

For more information call 603-924-3235 or visit http://www.MonadnockCenter.org.

The Monadnock Center for History and Culture is a community museum that has been dedicated to preserving and celebrating local history and culture since its founding in 1902. The Monadnock Folklore Society was founded in 1980 to increase the visibility of folk dance and music events in southern New Hampshire and provide educational services in the folk arts to the community.

Lisa Sieverts is an experienced project manager and facilitator, and owner of Facilitated Change. She is a longtime contra dancer and caller, and a regular caller at Nelson, NH’s Monday night dances. Lisa is a CDSS member and a member of the Monadnock Folklore Society’s board.

map_monadnock

Monadnock region of New Hampshire, named after Mount Monadnock

 

 

Lifetime Contribution Award for 2014 goes to…

LCA_jim morrison

Jim Morrison

 

Jim Morrison of Charlottesville, VA, will be this year’s recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award.

Jim brought youthful enthusiasm and strong connections to emerging contra, morris and sword dance movements when he started work for CDSS in late 1970. Serving as National Director from 1975 to 1977, he then continued as part time Artistic Director after moving to Virginia. Jim & Marney MorrisonIf you have danced Jack’s Health, Young Widow, late night Kerry sets, or played Puncheon Floor or Buck Mountain, his influence was there. Jim wrote 24 Early American Country Dances (CDSS, 1976,) founded the Greenwich and Albemarle Morris Men, and has recorded five albums of traditional dance music. An early family week advocate, creator of American Week at Pinewoods, and multi-genre dance fiddler, Jim has continued throughout his half century career to teach and play for contra, square, English, morris, sword, flatfoot, and Irish set dancing all over North America. We are delighted to honor him this year. Details about the award presentation will be announced later this year.

The Everyday Things—Remembering Mac

by Carol Compton

fklife24_bob mcquillen_folkife 1992_doug plummer

Mac at Folklife 1992; photo by Doug Plummer

Shortly after Mac died I had an email from Caroline asking me to write a bit about him for the CDSS blog.  Despite the fact that Mac and his music have been in my life since I was, oh, maybe 3, I could not imagine what I could add to the already overwhelming collection of testaments from the people whose lives he had touched in so many ways.  Somewhat chagrined, I set the assignment aside to figure out later.

I was clearing out my car today.  After several weeks of gigs just close enough together that I never took the sound system out, or the music, or the traveling gear — let’s just say it was a project.  As I got to the bottom of the archeological dig I came across a neat brown leather case with a silver buckle that once had a shoulder strap so you could carry it like a quiver of arrows. In it is a music stand. And I knew, at least in part, what I wanted to say about the man who signed an autograph from “Uncle Bob” for me when I was about 8.

A number of years ago CDSS started a “wish-list” of things we needed that we hoped someone might have lying around, unused, that would find new life at CDSS.  One of the things we needed was a large number of music stands for all the folks participating in summer camp dance bands.  So the word went out in the newsletter that we needed music stands.  One day I’m up in the balcony at the Peterborough Town Hall, probably setting up for the Snowball.  “HEY COMPTON!!”  came exploding up from the front of the hall.  “HEY WHAT?” (Certainly not ladylike but I rather enjoyed trying to match his volume level.) “I’VE GOT SOMETHING FOR YOU,” he yells back.  Turned out he’d been gathering up music stands for months.  In one delivery we had enough stands to send to all three camps that year.

For all the wonderful music, for all the years of service to country and classroom, for whatever good times and difficult ones, I look at the outpouring of stories and emotions of the last few weeks and wonder if the greatest gift he’s left us is not about the big gesture or some grand and glorious tunes — it’s the knack Kwack had for doing small things that had an enormous impact.

For him, collecting stands, or starting a piano tuning or scholarship fund, or telling the guys to shape up and give the gals in weight room some respect, or getting to know the person who served him his coffee, or giving some kid a second chance — these were not “big” things, just part of life.  But those of us on the receiving end know better. These “everyday” things are the ones we hold onto and treasure.  (Okay, these and some of his jokes…) 

Somehow, the music stand in the leather case never made it out of my car and into the CDSS collection. It lives in the back of the car waiting for the moment when someone says “I need.” And when I hand it to that person and they admire the cool leather case, I tell them about the man who passed it on so someone else could play the music. Thanks, Bob.

Bob McQuillen died on February 4, 2014. An afternoon memorial service will be held on May 3, in Peterborough, NH, following by an evening dance; see https://www.facebook.com/groups/238978876284424/for more info.

image034_carol compton

photo of Carol Compton by C. J. Leake

Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, part 4—The Future is NOW!

by Mary Wesley, CDSS Education Associate

 

Once and a half around! (Photo by Sharon Schenkel)

This year was the third time I have attended the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend—for me it seems to be turning into something of a pilgrimage. It is difficult to put into words what it feels like to be at this unique event and why I plan to keep coming back. I was two years old when Ralph Page, the “dean of contra dance callers,” died in 1985. I never met him or danced to his calls. So what does this weekend that bears his name hold for me?

The tagline for Ralph Page is “The Essence of the Past Driving the Spirit of the Future.” Parts of the weekend are about glancing backward in time: you will dance more “chestnuts” than you might be used to, see a greater variety of dance forms than appear at most regular contra dances these days and every year there is a “Retrospective Session” explicitly dedicated to honoring past callers, musicians and traditions. But this weekend is not about preservation. Nothing here is under glass. It’s not about how we used to dance, it’s about dancing together now!

Mixed in with chestnuts, triplets, triple-minors and squares are plenty of zesty, modern dances. This year Nils Fredland ran a session called “New New England Dances” featuring all recent dance compositions from New England choreographers set to tunes by Old New England. At this weekend we remember that for every new dance and tune that comes along, there’s one that came before it. People connect the dots between past and present by telling stories, watching old video footage, sharing memories, and folks old and young talking about “how it was” and “how it is now” and what they think of it all. As a result, the dance floor at Ralph Page is full of people who know themselves to be part of a living tradition. I think it makes for some of the richest dancing you’ll find anywhere.

Perhaps one of the nicest illustrations of the “past driving the spirit of the future” this year was the spontaneous Money Musk “moment” that broke out in the cafeteria just after Sunday lunch. Like most dance weekends, jamming abounds at Ralph Page. That afternoon as people were finishing their sandwiches and resting their feet a familiar tune floated through the air. The musicians had hardly played it one time through when a group of five or six excited people (mostly callers) came running over, pushed tables and chairs aside, took hands-six and started dancing Money Musk. More and more furniture was shoved out of the way as the set extended far past the salad bar. We must have danced for at least twenty minutes—maybe longer. It was extraordinary.

And forward six! (Photo by Mary Wesley)

My favorite part of the experience was chatting with the (indefatigable!) musicians afterward. Many of them were under twenty years old and said they were quite surprised to see so many people stand up to dance Money Musk. In recent years there has been quite a push to bring back this centuries-old dance, “this most famous of all New England dances” as Ralph Page called it, and in some ways it’s becoming a bit of a cult classic. In the “old days” the dance would most often be done without a walkthrough and even without calls, probably in someone’s small, farmhouse kitchen. Substitute the UNH cafeteria and call it a “flash mob” and it’s almost the same thing—certainly the same tune. Now those young fiddlers and all those who danced or watched the dance have a memory of something that they created and were part of. They carry on the legacy, from the past into the future.

Everyone who is part of any community dance, contra or square dance event is carrying on the legacy and I think there are so many ways to do it and they are all important. I keep coming back to the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend because it feels so good to gather with so many people who care about this mission. It is a place where I always feel like I have something to learn as well as something to contribute. Twenty years from now I have no doubt I will be dancing at a retrospective session that will look back at something that is happening right now—something that is being created from pieces of the past and present. I’ll be there. Will you?

Some CDSS staff and  board members were at the weekend; for earlier posts, see Part 1, by David Smukler; Part 2, by Pat MacPherson; Part 3, by Rima Dael. Thanks to all for sharing their experiences at this marvelous event.

 

 

“It’s Fun To Hunt”

by David Millstone

photo by Nikki Herbst

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 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 sometime 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!

Editor’s note: See more about the Square Dance History Project in earlier blogs: SDHP Update (1/10/13) and SDHP Launches New Website (10/2/12)..

 

 

 

CDSS Sings!

by Caroline Batson, Promotion & Periodicals Director

CDSS staff singing, 12.5.12

As you may know, CDSS is joining in a regional e-philanthropy event next week on 12.12.12. We invite you to support our work with a special gift that day (or you can schedule a donation anytime between now and then). Since not everyone who’ll be giving that day knows what we do here at CDSS, we’re showing them. We’ll have a blog up tomorrow about an event last night, and on Monday we’ll be videotaping us doing the Abbots Bromley Horn dance for folks in our building. Check back again tomorrow and early next week to watch.

In the meanwhile, SING ALONG WITH US NOW! The words are — “You are welcome, you are welcome, you are welcome in this place.”

Video: Steve Howe. Singers, L to R: Mary Wesley, Robin Hayden, Linda Henry, Pat MacPherson, Nils Fredland, and Caroline Batson. Kathy Bullock led the song last summer at our Harmony of Music and Dance Week.

Okay, everyone ready? Sing!

Square Dance History Project Launches New Website

by David Millstone

A group of square dance enthusiasts has launched a digital library and website that takes a broad look at square dancing now as well as the historical antecedents of today’s squares. Please share this news and the link with others who might be interested!

The project’s primary focus is to collect good examples of moving images—more than 400 videos so far—that document square dancing in its many forms. 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 many 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 in 2011 at the Dare To Be Square weekend at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, with six nationally-known square dance callers, and a set of 25 additional videotaped interviews.
• More than 150 items related to MWSD, including an article by Jim Mayo looking at the early years, illustrated with live recordings from the 1940s and 1950s
• Elizabeth Burchenal’s 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 items in the collection, on such diverse topics as the pioneering work of Lloyd Shaw in Colorado to an in-depth look at dances from Maryland Line, Maryland

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.

As part of its financial contribution, CDSS co-sponsored the Dare To Be Square weekend and provided funding for the weekend’s documentation. This includes the videotaped dances plus the CD-ROM disk (syllabus and complete audio files) that is in the CDSS store. CDSS also administers the fund that supports the project; the other fiscal supporters include the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, CALLERLAB, and The ARTS (Alliance of Round, Traditional, and Square-Dance).

Folk music in the news

Yesterday brought a veritable flurry of exciting new developments in the world of folk song and music:

Alan Lomax (right) with musician Ward Wade (photo Shirley Collins / Alan Lomax Archive)

Alan Lomax (right) with musician Ward Wade (photo Shirley Collins / Alan Lomax Archive)


contra dance calendar, March page

contra dance calendar, March page

Also, for those of you who have been enjoying Doug Plummer‘s gorgeously photographed 2012 contra dance calendar (still available in our Store!):

The story of the March calendar page
Doug has posted this blog article about the March page of his contra dance calendar, which features the historic dance in Nelson NH.

Morris Dancing at the UN (updated)

Happy May Day! In the spirit of this international day of morris dancing, here’s a photo from the archives showing morris dancing  at the UN:

This photo was taken in 1947 at the United Nations Fiesta at Rockefeller Plaza, NYC by Genny Shimer. My colleague Pat MacPherson shared this photo with me. While Pat might know more of the individuals pictures, I’m sorry to say at the moment I don’t. (If you know or think you know, drop a comment below!)

I can tell you that at the front right is Bob Hider, whose papers inspired two recent posts from Pat. The photographer, Genny Shimer, was a former CDSS director, teacher, and scholar. You can read more about her here and here (pdf). She authored, among other things, the modern Playford Ball (with Kate Van Winkle Keller) and our Genevieve Shimer Publications Fund is named in her honor.

You can also see Genny in this charmingly grainy video (featuring Tony Barrand) which I recently came across of a jig competition at Pinewoods in 1982:

(Parts two, three, and four also available.)

Traveling another thirty or so years forward, I never tire of watching Maple Morris: The Movie. If you need some morris inspiration and energizing, you can’t do better.

Well… I didn’t intend this post to be a mini-retrospective of morris over the last 50 years, but it’s happened anyway. Time to get outside and step sprightly. Enjoy your May Day!

— Max

UPDATE: Caller/scholar David Millstone, who scanned the original UN photo, provides the following elucidating information:

Left side, back to front: Jack Langstaff, William Partington, Russell Loughton

Right side, back to front: Jack Shimer, Bob Guillard, Bob Hider

Jack Langstaff is, of course, co-founder of Revels, along with his daughter, Carol, and he also led some weeks at Pinewoods for CDSS back in the day. I don’t know that we can say for certain that Genny took the photo, although it did come from the photo album that belonged to her and her husband, Jack Shimer. After Genny died, Jack Shimer married Joan Carr, who was for a time the CDSS Assistant Director. As Joan Carr, she was the recipient of Pat Shaw’s dance, “Quite Carr-ied Away, or Joan Transported”. And after Jack died and Joan was preparing to move, she asked that the album be passed along to CDSS. 

Mr. Scarlett Replies

In my last post (“Letters to Mr. Scarlett”), I looked at some letters we discovered while processing materials for the CDSS Archives at UNH. These letters were from notable callers Ralph Page and Benjamin Lovett to one unknown “Andrew Scarlett”. Two readers wondered if there were any letters from Mr. Scarlett in the Ralph Page Collection at UNH.  I went online and starting searching, virtually, through the boxes of correspondence and there it was — a letter from Mr. Andrew Scarlett, dated January 27, 1938. It is a reply to that first Ralph Page letter we have in the Hider collection.

Roland Goodbody, Curator of Special Collections at UNH, sent me a copy of the letter and all of a sudden Mr. Scarlett came alive. His penmanship and courtly writing made me think him old rather than young, but those were different days and polite writing was the norm.

You may recall that Page asked for “the Americanized version of Huntsman’s Chorus” and in the January 27 letter Scarlett obliges, writing: “The Huntsman’s Chorus is a grand folk dance with the universal appeal that pleases and thrills all groups. We use the Americanized form of the dance which differs from the English as baseball differs from cricket, or as the Declaration of Independence differs from Magna Carta. ”

Andrew Scarlett’s instructions to Huntsman’s Chorus

Scarlett continues, writing: “The traditional music and dance was collected by Leta M. Douglas of Giggleswich, Yorkshire, England. It is published by her in a small collection of folk dances entitled Six Dances of the Yorkshire Dales Price 2/6 Postage 3d (that’s about .70 in our money).”

Scarlett suggests a visit to Page, “en route to my camp on Lake Winnepesaukee” [sic], and finishes his post with the observation that in the Oranges (New Jersey) they have five folk dance groups and a great many more in nearby New York “with its cosmopolitan population.” Even so, five groups is a wonderful number, whether they are cosmopolitan or not.

As far as the fate of the Page and Scarlett correspondence goes, Roland and I decided that, despite the correct rules of provenance, it is important that the letters be easily found if searched for. So, the Page letters in the CDSS Hider collection will join Mr. Scarletts’ reply in the Page collection. Copies of the letters and directions to the originals will stay with Hider.

Scarlett’s reply (page 1)

Scarlett’s reply (page 2)

And that, for the moment, is the end of the story of Mr. Scarlett and Mr. Page.

— Pat

Visit the CDSS library page to browse our online and physical collections.

If you are interested in donating to the CDSS Library or Archives please contact me at pat@cdss.org