Tag Archives: square dance

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).

Handing off the Music (literally!)

Handing off the music to the next generation? Absolutely, and with considerable flair and musicianship, don’t you think? CDSS president and videographer David Millstone describes this video of Bob McQuillen and friends:

Contra dance enthusiasts may enjoy watching a recently-uploaded clip on
YouTube that focuses on Bob McQuillen, the New Hampshire musician and

Composer of more than 1500 tunes to date and well known for his distinctive and
powerful boom-chuck piano style of contra dance accompaniment, Bob was a
2009 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. The award itself was
presented to Bob at the New England Folk Festival (NEFFA) the following April,
part of a “Salute to Bob McQuillen” session that was conceived by CDSS
member Jeremy Korr. Jeremy noted that 2010 would mark the eighth decade (!)
during which Bob had been a NEFFA participant and he helped arrange for a
special group of musical guests to highlight the occasion.

In this clip, Steve Zakon-Anderson calls “Young at Heart,” a contra dance he
wrote years ago for Bob.The musicians shown include Bob’s “Old
New England” bandmates, Jane Orzechowski and Deanna Stiles, and two
members of his Pacific Northwest band, the “Rhythm Rollers,” WB Reid and
Laurie Andres.

Bob has had a long and close relationship with Jane Orzechowski’s family; four
of the Orzechowski children studied piano with him over the years. (The oldest,
Francis, was one of the musicians selected to represent New Hampshire at the
Smithsonian Institution’s 1999 Festival of American Folklife in Washington, DC.)
On the video, you can watch as the piano accompaniment is seamlessly passed
from Bob to Francis, Russell, and Neil, and then back to Bob. When they’re not
playing piano, the video shows the three playing fiddle or accordion.

Bob McQuillen was also awarded the National Heritage Fellowship in 2002 by the
National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor for traditional artists in the

Compiling the CDSS Square Dance Resources

Since I became an official member of the CDSS staff last year, the projects that have landed on my plate have been mostly square dance related. I couldn’t be happier about that, since traditional squares are a particular passion of mine. After working closely with Ralph Sweet on the publication of On the Beat with Ralph Sweet in 2010, I shifted my focus to bringing some structure to the vast amount of square dance resources already existing on the Internet; the CDSS Square Dance Resources — available at www.cdss.org/squares — is the result.

My initial idea was to provide links to video examples of full square dance figures; indeed, my first effort at information gathering found me sitting at local coffee shops in my hometown of Keene, NH, headphones in place, pouring through square dance footage on YouTube and Vimeo. I found a lot of really great stuff, like this:

It quickly became clear that there was plenty of useful video footage out there that didn’t quite fit my first set of criteria. So I created a new category called “General Interest Video” for clips like this:

Then I stumbled across some great audio clips of square dance calling, like this one from Portland, OR caller Caroline Oakley:

“Push Pa, Shove Ma” called by Caroline Oakley (mp3)

After that I discovered a great article on square dance calling (pdf) by Carol Ormand, and I explored Bill Martin’s excellent website on the topic of Southern squares, and I read several of Phil Jamison’s articles on Appalachian square dance from the online archives of the Old-Time Herald magazine, and I looked through some of the square dance articles in the online version of Ralph Page’s Northern Junket, and…well…the CDSS Square Dance Resources were no longer going to be limited to video examples of full square dance figures.

At this point, collecting new links for the resources was bordering on obsession. It seemed like I was creating new categories and folders for storage on a daily basis. Finally, the collecting stopped (thanks to Brad Foster and Pat MacPherson for talking me down), and I turned my attention towards tying all the information together. Enter an excellent team of consultants: Bob Dalsemer, Tony Parkes, Jim Mayo, and David Millstone on the topics of square dance history and square dance styles; and lydia ievins and Pat MacPherson on design, layout, and implementation.  I wouldn’t have been able to see the project through to completion without their valuable knowledge, expertise, and generosity.

So, take a look! I hope you all find the completed CDSS Square Dance Resources as useful and enlightening as I do. Thanks, as always, for your support. Keep dancing squares!

— Nils

The CDSS Square Dance Resources are part of our growing collection of online Advice & How-To resources.

Nils Fredland runs American Dance/Music Projects at CDSS.

Bugs Bunny and the Power of Calling

A few observations on a less-than-serious topic for everyone across North America who is covered by snow.

Bugs anticipates the men-in-skirts movement.

Some may be familiar with the 1950 Warner Brothers short Hillbilly Hare, wherein Bugs Bunny lifts up the fiddle and calls a complicated square dance.

Watch it on YouTube. (Sorry there’s no embeddable version.)

At first glance, this sequence might cause us to ponder the representation of rural Southern culture in mainstream media or examine the ways that (and extent to which) violence is used as a tool for comedy. But after close examination we are, most of all, forced to ask, “Is Bugs Bunny the greatest square dance caller ever?”

In this sequence, his patter calls are impressive to say the least. I’ll admit, most of these moves fall outside what I’ve seen documented in traditional calls, let alone Modern Western lists. Not only do they contain great variety but they are adaptive to their environment, be that brook, pig pen, or hay baler. It’s not clear how experienced our dancers (Curt and Pumpkinhead Martin, I am told) are, but certainly Bugs has their trust. They follow his calls remarkably. Lest they get discouraged, Bugs incorporates gentle encouragement into his calls, “Step right up, you’re doin’ fine, / I’ll pull your beard, you pull mine.”

We can see Bugs has a traditional musical sense, unplugging the band and giving an acoustic solo fiddle performance — albeit with full orchestra providing the boom-chucks. Somewhat less traditionally, Bugs deserves credit for anticipating the men-in-skirts movement at dances way ahead of his time.

Luckily for us, at sixty years old, this classic is not merely archival but part of a living tradition. And will continue to be into the next generation.

— Max

Meetup.com: A Resource to Consider?

Is this a useful resource for dance and song organizers?

Over the last few months, I’ve heard from a few groups about their experiences using the online social network Meetup to attract new participants. I’ve even seen its effect at a local dance. This got me wanting to find out a little more about Meetup and how dance and song organizers have been using it. I don’t have enough anecdotal information to really know how useful Meetup can be for dance and song groups, but let me share what I do know.

What It Is

Meetup, whose slogan is “Use the Internet to get off the Internet”, has been around for a decade now. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a social networking tool meant to facilitate face-to-face meetings. The organization’s mission statement speaks to a lot of the values I hear traditional dancers and singers express: “Meetup’s mission is to revitalize local community and help people around the world self-organize. Meetup believes that people can change their personal world, or the whole world, by organizing themselves into groups that are powerful enough to make a difference.”

How this sentiment works in practice on their site is that organizers create groups (and pay dues of between $12-$19/mo) and those groups have members and events.

Meetup isn’t the only site out there doing this sort of thing, of course. BigTent seems to be another resource, although this doesn’t seem to have a lot of folky representation at the moment. And there’s plenty of overlap with what you might already be doing with Facebook. Indeed, Meetup also connects with Facebook with an app. (I should note that it’s a time of transition for Meetup, which just underwent a major facelift a few days ago that not everyone likes.)

Who Is Using It and How

Meetup contra dance groups and interested members across the globe.

There are a number of Meetup groups out there done by the organizers themselves. Contra dance and square dance both generate some hits across the country. English Country Dance doesn’t seem to have a lot of representation, with the notable exception of the Las Vegas Country Dance group. There is a little morris out there as well. “Folk song” and “folk music” generate lots of hits of various stripes.

Meetup sites can contain a lot of information, as with this Chicago Sacred Harp page. Reading the quotes from participants is also quite fun. (It’s the sort of thing that would be nice on any website, really.)

Looking through these can give you a sense of how organizers might use Meetup.  There’s another way Meetup can impact communities, too: a broader Meetup group can decide to go to a dance as one of their activities.

This can happen when one of the organizers of a group that finds fun, unusual things to do decides contra dancing sounds interesting. I experienced this type of Meetup effect at a dance recently, when this contra dance was sponsored by the Nerd Fun – Boston, a group with almost 3,000 participants. Lo and behold, a group of a dozen or so descended on the dance.

Is It Worth It?

A little effort and money can give you a Meetup site, but is it worth it? I don’t know.

While $12/month isn’t a huge investment, it’s not a drop in the bucket either; it’s only going to be worth it if you see results. If you have several groups with close missions (e.g. contra and English or pub sings and a morris team), I could see combining forces to share the burden.

So, have you used Meetup or something like it to promote a song or dance event and/or find new participants? How? Did it work? Please leave a comment. I’d love to hear about it and I am sure others would as well.

– Max