My desk in the office is usually tidy, but right now I am surrounded by boxes of books, tapes, letters and teaching notes which are being processed to send to the CDSS Archives and Library at UNH. While going through a box from the Bob Hider estate, our fabulous volunteer Emma Van Scoy found a small sheaf of letters to a Mr. Andrew Scarlett of South Orange, NJ. Bob Hider was involved in dancing from his teen years and was a square dance caller, and leader of English country, morris and sword dancing. The letters Emma found in the Hider box took place between 1936 and 1938 and involved correspondence between Mr. Scarlett and two influential figures in the early 20th century world of traditional dance: Benjamin Lovett, who was hired as dancing master by auto magnate, Henry Ford; and Ralph Page, aka “Dean of American dance callers,” and a pivotal contributor to the resurgence of contra dancing today.
We don’t know why Bob Hider had the letters and we don’t know much about Mr. Scarlett. (In 1930 he led a hike into a New Jersey state park and in 1942 produced at pamphlet entitled “Folk Dance Songs”.)
The letters are a fascinating view into the lost, courteous world of letter writing. Mr. Scarlett was evidently involved in country dancing in NJ, because the letter to him May 4, 1936 from Benjamin Lovett, on Henry Ford’s stationary, gives directions for “Balance Six in Line” and Lovett asks for eventual remittance of 10 cents.
The three letters from Ralph Page to Mr. Scarlett are dated January, March and June, 1938. In 1938, Page had just begun calling professionally and the previous year, his and Beth Tolman’s The Country Dance Book had been published. In the first letter, Page mentions a “big armful of letters” which Beth Tolman has just given him. Page refers to Scarlett’s letter describing the Mead New Jersey dance group, saying he was very much interested because he had only previously heard about it “from a distance.” Unlike Lovett, Page is accustomed to barter and offers Scarlett “directions and rhymes for one or two singing quadrilles” in exchange for “the Americanized form of The Huntsman’s Chorus,” and then goes on to offer the observation that he “[has] prompted for dances for several years and find[s] it a very interesting occupation. The favorite singing quadrilles up here are these: Darling Nellie Gray, Garry Owen, Buffalo Gals, O Susannah, and Duck and Dive.” He asks Mr. Scarlett for “the favorite contra dances in New Jersey” and offers that in Munsonville, NH the favorites circa 1938 are Morning Star, Hull’s Victory, Lady Walpole’s Reel, and Money Musk.”
In March, Page wrote again to Mr. Scarlett, thanking him for directions to Huntsman’s Chorus, saying “the galop part of it was most surprising to me. I had supposed that all of what we call ‘fancy contras’ had disappeared,” and goes on to write that he figures the only advantage he can see of living in a city would be to belong to a group of folk dance societies. “That way you get just the right people to your gatherings, which is extremely hard to do at a public dance,” although he also writes that he had been extremely successful with his dances in Nelson. Around this time, Page was invited to take a group of dancers to Washington, DC to the fifth National Folk Festival there. True to his offer in the January letter, Page fills the remaining space with directions to three figures of a Plain Quadrille.
By June 20, 1938 Page is offering accommodation to Scarlett at his farm, where his mother and sister Marguerite “take boarders and tourists and they would be glad to have you here.” Page goes on to say “I am busy every Thursday and Saturday nights now; Thursday in Dublin [NH], Saturday in Nelson [NH]. The Grange dances in Winchester have ended for the summer. This will start up again the first Friday in October. Expect to have a Friday job in Stoddard…” Should he decide to visit, Scarlett is supposed to find Page with the following directions: “As soon as your mileage shows you are nine miles from Keene [NH], start looking for a log cabin that has a sign saying ‘Happy Valley.’ It will have an old fiddler on it and will be on the left hand side of the road. I am there from May 20-Nov 1 and from 10am to midnight.”
So, who was the enterprising Mr. Scarlett? If anyone has knowledge of him, let us know. We’d be thrilled to know if Scarlett found his way to Happy Valley to visit with Ralph Page to talk about old dance tunes and country dances there.
If you are interested in donating to the CDSS Library or Archives please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to find out more about the roles Ralph Page, Benjamin Lovett, and Henry Ford played in the history of traditional dancing, we recommend the wonderful short documentary, Together in Time, among other resources.
The Bob and Kathleen Hider Scholarship was established at the request of his family upon his death in 1996 and has helped many attend English and American dance programs at CDSS camps.