Category Archives: Guest Posts

100 Years Ago Today —Sharp & Karpeles Start Collecting Songs

from Donald Hughes, Project Coordinator

CecilandMaudToday, July 25, 2016, marks the centennial of the beginning of the Appalachian song collecting fieldwork of Cecil J. Sharp and Maud Karpeles. The NC Folklife Institute and the Country Dance and Song Society are sponsoring the celebration and recognition of this important work. The Madison County Arts Council, Mars Hill University, the English Folk Dance and Song Society, and others join us in the effort.

One hundred years ago, in the wake of a massive flood of the French Broad River, with stifling heat and disruption, Cecil and Maud set out, with the assistance of John C. and Olive Dame Campbell and Helen Storrow of MA, to travel the Appalachian region, first in Madison County, NC, then in subsequent months and years to other counties and other states, including VA, TN, KY, and WV.

1916 newspapersThe result was a strong appreciation of the influence of traditional English music within Appalachian culture, a regard that continues to this day. As with all things American, this influence blended with many other traditions in forming the very vibrant state of music throughout the region.

Please take a look at our website (cecilsharpinappalachia.org). There will be frequent postings that will reflect the progress of Sharp and Karpeles travels in 1916 during this year.

A centennial is a good marker of durability and meaning. We are pleased to be a part of this recognition. And we hope you enjoy the reprise of this journey.

 

Making the World a More Beautiful Place

by Chris Ricciotti

ChrisRicciottiExcept for the first paragraph, which is from recent correspondence, this essay was posted on Facebook; it’s reprinted here with the author’s kind permission.

“I think it’s important to see that dancing and music, song, community, the intentional connections we all make as a part of this tradition, is incredibly spiritual, and healing, on so many levels. In a time when there are so many distractions in our fast paced technology driven society that can pull us away from being connected face to face with others, here is one thriving tradition that continues to break the rules of our modern day society and gives us a fun and playful excuse to come together to share in something much greater than we are individually.”

FACEBOOK POST

In 1985 at 25 years of age, when I came out as a gay man, the world was a very different place than what it is now. At 55 years of age now, those of you who are much younger than I may not have the perspective that we who are a bit more mature have. Back then, there were few social groups, and most of the community was based around bars and other associated events.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can speak for myself when I say that this was just not what I was looking for in my coming out process. I really wanted something very different that was not the mainstream part of what it was to be gay back then. I wanted to be a real human being, not just a gay human being, and I wanted to share good times with good folks, sharing healthy social time in a warm and inclusive environment. Never in all that time did I ever imagine that I could intertwine two very different worlds, my love of music and dance and my exploration of being a gay man. In fact early on, before I came out, I distinctly remember the moment when I had this amazing epiphany, and in that moment, it was the most exciting thing that had ever come to mind. And just as quickly I dismissed it.

It wasn’t until I joined a men’s choral group in Providence, RI in 1986 where all that was to change. I overheard a conversation one evening, a friend of mine at the time, Bill Wilson, mentioned he has gone to see a Gay Rodeo out in Denver, CO. I couldn’t even imagine of such an event back then, but then he went on to say that afterwards he went to a square dance. My ears immediately perked up, and I turned around and asked, “You mean, a GAY square dance??” He replied, “Yes, they have been doing it out there for years.” As soon as I heard that, I knew I had to find a way to merge these two worlds together, and now 30 years later, we have a documentary of the power of what the vision of one person, shared with an entire community, can do.

To all those who have shared this vision, and who continue to help in its course and in its future, to all those lovely individuals who have at one time or another graced our dance halls and dance camps with your presence, and to all those who have shared that this amazing community has helped them through their rough times in their lives, and have helped connect them to a warm and accepting group of like-minded individuals and lifelong friendships, I say a heartfelt thank you.

It is because of all of you, who like myself, needed something a bit out of the ordinary, who desired a community of warm and accepting individuals, who understand that we can all make a difference, who understand the social power of dance, music, song, hugs, and the social interactions, that some 30 years later, we have this amazing community that continues to welcome lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender, asexuals, intersex, queer, questioning, and straight friends. What an amazing diversity in a social time where there is so much extremism pulling at us from all sides. I take great comfort in sharing myself within this community. I know my life would be very different had it not been for LCFD.

Please take a moment to watch this video. Please share this with your friends and families. Invite people to come and join us, and share this love with others. Each of us has the power to make this world a more beautiful place!

Lavender Country and Folk Dancers (LCFD) has been working with filmmaker Nate Daniel on a full-length documentary about their dance community which is expected to be released in 2017. This short video is a preview of the longer documentary.

LCFD sponsors, supports and promotes a nationwide network of local gender-free community dances and dance camps. Their groups are mostly contra and English country dances, but they also encompass several other dance traditions. While their focus is LGBTQ communities, they welcome everyone to their dances and camps.

Chris Ricciotti is a dance caller and organizer and a member of LCFD’s Board of Directors; he lives in Massachusetts.

American Week, Pinewoods 2014

by Chuck Abell

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Photo by Garrett Fondoules

When I first heard about the Country Dancers of Rochester (CDR) scholarship program for CDSS camps, I developed an immediate interest. As a new caller—and as an experienced musician—I was looking for any opportunities to hone my skills in both areas, and just to collaborate with other callers and musicians.

Having never been to Pinewoods before, I was initially struck by the mellow, woodsy environment, along with the two beautiful lakes/ponds situated next to the camp. Pinewoods is truly a New England paradise. The next revelation was the outdoor dance pavilion, again tucked back in the woods. There really is nothing like dancing outdoors in a covered pavilion in mid-August. From the first night it was evident that magical things would happen in the pavilion over the course of the week—in many ways, it was really the center of the camp. The final thing that struck me right from the start was the diversity and the energy of the campers. I confess, I was bracing for something perhaps a little more on the stuffy side when I first registered, but that notion was well wide of the mark —teenagers, college students, young couples, middle-agers, and more “seasoned” dancers all converged at the camp for a week of creativity and true rejuvenation.

Some snapshots of the next six days:

  • Gathering at 10 am every morning for Phil Jamison’s Southern Squares class. What a great tradition, and a great teacher. Having no sense of what distinguished a Southern Square from a New England or Western square, I quickly came to understand that Southern Squares are about improvisation, about calling to the beat of the music, not to the phrasing. What a liberation! For the rest of the week, we took turns inventing—and calling—squares to the great old time music of Julie Metcalf and company, always under the skillful guidance of Phil, who really seems to me to be David Kaynor’s long-lost Southern brother! Well, brothers in spirit at least….
  • David Cantieni’s “tunes by ear” class which became a virtual playground of ideas and genres. Being one of the few instrumental “ensemble” classes, we were charged with preparing each evening’s “processional”—a joyous musical march through the darkening woods just before the evening dance. (“When the Saints Go Marching In” never sounded so good!)
  • The daily camp gathering that followed morning classes, but preceded swimming and lunch. A time for jokes, songs, stories, contests, and other spontaneous acts of generosity by staff and campers alike. It was the one time of the day when we really came together as a single camp, and it was an honor to see otherwise taciturn campers get up and perform in front of 150 audience members.
  • The Roadhouse after-dance party, midweek. Okay, I’m biased here—being one-third of the nominal “house band” charged with backing up a small parade of crooners, blues singers, and jazz soloists—with a room full of enthusiastic swing, blues, and bossa nova dancers—is right where it’s at for me. They pretty much had to drag us off the stage at 1:30 am.
  • Emily Troll’s music ensemble class—that is, band class for musicians. Okay, I confess, some of the “touchy/feely” interpersonal games at the start of each class reminded me a little too much of the upcoming school year (not an image I wanted to entertain), but once we got past those, the class was really useful and helped spawn several small instrumental ensembles that took the stage at Camper’s Night (see below).
  • Gaye Fifer’s “Dutch Crossing”—hard to really put this into words, but definitely a highlight of the week. Look it up on YouTube if you want. Basically, a dance that requires 16 couples, takes 55 (intense) minutes to teach, and five minutes to actually dance. A great teamwork activity.
  • Swimming Squares. Yes, real Southern square dances, performed while swimming in the lake. Not only hilarious but a great form of exercise. Just be careful when “ducking for the oyster.”
  • Camper’s Night—a true highlight. A chance for (very talented) campers to run the evening dance. Somehow, I ended up in five to six music ensembles, so I never got to dance until the second half, but it was well worth it. A memorable, and somewhat revolutionary, segment: David Cantieni’s entire ear training class joined by Ann Percival’s entire chorus class performing “Wimoweh” as a contra dance set. It actually works!

And the list of highlights goes on: the food, the lodges, the pre-dinner parties, the after-dance parties, the midnight swimming, the networking, the afternoon old time jam sessions led by Larry Unger, the not-so impromptu marshmallow fight at dinner one night, the full moon over the lake as I drifted to sleep in my bunkhouse…

Looking back, both my calling and my playing have improved as a result of being at American Week—not only do I have an expanded repertoire of dances and tunes, but my skills have sharpened considerably. Had it not been for the CDR grant, and matching CDSS scholarship, I most certainly would have missed out on an invaluable experience.

Chuck Abell is a contra dance caller and musician from Rochester, NY. His band, Tempest, featuring fiddler Tim Ball and several other great western NY musicians, just released its first full-length CD, Equilibrium, and will be touring extensively over the next year to promote the release. Keep an eye out for them, or visit www.chuckabell.com for more info on the band.

Come to American Dance and Music Week at Pinewoods, August 8-15, http://www.cdss.org/american.html. Or the equally fine Harmony of Song and Dance, July 25-August 1, http://www.cdss.org/harmony.html. Space is available, and so are scholarship funds until we run out. To read about all our programs at Pinewoods (MA), Ogontz (NH) and Timber Ridge (WV), see https://view.publitas.com/country-dance-and-song-society/country-dance-song-society-2015-camps/page/1. Questions? Call Country Dance and Song Society, 413-203-5467 x 2.

 

Spread The Joy—It’s a slogan, it’s a song!

by Jonathan Jensen

Musician, songwriter and longtime CDSS member Jonathan Jensen, of Baltimore, sent us this lovely gift of his song in honor of our Centennial in 2015. It debuted on March 24, during Celebration Week. Download a PDF of the sheet music or listen to Jonathan and friends sing the song here. Or hear the song and watch the video here.

MuseScore_ Spread The JoyIn the CDSS world, I’m most active playing piano for English country dance, contra dance and couple dancing, as well as writing tunes in all these genres. Lately, though, I’ve become increasingly busy writing songs ranging from goofy parodies like The Tea Chantey to rounds and serious ballads. So as the 100th anniversary of CDSS approached I had a mind to write some kind of tribute in words and music. It was hard to get a handle on this project until I noticed the slogan “Spread The Joy” on one of the organization’s mailings. Once I decided on those three words as the title and the theme, the song all but wrote itself. There are so many ways we all spread the joy of music, dance, story and song in our various communities that I probably could have come up with dozens of verses (although the requirements of rhyme and meter do impose certain limitations).

Once the song was written, I e-mailed a quick demo to CDSS headquarters, where it was well received. There was a thought of posting it on the website and Facebook page right away, but on reflection it was decided to make a professional recording with multiple voices that could be used as the basis of a video. There followed an e-mail and phone barrage to many likely participants and the inevitable poring over schedules to decide who the final cast would be and when we could all get together. I was very fortunate to have Charlie Pilzer offer his services and studio (Airshow Mastering) for free. Terry Leonino and Greg Artzner, who make up the celebrated duo Magpie are friends of the Pilzers, and kindly volunteered to take part. Veteran dance musicians Steve Hickman and John Devine signed on to sing and play. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Oorts offered to round out the texture on mandolin. And when I decided we should have a teenage singer to represent the next generation, Steve got his daughter Maren to come along—and his wife DeLaura Padovan joined in for good measure.

On the evening of February 15 we all met at Charlie’s studio in Takoma Park. After a few run-throughs we worked out an arrangement that suited all the voices and made a number of takes, with me handling string bass duties. None of our readings were perfect all the way through, but we got to see Charlie work his wizardry as he swiftly replaced a faulty note or phrase from one take with a better version from another. We look forward to sharing the song with our friends across the nation as we join in celebrating the first 100 years of the Country Dance and Song Society.

CDSS is delighted to have its own song for the Centennial—we look forward to singing it with friends and humming it as we work. Thank you, Jonathan, for writing it; thanks to Charlie, Terry, Greg, Steve, John, Paul, Maren and DeLaura for the audio recording; and thanks to Mary Wesley for the video.

Trad Dance & Music Exhibit Opens in New Hampshire

by Lisa Sieverts

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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.

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Monadnock region of New Hampshire, named after Mount Monadnock

 

 

Math, Music and Contra Dance

by Lena Erickson

lena ericksonI first heard about contra dance at a small math conference in Northfield, Minnesota during the summer of 2013 when a graduate student described the connection between contra dance and permutation groups. Contra dance, a type of partnered folk dance, involves people dancing in two lines facing each other or in groups of four. If the participants of a contra dance are each labeled with a number, with n being the total number of dancers, then their most basic interactions during the contra dance can be represented as permutations on the set of numbers one through n.

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Norman, OK, contra dance, December 2014 (Miranda Arana)

 

A permutation, put simply, means a reordering of members of a set, so a permutation of the dancers is a function that moves the dancers to other dancers’ positions, like two people swapping places (e.g. gents’ allemande), a group of four people circularly moving in a full rotation (e.g. circle left), or no one changing position (i.e. the identity permutation). If you combine these functions, adding one small dance step to another, you’re composing permutations, which is the operation that defines the algebraic structure known as a permutation group.

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Norman, OK, contra dance, December 2014 (Miranda Arana)

This link to mathematics brings something special to contra dance: it evokes a feeling of connection to the universe at large. Permutation groups themselves are only yet a subset of the set of reflection symmetries, which has applications anywhere symmetry is present: in the structure of a snowflake, in the arrangement of atoms in a molecule, and even in the transpositions and inversions in Bach’s Art of Fugue, which are precisely the symmetries of a dodecagon. Math is deeply and richly tied to music and dance, and my knowing that the movement of our bodies in dance symbolized a greater relationship between elements brought an almost spiritual aspect to my experience of contra dance.While the mechanics of the dance were explainable by the mathematical structures I’d previously come to understand, the experience itself involved so much more: a sense of community, an interaction with people normally distanced, and the exhilarating act of applying these abstract concepts I’d learned to movement in the physical world, with music playing and bodies moving all around me.

Lena Erickson is a senior at Oklahoma University in Norman, OK, majoring in math.

Our thanks to CDSS member Miranda Arana who sent us Lena’s essay. She teaches Introduction to World Music for non-music majors at OU.

How to Photograph a Contra Dance

by Doug Plummer

Doug Plummer is well known in the dance community nationwide as that guy who takes all the dance photos and videos and puts them all over Facebook and in a calendar. Since 2012 he has self-published the Contradance Calendar, a premium wall calendar that captures the best contra dance moments from around the country. To get a 2015 calendar, support the Kickstarter campaign for it, which is live from now until September 11, or buy one from the CDSS store come November.

South Coast Folk Society contra dance at Green Acres Grange Hall, Coos Bay, OR

South Coast Folk Society contra dance, Green Acres Grange Hall, Coos Bay, OR, 2014 (Doug Plummer)

There is no such thing as a photograph of a contra dance. The only thing we can capture is a moment in a dance. So the first thing is to identify that: a moment that might be captured.

Actually, let’s back up. The first thing is to identify how we feel at a given moment. When we dance, we go through a series of fleeting emotions. There’s the cordial greeting of a hands four. There’s the ramp-up anticipation of a balance. The connection of an allemande. The dramatic feeling of a wall of you convening and receding in a great long line. The delight of a new neighbor. The alarming stare down contest of a gypsy. The consummation of a lovely, long swing with your beloved partner, until you dump her for the next dance.

Contra dance, AmWeek, Jones Gulch YMCA Camp, CA.

Contra dance, Bay Area CDS’s American Week, Jones Gulch YMCA, La Honda, CA, 2014 (Doug Plummer)

When you watch a dance, those moments and feelings have physical expressions. There are bodies in contact and in connection that you can isolate and capture. That is the reason to have a camera at a dance—to more deeply connect with those significant, fleeting moments full of feeling, and to maybe stop and hold one.

So, given that, what do you do to take a photograph that holds all that ambition? The first trick is to watch for just a single moment that you emotionally connect with. Shoot only that. Thirty-two beats later, it comes around again. Keep whacking away. How you feel inside is your signal that you might be getting closer.

Here is maybe the most important advice to becoming a better photographer. Don’t stare at the back of your camera at what you just did. Don’t pay any attention to the results of your shooting. It only takes you away from the moment. All that investment in getting connected with the dance, with the dancers, with the beat and rhythm and the energy surrounding and carrying you away—look at the screen for longer than a second and you’ve left the room. It takes great effort to reenter. Edit when you get home.

Another tip: get close. Get within elbow dodging range. Make people know you’re there. Be engaged with them. If someone doesn’t want you there, you’ll feel it and you can adjust. But that rarely happens. Don’t be a jerk, but don’t feel you have to be a wallflower in order not to be one. Everyone notices the person trying to photograph unobtrusively. If you’re in the middle, you disappear.

The first thing I tell my workshop students is, go forth and fail. You have great aspirations to capture the perfect moment, and mostly you won’t. That’s part and parcel of the creative process. You flail and you fail again and again, and then, you get a glimmer of something that’s starting to work, and you chase that and see if you can do it again. It doesn’t matter a whit what kind of camera you use. The process of creative growth doesn’t care.

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Wasatch Wiggle, Salt Lake City, UT, 2013 (Doug Plummer)

Photography, especially in the digital age, is an act of great profligacy. That’s not to say that you shoot indiscriminately and without intention. Just the opposite. It takes a great deal of attention and effort to stay deeply connected with the moment, and from that connection comes the urge to click the shutter. It might happen a lot of times in a few seconds, particularly in the complex, dynamic environment of a contra dance hall, as a feeling hits. I rarely come away from an evening of photographing a dance with fewer than two or three hundred exposures. And I don’t sit out that many dances.

And when you do sit at your computer that night, posting on Facebook? Don’t post the two dozen variations of a single move that are pretty good. Post only the best one. The fewer shots you post, the better photographer people think you are. And it indeed makes you a better photographer.

This article is in the Fall 2015 issue of the CDSS News in both print and online versions.

Techno, Gender-free, and Bluesy Contras: Evolving Tradition?

by Abigail Hobart

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Abigail at the Downtown Amherst Contradance last fall­­ (photo courtesy the author)

What is tradition? This question is relevant to all contra dancers, whether we realize it or not. The past several decades have witnessed somewhat of a contra revival, especially among youth and students. College dances have sprung up across the US, typically at smaller liberal arts schools, such as Oberlin (Oberlin, OH) and Hampshire (Amherst, MA) colleges. The increase in college-aged dancers has brought about a shift towards more progressive leanings, newer trends in musical tastes, and sexier dancing. At the forefront of these changes are the use of gender-neutral terms in calling, the increasing number of techno contra dances, and the incorporation of “blues moves” into contra dancing, especially in the swing. The emergence of trends like these within a folk tradition like contra dance, reflect the constantly evolving demographic of participants, and changes in popular culture and political/social culture.

Gender-free contra dances have been happening since the 1970s. The push for non-gendered dances came out of the LGTBQ movement, and has grown steadily. These dances promote experimentation with using non-gendered terms, such as lead and follow, or bare arms and arm bands, in place of the more traditional terms, such as ladies and gents. This change reflects the evolution of the understanding of gender and gender roles, and is a response to the traditionally binary gendered-nature of contra dance; an attempt to break away from the gender roles that society assigns us.

In the past decade or so techno contra, or crossover contra dances, have really taken off. In 2001, Lisa Greenleaf, a Boston-area caller, first experimented with calling contra dances to prerecorded electronic music, in place of traditional, live bands. Since then, “techno” music has been increasingly incorporated into the standard dance circuit in the US. At the downtown Amherst, MA dance series, hosted most Wednesdays, there were ten techno contra dances alone in the past year! This reflects the increasing emergence of electronic, dub step, and techno music in popular musical production and consumption.

For years, swing dance accents have found their way into the stylistic choices of contra dancers. For example, during a partner swing, it’s common to see a variety of underarm turns and flourishes that come from the swing dance canon, and even the more complicated swing moves, such as sidecars (a difficult acrobatic lift move) or the pretzel (a complicated under arm flourish), can be seen occasionally on the dance floor. The boundary between the contra and swing dance communities has always been porous, so it follows that blues dancing (from the same era as Lindy Hop, but slower and smoother) moves also have slowly been incorporated into contra dance style. The blues posture is used frequently in partner swings, with typically a closer partner hold, and distinctly more intimate. The Asheville, NC contra dance scene is regarded as a hotspot of dancers emulating a sexier, blues-fusion dance style, though blues moves can be seen in contra dances all over the country.

Tradition, an odd word, seems to refer to a thing of the past; tradition is all around us though, and continues because we continue creating it. Gender-free, techno, and blues-infused contra exists because contra dance is a living, breathing tradition; these new styles and expressions are in response to the evolving needs and interests of the dance community. The way we approach these changes will reflect the community norms of contra dancers as a whole, and of smaller micro-communities throughout the contra dance network. As a community we decide what makes contra dancing itself. We decide how far we can push the tradition before it stops being contra dance. Our own needs and innovations create the tradition, and it creates us.

Abigail Hobart studies ethnomusicology, sustainability, and food systems at Hampshire College, where she also organizes a monthly contra dance series. She is an avid contra dancer and lover of the tradition, and is from the Pacific Northwest.

Guest bloggers on the CDSS page are welcome. Write to news@cdss.org for guidelines.

 

The Everyday Things—Remembering Mac

by Carol Compton

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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.

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photo of Carol Compton by C. J. Leake

Handing on the Tradition

by Zoë Madonna

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Outside the dance hall (Photo by Zoë Madonna )

The 2014 Ralph Page Legacy Weekend’s Saturday dance was buried in eight inches of wet, heavy snow that started falling at about ten in the morning and did not stop till late evening. Fortunately, the gym of the Memorial Union Building at the University of New Hampshire was heated enough to keep everyone comfortable. The kind of vigorous dancing that makes dancers sweat through their shirts was nowhere to be found at Ralph Page; even after three hours of dancing, I was hardly tired. The tunes were played at a moderate pace, some dances didn’t have partner swings, and one of the staff callers tells me he’s never used a calling card in his life.

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The past into the future (Photo by Zoë Madonna)

The Ralph Page weekend is more of a celebration of social dancing history and tradition than it is a modern “dance weekend.” A loop of David Millstone’s documentaries on Dudley Laufman and the history of contra in New England played in one room, where dancers could rest their feet. Memory books about now-deceased Ralph Page mainstays were laid out on a table. Workshops and dance sessions were themed around the past; a retrospective of mentors (Bob McQuillen, Larry Jennings, Ralph Sweet, Marianne Taylor), a program themed around one of Ralph Page’s Tuesday night dances at the Boston YWCA, and a session of “contras and squares that folks think ‘Dudley doesn’t know.’” “Dudley” is Dudley Laufman, who made immeasurable contributions to getting youth involved in contra dancing in the 1960s. He still plays fiddle and accordion, calling while he plays.

I was there because I’d gotten a calling scholarship, so I was in attendance at Dudley’s workshop on the “dos and don’ts of calling.” He hadn’t come with any dos and don’ts past “don’t ask at the beginning how many people are there for their first time” and “don’t let the band boss you around,” but the other attendees had plenty of questions for him and he had plenty of stories to tell, like the time he and his wife Jacqueline played a gig on a Boston Harbor yacht for a convention of insurance salesmen, during which they had to wear full colonial dress and were  not allowed to speak to their fellow performers or the audience. Dudley is in his 80s and had heart surgery recently, but that isn’t stopping him from calling barn dances. These days, a Dudley set usually consists of a few chestnut contras, some circle dances, a New England style square, and a Sicilian circle or two. Moves that have become commonplace in modern contra, such as the hey for four and gypsy, cannot be found in Dudley’s sets.

Dudley also had plenty of questions for me, whipping around with surprising speed for someone his age every time he remembered something he wanted to ask. “If a bus full of Girl Scouts, no, if a bus full of people with Down’s Syndrome pulls up and everyone comes in, what are you going to call?” I puzzled that question over for a minute before saying I’d call the simplest circle mixer I know. “Would you have them change partners?” asked another caller. I didn’t know what to answer. I still have a long way to go.

The defining moment of Ralph Page for me happened during lunch on the final day. As I was walking through the cafeteria, the jam session that had been playing struck up Money Musk. Two couples set up at one end of the cafeteria aisle and called for a third; I grabbed a partner and we three couples started dancing. No calls were needed. We all knew this dance. By the time my partner and I were waiting at the top, the line was at least twelve couples long. By the time the dance ended, there were at least twenty couples on the line: a good quarter of the people at the weekend, dancing Money Musk in a cafeteria for fifteen minutes with unabashed joy.

The Ralph Page Legacy Weekend was created in 1988 to recognize the contributions that caller Ralph Page (1903-1985) made to contra and New England folk dancing. It’s held the weekend before the third Monday in January (MLK, Jr. Day), at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, NH and sponsored by the New England Folk Festival Association.

A singer, dancer, musician—and Oberlin junior―Zoë Madonna is interning with CDSS this month.