Monthly Archives: January 2013

Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, part 3

by Rima Dael, Executive Director

photo by Jack MitchellWhile many, including me, went to the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend for the music, dancing and company, I also went for the workshops! So much of what we do at CDSS is provide access to education, resources and experiences to increase one’s skill at the do-ing of dance, music and song. I took the opportunity to sit in on three workshops, to get exposure to how workshops are taught and how tools of the trade are being passed on.

Eden Macadam-Somer and Larry Unger’s workshop on “Tune Writing” used a telephone number as the starting point for a tune; we learned that tricks of the trade can help start the process of writing a tune, but patience, perseverance and carving out time to do the work are the critical components to get it written. But clearly, the tune prompts that Eden and Larry shared helps the writing process get started. Bob Dalsemer based his workshop, “Keep ‘Em Coming Back,” on an article written by Susan Davis in the CDSS News (May/June 2004), and used that as a starting point for discussing the creation of best practices which welcome and nurture beginners while engaging the more experienced dancer: create an effective beginners/newcomers session; program for mixed level dancing; and develop beginner friendly practices, procedures and policies.  In “Contra Dance Analysis: How do you know when it’s good,” Nil Fredland’s workshop, collective brainstorming, small group discussions and finding “real life” examples to dance helped everyone come to agreement on good criteria for adding a dance to your repertoire.

Bob Dalsemer (in center); photo by Jack Mitchell

Now, I will share my favorite dance moment: dancing Chorus Jig, uncalled, with Bob Dalsemer guiding me through. I’m one of those beginner dancers Bob talked about in his workshop, and he definitely “walks the walk” in supporting and guiding newcomers to the dance.

For me, it was a special weekend of learning and camaraderie. Thanks to the Ralph Page Legacy Weekend committee for all their hard work and welcoming me to my first weekend.

More of Jack Mitchell’s photos from the weekend can be viewed at





photo by Jack Mitchell

Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, part 2

photo by Jack Mitchell

by Pat MacPherson, Director of Education and Publications

While I enjoyed many great dances, and had a blast sitting next to the piano while Bob McQuillen was playing, what made my Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend memorable were the conversations I had with people off the dance floor.

My CDSS cohort — Nils Fredland, Rima Dael, and David Millstone — and I met with Roland Goodbody and Bill Ross of the New Hampshire Collection of Traditional Music & Dance at UNH. We delivered six boxes for the CDSS Library and Archives, and had a great conversation about how to make our archives accessible to more people. We made a plan for Mary Wesley to visit the CDSS archives while she is studying nearby at the Salt Institute in Portland, ME, and to survey our holdings for follow-up by the CDSS Education and Publications Department. This is a great first step.

CDSS Board member Lynn Ackerson and I were able to connect a few times around the work Lynn and the Contra Dance Task Group are doing. Lynn pointed out to me and I enjoyed meeting Emily Addison, from Ottawa, ON, who is really making things happen in her town. For Emily, being out of a job means that she can devote her ample creative energy to starting a community band and running dances. Her dedication and thoughtfulness, and that of her co-members on the Task Group, are so appreciated. Right now they are putting the finishing touches on a survey to go out to contra dance organizers.

On Sunday I happily connected with Terry, a dance organizer from Gardner, MA. She had been dancing for four months when she attended Puttin’ on the Dance, CDSS’s Northeast-based conference in fall of 2011, and began taking on responsibility for creating and running a local dance. Terry had had what many readers will recognize as an “Aha!” moment, when they go to a dance and say, “Where has this been all my life?” and “Where can I get more of it?” Terry’s local dance is now being supported by the Gardner Cultural Council.

One more exciting and somewhat scary addition to my Ralph Page experience: David Millstone taught me how to run his super-fancy video camera and I took over taping responsibilities from him, while he danced during the Squares Retrospective run by Bob Dalsemer. David says I did nice, steady camera work. Whew! So glad I didn’t break the camera! The videos taken during Square Retrospective will be housed on the Square Dance History Project website; and the videos taken during Nils’s session on Keith Blackmon singing squares will be released when CDSS publishes the Blackmon book (coming soon!).

All in all, a great weekend, I’d say.

See Jack Mitchell’s photos of the weekend,




The First Annual Youth Traditional Song Weekend

by Natty Smith, Anna Nowogrodzki and Ian McGullam, Youth Trad Song Organizing Committee

The YTS staff (l-r): Lissa Schneckenburger, Ken Schatz and Ian Robb; photo by Natty Smith

Braving mist and melting snow, 133 people traveled to the first annual Youth Traditional Song Weekend, held January 11-13 in Charlton, Massachusetts. Youth Trad Song (see previous blog post) was inspired by the successful Youth Dance Weekend and organized by a committee of nine traditional singers from New England, New York, Philadelphia, and North Carolina. The intent was to provide a youth-focused (though not youth-exclusive) weekend of learning, connecting, community-building, and enthusiastic participatory singing.

Thanks to generous support from the Country Dance and Song Society, the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston, the Folk Music Society of New York, the Folklore Society of Greater Washington, the New England Folk Festival Association, and private donations, Youth Trad Song was able to provide scholarships to keep the event affordable and attract singers from farther-flung communities. The product was a vibrant weekend with adults (and some teenagers) from all generations, from as close as New England and as far as Minnesota, California, and Georgia.

The three fabulous staff members Ian RobbKen Schatz, and Lissa Schneckenburger led three workshops each, with subjects including harmony, New England ballads, work songs, “New Songs that Sound Old,” and starting your own song session. They also took part in a staff panel entitled “Where Do My Songs Come From?” before lunch on Saturday, performing and discussing their songs.

artwork by Natty Smith and Christian Woodard

Space was built into the schedule for attendees to lead workshops, sharing what they are most passionate about and learning from each other. Attendee-led workshops ranged far and wide, including song swaps and workshops on particular genres (“Ballads and Songs You Don’t Get to Sing in the Pub,” “Southern Appalachian Ballads,” and “Occupational Songs” were just a few), discussions (on topics like building online traditional song communities and what to do when things go wrong while singing a song), and a few traditional dance workshops (Molly dancing and flatfooting). The workshops have already spawned further song sessions, discussion and even a Google+ Hangout singing session (“experiment in live online a cappella harmony singing”).

Attendees found themselves surrounded by people with a likeminded passion for unaccompanied singing of folk songs. The event kicked off with a roughly 130-person version of “Country Life,” and from the moment the last chord ended, there was singing happening everywhere—there were at least three singing sessions in the bathrooms and chair-stacking shanties during cleanup. It was thrilling to be surrounded by so many wonderful singers and songs, and inspiring to witness both formal and informal discussions about the style, history and philosophy of traditional songs.

You can check out some post-event comments and conversations on the Youth Traditional Song Weekend Facebook group. As Steven Levine from Minnesota said, “I think that perhaps the best, strongest legacy of YTS is how much I believe that the weekend left us with renewed and passionate enthusiasm for supporting and encouraging our own local singing communities.”

The organizing committee is excited to announce that the weekend was a huge success and the second annual Youth Trad Song Weekend will be held in January of 2014.

Natty Smith, in addition to being on the Youth Trad Song Organizing Committee, is a newly-elected CDSS board member, and also sits on the Pinewoods Camp, Inc. board.

Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, part 1

by David Smukler

photo by Rima Dael

CDSS had a great presence at this year’s Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend. One of the featured callers was Nils Fredland, who works for CDSS on American Dance publications and projects. One of his sessions focused on the repertoire of Keith Blackmon, a NY State square dance caller. Nils has been hard at work on a project to publish these dances. Pat MacPherson, our education director;  Rima Dael, our executive director; and Mary Wesley, our youth intern were also participants at the weekend, as well as board president David Millstone, and board members Lynn Ackerson and myself (all three of us are regular attendees).

This was the 26th annual Ralph Page weekend. While there are many dance weekends and camps that focus on contra dances and/or squares, and each has its own character, the Ralph Page weekend is unique in the way it respects variety and blends old and new. Dancers there expect to dance many of the classic contras–Chorus Jig, Money Music, Hull’s Victory, etc.–but they also are interested in the newest intriguing Becket dance, as well every sort of dancing in between. This year, for example, included a great look back at some of the choreography of Ted Sannella, such dances as Fiddleheads or King of the Keyboard. These dances are neither “old” or “new,” but were extremely innovative in their day and are still a blast to dance. Squares of many types are beloved at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, and it is also not unusual to see an international dance included, such as the hypnotic Romanian dance that Marcie Van Cleave taught us this year. It is common to dance triple minor dances (“take hands six”), circle dances, Tempest formation, four-face-four, etc. The tradition is “northern,” (New England style contras), but southern Appalachian influences are also respected and often included. No wonder that so many of the dancers on the floor are also callers from far and wide, who come to drink from the spring!

photo by Rima Dael

The weekend takes place at the University of New Hampshire (Durham) every year in mid-January. This is the home of the Dimond Library, whose special collections department houses archives of traditional dance materials from Ralph Page, Ted Sannella, and many others, and where CDSS archival material is also maintained.

David Smukler, away from his day job, is a caller and author, with David Millstone, of the popular Cracking Chestnuts: The Living Traditional of Classic American Contra Dances (Country Dance and Song Society, 2008).



“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)..




Kicking Off Plans for SW Conference

by Linda Henry, CDSS Outreach Manager

Plans are afoot for creating a leadership conference for the Southwest United States! An email recently went out to all CDSS group affiliates in the SW and others we know are interested. The message invited 80 people to participate in a phone meeting about preliminary plans. If you didn’t receive this initial email and would like to be included, please read on.

The call will happen on 1/19/13 (see below for call-in information). We’ll focus on…

  • describing the exciting potential for this event — building connections and bringing resources to dance groups throughout the Southwest (including contra, square and English country dance);
  • explaining how the planning process will work — a collaborative effort involving a core group of organizers from the SW with ongoing support from CDSS;
  • making connections and gathering input to help the conference happen (event date and location TBD).

As CDSS Outreach Manager, I’ll have the very fulfilling role of supporting the SW planning team to create the conference. Possible supports include grant funding, publicity and logistics — sharing materials generated by organizers of previous conferences. (See Puttin’ On the Dance as one example.)

For starters, I’ll send the planners a template survey along with contact information for SW groups currently in the CDSS database.This poll will make it possible to assess which resources are needed throughout the region in order to help dance communities grow and thrive. Based on these needs, the planners will design the content of the conference. This can include workshops and other resources for callers, musicians, dance organizers, sound engineers and more… plus there will be time for dancing, networking and having fun together!

This first phone meeting will be facilitated by Cora McCold of Durango, CO. With assistance from CDSS and several dance groups in her area, Cora attended the Midwest Leadership Conference in Cincinnati, OH last August. She returned home with enthusiasm for launching plans for an event in the SW.

If you’d like to join this call — or know anyone who else who might — here’s how to participate: On JANUARY 19, 2013, at 2 p.m. Pacific, 3 p.m. Mountain, 4 p.m. Central, and 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, CALL 605-475-4000. You’ll be prompted to enter your participant access code: 204920#.

If you’re interested but can’t join us on 1/19, it’s not too late to be part of this effort. We’d love to hear from you, so please send a message to Feel free to let us know your thoughts and interests, and we’ll share them with the planning group. Also we’ll be arranging follow-up calls and would be happy to include you.

Many thanks!

Linda (and Cora)

Visit to Japan

by Rima Dael, Executive Director

Happy New Year and a warm hello from all of us in the CDSS office. Thank you for your passionate support in helping us end the 2012 fiscal year brilliantly! We are busy placing finishing touches on our budget for 2013. This Friday I will be traveling to attend the Ralph Page Memorial Dance Weekend in NH and then off to Sacramento, CA at the end of the month for our traveling Executive Committee meeting.

Speaking of travels, I just returned to the US — I had been home to the Philippines, taking my daughter on her first international trip to meet family she had never met – and, on the trip back to the US, I had the great fortune to meet members of the international folk dance community in Tokyo, Japan.

Delightful, informative and fun best describe my lunch and meeting there on January 4 with six local Scottish and English country dancers. I must first thank Jenny Beer, CDSS Vice President, for her help and translation assistance in reaching out to colleagues of hers and CDSS Japanese members. My heartfelt thanks go to Obata Masaaki for spearheading the planning and organization of our meeting in Tokyo.

We spent a few hours laughing, sharing stories and getting to know each other and the needs of the dance communities in Japan. I met with Kondo Sachiko, Sato Hitomi, Wakamatsu Yo-ko, Miki Mari, Idokawa Akiko and Obata Masaaki. (Kondo-san is the chair of the Tokyo Folk Dance Federation, and Sato-san is the vice chair of the Japan Folk Dance Federation; they attended the meeting as individuals, not in official capacity.) Of the group, Obata-san was the only male and the only member of CDSS, but at the end of the meeting it was decided those who were there would also join CDSS. They discussed how they could better use CDSS resources for their individual dances and I shared how we could further help them.

The English country dances are held usually once or twice a month and they have two balls a year. There is a very small international folk family dance that is starting where some English country dances are done. CDSS is also aware of contra dances in Japan, primarily led by the expatriate communities. Both Obata-san and Kondo-san have been to camp at Pinewoods. CDSS members and past board members Bruce Hamilton and Gene Murrow have been to Japan to teach, as have Jenny Beer and Sharon Green, and we know other members have gone to teach or dance in other capacities as well. Our meeting was a small turn out due to coinciding with the New Year holiday celebrations.

It was interesting to discover that our friends in Japan share very many of the same concerns we do here in the US. They are worried about:

  • copyright laws
  • access to dance resources and the need for Japanese translations
  • difficulties of having dances in rural or suburban areas vs. those in urban areas
  • how to better encourage beginners
  • how to engage the next generation
  • how to have more men at dances
  • how to increase arts or folk dance in schools (schools are only mandated to have 3 hours of folk dance a year as part of the PE curriculum in primary and secondary schools)
  • how popular culture influences younger people and how can we reach them to engage them into “our type of dancing,” or, for many people, is this a type of dancing that interests one as they get older, like symphony music
  • that they don’t get together as a group and discuss dance organizer issues as often as they should

I think it was a surprise and also reassuring to the Japanese dancers that many groups in the US have the same issues they face. The group is eager to think about how they might participate in the 2015 CDSS Centennial celebrations at camp, and probably consult on various other topics.

The most important take-away for me to share is that for much of the meeting, and what seemed to be the most important part of the meeting, the group had discourse with each other. As I have discovered in my meetings in different communities, CDSS provides the opportunity and catalyst for a meeting within a community to discuss issues of importance to them and to engage each other in how best to use the resources of CDSS to assist their community. Several times throughout the Tokyo meeting they would apologize since they spoke with each other in Japanese about a topic or issue and did not include me fully. I told them to not worry because part of our organizational mission is to connect individuals and communities to each other on their terms for their needs. In the role of connector and convener, we bring people together — at regional conferences, online and in person — to cross-pollinate good ideas and resources and to create stronger communities and well-organized activities at the local, regional and, yes, international level. We also discussed scholarship opportunities to bring Japanese members to CDSS or other camps in the US.

It was wonderful to leave the meeting with six new friends. So to my new friends in Japan, “Arigatou Gozaimasu…thank you so very much.” We look forward to a greater partnership with your dance communities.

To all our members and friends: May your New Year be a prosperous one filled with the joy of dance, music and song!

Square Dance History Project Update

by David Millstone

Poster for a dance called by Duke Miller, circa 1970s. (See note.*)

The Square Dance History Project website launched in September of 2012 with financial support from CDSS, CALLERLAB, the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, and ARTS-Dance. We currently have about 800 items online: 418 moving images, 174 audio files, and numerous text documents, photographs, links to other websites, and so on. The website has been accessed by more than 6,000 unique visitors to date. One indicator of the value of the site can be found in a simple Google search for square dance history. Our site is second on the list of the 95 million suggested items.

Fascinating content

Among the special items included in our collection:

  • silent black and white footage of the Cheyenne Mountain Dancers, newly synchronized to the appropriate audio with Lloyd Shaw calling
  • film documenting square dancing in Central City, Colorado in the mid-1950s
  • footage (in color, with sound) from early 1950s, of Mildred Buhler’s demonstration team, Redwood City, California
  • live audio recordings of dances and caller workshops from the 1950s and 1960s, featuring such important figures as Arnie Kronenberger, Les Gotcher, Ed Gilmore, Marvin Shilling, Jim York, and Don Armstrong
  • 100 dance high-definition videos recorded at the Brasstown, North Carolina Dare to Be Square weekend
  • 11 high-definition videos of traditional West Virginia caller Bill Ohse
  • a half-hour documentary looking at the world of Challenge dancing, recorded at a C-4 weekend in Lenox, Massachusetts
  • 130 singing squares, half as moving images and the other half as audio clips, with callers from Maine to California

Iowa dance program, February 1864

You can help

We have regional styles that are not yet well documented on the SDHP site; for example, we need footage from Cape Breton’s rich dance tradition, from the upper Midwest, and more from Quebec. We also want to strengthen our collection of moving images showing cotillions and quadrilles, those important historical antecedents to today’s squares. If you know of sources for good moving footage that would be appropriate to add to our collection, please get in touch.

* Duke Miller, a caller from Gloversville, New York, called for dances in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire every summer. One series was held at the golf club in Peterborough, NH; the poster is for his other series. Bob McQuillen, 2009 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award, played accordion or piano for Duke for 26 consecutive years.

“Dancing at the Crosswords”

by Dr. Christopher Smith

The Texas Tech University Vernacular Music Center is a center for research, teaching and advocacy in music and dance traditions from around the world. Founded in 2000, the Center develops practices, programs and alumni who advocate for these traditions’ significance, history and role in human communities. We’ve partnered with regional, national and international participatory arts advocacy organizations, including, notably, CDSS, through our VMC Outreach Scholars program.

Dancing at the Crossroads, our flagship production for 2013-14, is subtitled “A Celebration of African American and Anglo-Celtic Dance in the New World.” A fully-staged theatrical dance show produced in partnership with Lubbock Moonlight Musicals, Crossroads takes as its central image both the literal and the metaphorical crossroads at which, in the history of the United States, diverse cultures, experiences, music and dance traditions collided and combined to create the deep roots of our popular culture. Integrating music, solo and group dance, narration, solo song, projections, sets and costume, Crossroads narrates the stories, real and imagined, magical and mythical, that lie at the heart of our expressive imagination.

In the Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland and England, in the Caribbean and the American South, the metaphor of the crossroads was a very powerful one: a place of choice and transformation, of confrontations between this world and the next. Peoples, cultures and stories met at this New World crossroads, and the music of these meetings transformed the mythic history of the globe. In this program, we evoke the shebeens and juke joints, supernatural encounters, singing tinkers and bluesmen, Anglo and African dancers, and the power of the creative encounters which helped people across the centuries dance and sing their way to freedom. Deeply rooted in traditional repertoires, the program includes English, Irish and Scottish songs; Irish solo set dance and set dances and sean-nos song and dance; Mississippi Delta blues and Texas sanctified song; English border and Cotswold morris; American shape-note choral song; Caribbean sea shanties; English country dance; Appalachian contra dance; Haitian quadrilles, and a New Orleans street parade.

The show is composed around a corps of young singers, players and dancers who embody the central characters in our story; many are alumni of the Outreach Scholars program and of CDSS camps and workshops:

  • Becca Rhoades – “Elizabeth Bennett” (alto / dancer / fiddle)
  • Abi Rhoades  – “The Demon Fiddler” (alto / dancer / fiddle)
  • Emily Furillo  – “The Dance Master” (dancer / percussion)
  • Candice Holley  – “The Creole Girl” (dancer / piano)
  • Lamar Peeples  – “The Bluesman” (tenor / dancer / harmonica)
  • Barry La’Craig Horn – “The Freestyler” (dancer / percussion)
  • Justin Duncan  – “Baron Samedi / Legba / Mr Scratch” (bass / dancer)
  • Rachel Boyd  – “Marie Laveau” (alto / piano / trumpet / guitar)
  • Morgan White  – “The Morris Dancer” (dancer / musician)

Cast photos (Tif Holmes Photography,

“Dancing at the Crossroads: A Celebration of African American and Anglo Celtic Dance in the New World” premieres Feb 1, 2, 8, 9 2013 at the Christine DeVitt Icehouse Theatre in Lubbock, TX, USA.

You can track the Crossroads show via social media!

Chris Smith is Associate Professor and Chair of Musicology at Texas Tech and is Director of the Vernacular Music Cemter.