Lifetime Contribution Awards
2017 Lifetime Contributor ~ Sandy Bradley
Sandy Bradley of Raymond, WA, was the 2017 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award.
Sandy exemplifies the power of inclusion and collaboration in developing and nurturing dance communities and high-quality musical talent. She, along with stellar old time musicians, brought about Seattle's trad square dance revival, and she developed a welcoming, supportive and appreciative dance culture that still characterizes the Northwest scene today. A superb caller of squares and a superb old time musician, she greatly influenced many callers across the U.S. through her tours, teaching at camps, and her weekly live radio program.
She was honored at the Award celebration on Saturday, September 16, 2017 in Seattle, WA.
Read more about Sandy in the Summer issue of the CDSS News. And check out http://stickerville.org/potluck/, the web home for the recording, graphics, MP3s, liner, notes and all the calls for Sandy's calling recording: Potluck and Dance Tonite. Also of interest is an interview with Sandy conducted by Bob Dalsemer at the 2009 Dare to Be Square event in Seattle.
2018 Lifetime Contributor ~ Bill Alkire
The Country Dance and Song Society is pleased to announce that Bill Alkire of Wooster, Ohio is the 2018 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. Bill has positively impacted the world of American traditional dance for over 70 years as a dance leader, organizer, choreographer, and mentor.
On Sunday, February 25, 2018 there will be a celebration in honor of Bill’s award. This open-to-the-public occasion will be held in Wooster at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Wayne County. The award presentation will begin at 2:00 pm followed by a dance until 5 pm with invited callers leading contras, squares, mixers, and English country dancing for all.
The following letter was written by Susan English who is organizing Bill’s award celebration. You can learn more about this event at www.woosterdance.com/lifetime-award and RSVP by contacting Susan at email@example.com. Read on to learn more about Bill’s remarkable contributions to traditional dance throughout his life.
At age 15, Bill was leading play party dances for his Methodist Youth Fellowship in central Ohio. When they danced in the barn of Lynn Rorbaugh, Bill learned more about dance leadership. He called his first public square dances while still in high school and worked his way through Ohio State University by teaching dance throughout the Columbus area. He served on the committee of the Ohio Folk Festival for several years, serving as General Chairman in 1950, when over 3,000 people participated.
Attending Berea Christmas Dance School for the first time in 1948, Bill discovered new dance forms, including contra dance, English country dance, and Appalachian clogging, which he subsequently introduced to dance communities across Northeast Ohio and beyond. Bill returned to Berea Christmas Dance School multiple years on staff, teaching traditional squares, Appalachian clogging, beginning English, and dance leadership.
After a 1979 visit to Black Mountain, North Carolina, he founded the Cedar Valley Cloggers of Wooster, Ohio, a black-shoe traditional performance group that continues today. As artistic director, Bill adapted a broad range of traditional figure dances to clogging performances.
Bill has served on staff at Pinewoods, Mendocino, Dancing Bears of Alaska, Michigan Dance Heritage, Kentucky Summer Dance School, Cumberland Lakes, and, in 1994, the Silkeborg Festival in Denmark. From Kentucky Summer Dance School he received an appreciation award for his service from 1982-1986. Bill was the American dance leader for many years at Oglebay and Maine Folk Dance Camps, Folklore Village, and at various Recreation Leaders’ Labs--Great Lakes, Chatco, Black Hills, Northland, Laurel Highlands, and Buckeye. For his lifetime service to Buckeye Leadership Workshop, he received an Emeritus Award in 1998.
At home in Wooster, Ohio, Bill prepared a generation of youth for square dance and square dance calling competitions at the Ohio State Fair. He called contra dances starting in the 1950s, and his monthly old-time square dance ran continuously for 50 years. After 2000, Bill co-founded the intergenerational program at Terpsichore’s Holiday and performed “Minuet to Macarena,” a revue of couple dance 1800 to present, from the Wheatland Music Festival to the Atlanta Waltz Society.
As a former mental health professional, Bill sees cooperative group dance as a key to healthy relationships and vibrant communities. Over the years, aspiring dance leaders have turned to him not only for his expertise but also for his philosophy of dance. Though currently not in good health at near 90 years old, he was still passing it on to the next generation well into his 80s.
Note: Photos on this page courtesy of Susan English.
2016 Lifetime Contributor ~ Jeff Warner
The Country Dance and Song Society presented the 2016 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award to Jeff Warner of Portsmouth, NH. Jeff is one of the nation's foremost performers and interpreters of traditional music and an advocate for bringing folk music to people of all ages, through his deep knowledge and love of American and English folk songs. His warmth and encouragement of singers, both experienced and new, young and old, has enriched many lives.
Jeff grew up in New York City, listening to the songs and stories of his father, Frank Warner, and the traditional singers his parents met during folksong collecting trips through rural America. When traveling with his parents, he listened while they recorded the locals who remembered the old songs of their region and community. (These recordings are preserved in the Library of Congress.)
In the 1960s, after receiving a BA in English at Duke University, and after a two-year stint in the Navy, Jeff was editor-in-training at Doubleday Bookclubs, heading, it seemed, toward a literary career until a friend asked if he would help run a nonprofit music school, the Guitar Workshop, in Roslyn, Long Island. He stayed with the school for nine years, working as administrator, guitar teacher, grant writer, and community program coordinator, and learning music theory and arrangement by teaching. His position also helped put him in touch with the significant people involved in the post-WW II folk revival movement that was embraced by both the commercial and academic worlds. In the '70s, he left to carve out a career for himself in historical music. Because of the US Bicentennial there was an increased demand for American songs in schools and Jeff filled that need with outreach programs into the schools.
He says that he is not a traditional singer in the academic sense-someone who has acquired the traditions either through ethnicity or family ties-but refers to himself as a singer of traditional songs taking an historical approach to the music.
"I teach American history and culture through traditional song and" (borrowing a phrase from historian David McCullough) "making history as interesting as it really was." For Jeff, old songs are like archaeological objects which teach about history — "they're living historical artifacts that serve as evidence about the people who used them and the times they lived in."
In 1997, he moved to Portsmouth and began performing in New Hampshire schools as a Roster Artist through the State Arts Council. He has recorded for Flying Fish/Rounder, WildGoose (UK), and other labels. His first solo compact disc, recorded in 2005, is Jolly Tinker on Gumstump Records. His 1995 recording (with Jeff Davis), Two Little Boys, received a Parents' Choice Award. He is the editor of his mother's book, Traditional American Folksongs from the Frank and Anne Warner Collection (Syracuse University Press, 1984), and producer of the CD set Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still: The Warner Collection (Appleseed Recordings, 2000), which is comprised of his parents' field recordings. He appears on the NH State Arts Council's 2003 compact disc Songs of the Seasons, for which he also co-wrote the liner notes.
From 1979 to 1993, Jeff toured nationally for the Smithsonian Institution. He continues to travel extensively in the US, Canada, and the UK, performing at museums and historical societies, folk clubs and folk festivals. In addition to singing and storytelling, he plays concertina, banjo, guitar, and several "pocket" instruments, including bones, spoons, and the jig doll/limberjack.
He is past president of the Country Dance and Song Society, and a past officer and founding member of the North American Folk Alliance (now Folk Alliance International). He has been an artist for Virginia and Ohio Arts Councils, is a speaker for New Hampshire Humanities, and is a producer of the Portsmouth Maritime Folk Festival. In 2007, he was named a NH State Arts Council Fellow.
Listen to him sing Baldheaded End of the Broom from Jolly Tinker.
The award was presented in Ashland, OR, on Saturday, October 22, 2016. You'll find details here.
We're thrilled to honor the many accomplishments of Jeff Warner.
Brad Foster: A Calling Career — Interview by Tom Kruskal
Brad Foster, CDSS’s Executive and Artistic Director Emeritus, is a 2015 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. He was interviewed by musician, dance teacher and longtime friend Tom Kruskal who himself was a recipient in 2010. Their conversation was held on June 27, 2015, at Brad’s home in Shutesbury, Massachusetts.
- CDSS Leaves New York City
- Major Achievements at CDSS
- Berea Christmas Country Dance School
- Calling Career
- The Present and Future
TK: So let’s talk about the move to Northampton [in 1987], and the early years there.
BF: One funny story about the move. Steve Howe wasn’t working in the office yet. He’d started working for me at camp part-time, and he had been doing stage management for the Theater for the Deaf and knew a lot about packing trucks from his tours with them. When it came time to move, we offered to help move the office staff who were going with us by putting their personal belongings in the same truck with the office gear. So we had this tour where we went to various people’s houses. Steve walked into the first one, looked at the pile of stuff, and said, “Two feet.” I didn’t know what that meant. Then we went to someone else’s house with more stuff, and Steve said, “Four feet,” and I still didn’t know what that meant. Then he looked at the office and he figured out the size of truck we needed. “Two feet” meant two feet of floor depth in the truck from floor to ceiling and wall-to-wall. And he was right! He knew how to estimate from his job as stage manager.
TK: So Steve was quite involved in the move, then, getting the truck?
BF: He was involved in the move; he didn’t join our year-round office staff until about a year after we moved up there. He was just summer help before that. Caroline Batson and Aithne Bialo-Padin moved with the office; they and I were the only ones who moved with the office to Northampton. Steve joined us a little later. Aithne stayed a couple of years, and then moved on to other things.
BF: Several years after the move we wrote new bylaws—Genny [Shimer] felt the Society needed a clearer structure—and we incorporated in Massachusetts, merged that organization with the New York corporation, and went through all sorts of legal this-and-that.
Around that time, we started [our programs at] Buffalo Gap. People down in West Virginia were saying. “There’s this great camp. Why don’t you come down here?” We did it partly because Pinewoods was so full. The English and American Week and the Family Week that started then still go on, because Timber Ridge is really the continuation of the Buffalo Gap programs. But just about when we started Buffalo Gap, we suddenly hit a downturn at Pinewoods. I remember when we started the Finance Committee meetings at your place, we had a couple of years of losing what seemed a lot of money in our terms.
TK: In my first meeting [as Treasurer ] there was a big blowup about our losing money and our need for financial controls. That’s why we created the Finance Committee.
BF: We did lose money for a couple of years and then we essentially regained everything we’d lost within a few years after that. It’s funny looking back at that, because we worked really hard at our finances, but it’s hard to say whether the improvement was due to our work or simply due to other factors bringing the campers back.
TK: Well, maybe the financial controls helped; they at least let us know what was going on.
TK: I wanted to get your sense of what you feel your major achievements have been, from moving the Society out of New York and making it more national. I think that clearly happened, to some extent.
BF: I agree; I think it happened as well. Later on, people had a different idea of what they wanted “national” to mean, but considering that I started with an organization that was focused on New York City and Pinewoods, I feel that we were very successful in becoming visible in a larger part of the country. A lot of what I did was to push support for groups—grants, liability insurance—to groups all over the country to help them grow. Encouraging the Family Week in California to get started, supporting it financially for several years to get it off the ground. Growing membership, becoming less ingrown. Those were the things I worked on. Also expanding camps. At its peak, we went from seven weeks at Pinewoods, when I started, to nine with the addition of two weeks at Buffalo Gap, plus three more at Ogontz, including a storytelling week. Then we went back to two at Ogontz, then one at Ogontz, and then [a combined] one at Timber Ridge. And now six at Pinewoods—that happened after my time.
TK: When you first started in Northampton you had a small staff, essentially no committees. So how did things change?
BF: In the move from New York, the old committees disbanded and only some were reformed immediately. The first committee that came up was Bylaws. The next was Finance, because we had the short term financial loss. Staff slowly grew. The office work grew. In New York we had one computer. Gene and Susan Murrow brought in the first CDSS computer, and we used that for a long time. It was a CPM Vector Graphics machine. Then, around the time we moved to Northampton, we migrated to a single DOS based PC. But it was just one computer. A board member from Michigan asked, “How can you get by with only one computer?” I hadn’t thought about it, we all just struggled to get computer time. But soon after we added one more, and one more....
TK: From the outside, it seemed like a slow, steady building. It’s interesting to me how organizations grow. In some ways it’s easy to grow, and it’s harder to shrink, or stop growing, because it feels like failure. But things can end up changing in ways that actually don’t work.
BF: There were times when I thought my role was to be a “brake.” Ideas would come through that were often good ideas, but their timing was wrong, or the speed at which people wanted to carry them out was wrong.
TK: I want you to talk about [the Christmas Country Dance School in] Berea [Kentucky] a little bit. You’ve been going there for a long time, and it’s an important part of your connection to the dance world. And it’s a different world.
BF: Yes, it’s a different world. So, Berea. In 1977 I got a ride across country with Stan Kramer22. My trip to Pinewoods that summer took me from California to Port Townsend, Washington for the first Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, then wandering back toward California and heading with Stan to Brasstown, North Carolina. Stan took me to the John C. Campbell Folk School and then up to Berea.
I got to Berea just in time to help tear down the Dodge Gym, which I never saw in operation. I don’t think I got back there again until I was Executive and Artistic Director. Berea had a tradition of having CDSS’s Director come on staff if he or she was a teacher. I think Jim had been there on staff, but the directors between Jim and me, who weren’t teachers, hadn’t. Genny had been teaching there, but she said that it was time for me to take over, and then she kept going anyway. In those early years, the ‘80s, I tended to do Berea for one or two years, then Brasstown’s Winter Week one or two years. Sometimes I’d do neither, so I wasn’t constant. Now things have changed—for the last ten years, or longer, I’ve been to Berea almost every year.
Berea reminds me of the [CDSS] dance weeks back in the ‘70s. It’s old home week: it’s a part of your family life and tradition to do it. Ogontz has turned into that for [my family] too; we go to CDSS’s Ogontz Family Week because it’s our family vacation.
TK: It’s interesting. CDSS has a lot of groups that are very different from each other. It’s not as if there’s a single model for anything. In a way, that makes it hard for the national organization to have a clear focus, because there are all these different groups doing all these very different things, and with very different needs.
BF: This is partly based on the stories I’ve heard about Gay (May Gadd), but I felt like she had an iron hand and made people do things the “right way,” her “right way.” There was an advantage to this in consistency, but its existence also meant it was harder for the groups that were different. When I came in as Director, one of my goals was not to have that iron fist. It wasn’t what the Society needed at that time; we needed to help all the different groups in their different ways, rather than to apply a single model.
TK: Let’s go back to your non-CDSS calling career. How did you get your gigs? Did you go out and seek them actively, or did people get your name through the grapevine?
BF: When I first started calling, I taught at community colleges, and I went looking for community groups that wanted dances. I also taught the class at U. C. Santa Cruz mentioned earlier. There weren’t many dance groups around hiring callers. I got involved in the international scene early on, and then, by the ‘80s, more dance groups existed, and I was able to start putting tours together. By the time I did my first tours of the Northwest, Penn Fix had moved back to Spokane, and had created this great newsletter in which he kept track of all the old-timey little dances up North. This gave me a list of contacts that I could use to set up a string of gigs. So I would put together a tour that would take me from Seattle to Spokane and out to Idaho and back again.
TK: You would write the organizers and say, “I’m going to be in the area. If you’re interested, I would love to put a tour together?”
BF: Yes. And I also started getting hired for weeks and weekends. Creating Mendocino English Week made me much more visible. First I started the Mendocino Camp and taught there. Soon thereafter, I got hired to teach at Family Week and English & American Week at Pinewoods. Just before I became CDSS Director I was asked to be Program Director for Family Week. Once I started with CDSS, I programmed about one week a summer, sometimes two. But programming was a big part of my job. When Buffalo Gap started, I was already scheduled to run a week at Pinewoods, and I also ran the first English & American Week at Buffalo Gap.
TK: One unusual aspect of your success with this career is your ability to handle both the artistic and the administrative sides of the job.
BF: Sometimes it was hard to juggle the two.
TK: And of course, doing Pinewoods was part of the job. That was Gay’s model.
BF: It was Jim’s model too. Back then the [NYC] office would shut down [during the summer]. Gloria Berchielli and some others would come by to pick up the mail, but no sales took place unless they were handled from Pinewoods. In my early days it was easy for me to leave my administrative tasks and go off on tour without having to think about CDSS while I was gone. Ten years later, CDSS work came with me on the tours.
TK: So, about your parallel career as a caller…
BF: Oh, yes. I feel like the things that brought CDSS to hire me were a mixture of my camp administration experience and my teaching ability. I’m not sure we all agreed on what I was supposed to do with that teaching ability. One board member said that being director would be a big boost for my teaching career. I thought that my teaching career was a big boost to CDSS.
TK: What about your English dance teaching? Presumably there was more of that when you became CDSS Director. And as you said, the number of groups grew, so that there were more groups wanting somebody to come in and teach.
BF: By the time I became CDSS Director I was a fairly accomplished English caller and contra caller, good enough to teach the advanced dance in NYC and to be on staff at CDSS adult dance weeks, but there were fewer places that would hire someone calling English. So I did more contra dance calling than English calling, but often did it with people who played English, like Laurie Andres and Cathy Whitesides. Of all the people I toured with, I toured with Laurie and Cathy more than with anybody else. Sometimes we’d be booked for an English dance and sometimes it would be a contra. As time went on, I got hired more for English. There had been an explosion of contra dance callers, and there weren’t nearly as many English callers available.
TK: That’s still true.
BF: Now I do primarily English country calling and the odd, rare, contra. It feels like the whole thing is just totally the opposite of what it was when I started. And when I call contras, it tends to be at community events with both English and contra.
TK: In the early years, did you ever consider that calling might be a way to make a living?
BF: Yes, I called for my living for a while in Santa Cruz. What that meant was that I lived really cheaply. I lived incredibly cheaply, and I earned very little from teaching. That’s when I had my international class and my English class on the UC campus and I taught at a community college and did the odd dance, but it’s hard to call that a living. By the time I was up in the Bay Area, I was teaching a lot all over the place. I would call at Berkeley and Stanford twice a month each, and I would do these private parties. I realized that I could have turned that into a livelihood, but it would have meant being on the road constantly. Even then I didn’t want to do that.
TK: When I started in the dance world, I did notice the big explosion in the ‘70s, and the increased number of people who were trying to make a living from both calling and music. I think the musicians were a bit more successful, perhaps, with that than the callers were. There were more venues for the musicians, and they could do concerts as well as dances.
You’re famous for your stories, and I’m wondering if you have some favorite ones you could tell. Does anything come to mind?
BF: We were talking about May Gadd. I had this image, possibly from something Ellen said, of this woman doodling while she taught, and ever since my impression of May Gadd has been “a rumpety tump, a rumpety tump.” Years later I was out canoeing with [my wife] Barbara [Russell] on Long Pond at Pinewoods, and we ran into some middle-school age kids. It turned out they were relatives of Steve Howe’s from across the pond. They asked where we were from and we replied Pinewoods Camp. Their reaction was, “Oh, you’re the “tiddely pommers!” [Both laugh.] The way camp is situated, C# [pavilion] is fairly well sound-isolated from the lake, but there’s a low spot that goes right through to the Point on the Conants’ property, heading right straight toward Ashanti [the Howe family cottage across the pond]. That’s what they’d hear at night, the “rumpety tumps,” but they called them “tiddely poms.”
TK: What about those early square dance days you were talking about?
BF: I learned squares—my western patterns called squares—from that fellow “John the bass player.” He’d call a full night of squares—the Virginia Reel plus four or five squares, a lot of polkas and a lot of gaps in between. People mostly bounced around and didn’t pay much attention to the caller. One of the first calling skills I developed was “patience.” It was the only way to survive that.
Then I went out and visited Duke Miller and fell in love with his sing-songy style of calling contras and singing squares, so I taped them and came home. But in my early days I couldn’t find any bands that would play the music for me. So I started doing just patter-call squares. Later on I shifted, so by the time I became Executive and Artistic Director I was pretty much doing New England squares and very little patter-call anymore. And I would do some singing contras too. Duke Miller sang Petronella and Money Musk and others.
I found out that Peter Barnes23 had also gone to the same dances I did, and had in his head the same Duke Miller sound, and we would set it up to do a duet. It was fun to do. I’d start at the microphone and would teach it and then sing it. A little while later I would still be there standing in front of the microphone but Peter would start singing and people would think it was still me. Then suddenly we’d shift into harmony. Peter always did the harmony; I couldn’t sing harmony when I was also trying to call. The people were really confused. “Where did that second voice come from?” We did that for a while, especially with Money Musk.
TK: Tell me what you are doing now.
BF: I’m still quite connected to CDSS—I was in the office just two days ago. In my new work as Executive Director of 1794 Meetinghouse, I organize summer concerts, and CDSS is helping sponsor three of our folk concerts amidst a whole summer of all kinds of music. I recently went to a Centennial fundraising party at Sukey and Rhett Krause’s house—it was really an Ogontz reunion. Because I like what CDSS is doing, and because I wanted to be a good role model, I publically got out my checkbook: I wanted people to know that we give too.
I also run a new dance program called New London Assembly. It’s somewhat ironic. For years CDSS has been putting on an Early Music Week, even though early music is not directly connected to CDSS’s mission. Meanwhile, Amherst Early Music Festival, which is an early music program, now is putting on an English Country Dance Week, even though English country isn’t directly connected to their mission. That’s in part because people on both boards, like Pat Petersen, suggested I lead an English program at their summer festival.
So I’m leading it now, and watching the dancers at New London reminds me of the old days. Back in the ‘70’s at the CDSS dance weeks at Pinewoods, I felt there was a culture of respectful learning, of coming to a dance and being quiet and listening to what the teacher had to say. And people had a fairly long attention span. As time has gone on, there’s been more chatter, less attention paid to the teacher, and it’s become harder to teach style. I realize I’ve contributed to that change, doing things like learning to teach quickly and trying to make English country dance more welcoming to newcomers, but that has also played into the modern culture of short attention spans. New London is different. When I started New London Assembly, it was outside the norm—it just wasn’t a place anyone normally went for English country. By chance, we attracted dancers who were all respectful listeners, and so we have been able to work on style in a way that is often hard to do at other camps. At New London, people come to learn. It's not just recreation. So I go to New London, and it’s like a blast from the past, and I can teach differently there than I do elsewhere.
And that is my life now. I continue to run New London Assembly, to direct the 1794 Meetinghouse, and I’m doing nonprofit accounting locally for a number of small nonprofits. I also travel to teach, when I can, while also trying not to be gone too much from home—I love being home with my family. We still go to CDSS’s Ogontz Family Week whenever we can, and I’m often on staff. And the same is true with Berea’s Christmas Country Dance School. And we try to get to something at Pinewoods—I’ve been going there almost every summer for the last forty-four years, only missing two so far. All of this is a big part of my past, and a big part of my present and future too.
TK: Okay, this is good. I have my work cut out for me writing this out.
BF: Thank you, Tom.
CDSS thanks Tom Kruskal for interviewing Brad, Nancy Boyd for transcribing, and Sharon Green, Pat MacPherson and Caroline Batson for editing. Also thanks to Deborah Kruskal et al. for creating the Award party for Brad on October 24, 2015, in Athol, Massachusetts.
The Country Dance and Song Society, founded in 1915, is an education and arts service nonprofit for dancers, musicians, singers, callers and organizers, specializing in the dances, music and songs from English and North American traditions.
22 An original member of the Bay Area’s Claremont Country Dance Band (which worked closely with Brad Foster in the late 1970s), Stanley Kramer still plays violin with the Nonesuch Country Dance Players, Bangers and Mash, and other bands.
23 Contra and English country dance musician Peter Barnes currently plays in the Latter Day Lizards, Bare Necessities, Big Bandemonium, Dark Carnival and Yankee Ingenuity; he also teaches, records, publishes music books, composes and crafts wooden whistles. He lives in Massachusetts.
Brad Foster: A Calling Career — Interview by Tom Kruskal
Brad Foster, CDSS’s Executive and Artistic Director Emeritus, is a 2015 recipient of the CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award. He was interviewed by musician, dance teacher and longtime friend Tom Kruskal who himself was a recipient in 2010. Their conversation was held on June 27, 2015, at Brad’s home in Shutesbury, Massachusetts.
- Getting Started In Dancing—The Mary Judson Years
- College Years in Santa Cruz and Berkeley
- Founding the Mendocino Country Dance Camps and the Bay Area Country Dance Society
- Moving East—Joining the Country Dance and Song Society
TK: Why don’t we go through your dance career chronologically. I know remarkably little about your time in Southern California with Mary Judson1, before Berkeley, so I would just love to hear how you got connected with her, and with your peers who were around, like Lydee Scudder2, and Mary’s kids Molly and Ellen. How did that happen?
BF: When I was in middle school, just before I went into high school, I was in a high school play, and at the end of the play some of the cast invited me to go to “The Museum.” I thought they were crazy because I thought they were talking about going to an art museum, and it was already after 9:00 PM when a museum would have been closed. The Museum turned out to be a folk dance café, and I fell in love with that.
The Museum also was where Mary Judson taught. Through folk dancing I met Lydee and then her sister Alice, and Mary’s daughter Ellen, all of whom were in my high school. Through Ellen and The Museum, I then met Mary, who taught English country dancing there and around town. I started dancing regularly, rode my bike to all the events that I could go to. And I did a little bit of dancing in school too. I remember Ellen teaching me some morris dance figures out in the courtyard of our high school. I even got assigned the role of calling a dance for a school performance. It wasn’t really calling because everybody knew the dance; calling was just part of the performance. But I think that assignment set the stage for my calling later on. So through the four years of high school I did English country and international folk dance, and a group of us always went to the Southern California Renaissance Faire and performed. Sometime during those years I met you, Tom, but I can’t remember where or when. I know I was up in Berkeley once or twice, but you also came down to do a workshop at one time. Then in 1971, just before my senior year in high school, I wandered across the country and ended up at Pinewoods3 on visiting day! I came as a visitor, but somebody (I assume it was Mary Judson) had made arrangements for me to stay, and so I stayed the rest of the week.
TK: But you’d heard about Pinewoods. Mary had been coming with her kids.
BF: Yeah, Mary had been coming with her kids. Ellen had told me all sorts of stories about Pinewoods, about May Gadd 4, and the bush patrol. [Here Brad puts on a high pitched “May Gadd” voice:] “Rumpety tump!” 5 I’d been visiting Alice and Lydee Scudder at their grandparents’ house in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, where I first ran across Duke Miller6 and that style of contra dancing. Alice was heading down to the Cape to visit relatives so she drove me to Pinewoods and dropped me off. That was an unusual summer—there I was from this private high school in Pasadena, with three of my school friends—Ellen, Patty [Haymond], and Pam [McGrill]—also there.
TK: So then, what about college?
BF: Like most of my friends in Pasadena, when I finished high school I wanted to escape and go somewhere else. I looked at Prescott College in Arizona and some other places but ended up choosing U. C. Santa Cruz. I wanted to study natural history, but they also had an international dance program. I saw you in that period, too, because Santa Cruz was close enough for me to occasionally get to your dance in San Francisco.
In Santa Cruz I took dance classes and I also, rather quickly, got a job teaching folk dancing. The regular folk dance teacher, Marcel Vinokur7, who came over the hill from Palo Alto to teach, took a sabbatical soon after I arrived—so in his absence I stepped in and taught. My first class was in international folk dance, but it quickly got turned into an English country dance class. I would come up to San Francisco to go to your dances and record the music and bring it back. There was also a square dance caller who I knew as “John the bass player.” I never learned his last name. He had learned his square dances from the pastor of a church in Oakland, who had learned them somewhere in the Midwest. John called squares with a bluegrass band, but then he graduated and left, and so I filled his gap too. That was the beginning of my square dance calling.
TK: So did you have any contact at all with CDSS National during that time?
BF: Well, I certainly knew about CDSS. I’d been to Pinewoods already, and they were the source of dance books and records. I also remember getting big scholarships—this was later on, when I was coming as a camper in 1975—to come to camp, and I ended up spending about as much as I would have on the camp fees buying books because I had no dance library. I may have first met Jim Morrison8 at Pinewoods; I know that I saw him there in 1971, because that was the summer he and Marney got together. Jim was from Oakland; I can’t remember if I met him in California before I went to Pinewoods, but by the time I knew him, he was working in the CDSS office. In 1974, I wrote to him at the office, hoping to come to camp. That was the year Pat Shaw9 came, but my letter to Jim got lost, and by the time I figured out what had happened, camp was full and there was no way for me to get in, so I went to Stockton Folk Dance Camp 10 instead. You had been to Stockton.
TK: Yes. I left California in 1974; I’d taught at Stockton maybe in 1972, and Nibs Matthews11 had been there the year before me.
BF: And Nibs was supposed to come back in 1974, but he cancelled, and Bob Parker12 came and basically took all of Nibs’s notes and tried to figure out what Nibs meant so he could teach from Nibs’s material. (Laughs)
TK: Yeah, I came the year after Nibs, sort of as a follow up to Nibs. Not a particularly successful gig for me.
BF: That’s when you were using Chuck Ward’s13 double-tracked harpsichord recordings, the 45s?
TK: Yes, right. Chuck set all that up for me.
BF: He said he’d been supposed to record the tunes with Lea Brilmayer14, but right when the recording was supposed to happen she went off to Mexico. So the recording was double tracked with harpsichord and harpsichord.
TK: At Stockton we had to provide a set curriculum with recorded music and printed sheet music, and we had to have discs to sell. When I left California in 1974, Chuck and I decided you should teach, and we asked you. Where were you at that point?
BF: Well, I started at U. C. Santa Cruz in 1972, and I lasted about a year and a half, and then started a long process of transferring to U. C. Berkeley. I stayed in Santa Cruz and taught dance and did carpentry and gardening, and then in 1975 I transferred up to Berkeley, just after you left. I finished Santa Cruz, moved to Berkeley, and took over your dance. A couple of years later Nick Harris, who had been running the Stanford contra, graduated and left, so I took over his contra dance too.
TK: Tell me something about the Bay Area Country Dance Society. It’s gotten all built up now, but what was it like then? How much of that growth were you there for?
BF: When I came on the scene, you had your dance. The story I tell is—this is one of those stories that I’m not sure is true—but what I remember hearing is that you met every week on Sunday, with a very tiny crowd, and the dance stayed like that until the crowd finally got big enough, and then you switched to once a month.
TK: Is that right? I don’t remember that.
BF: And then you moved it from San Francisco across the Bay to Berkeley because Chuck found a different hall. Then I came in and switched the dance to twice a month, and it has stayed pretty much like that ever since. Your dance, which later became my dance, was the only English dance for a while. At some point before 1975 Nick Harris started the contra dance at Stanford, and a few people did traditional style squares as well. At some point I met a fellow whose grandmother was connected to the dance department at Stanford University. He told me that May Gadd used to come out once in a while to teach at Stanford . But as far as I can tell, her visits had no lasting impact; nothing grew out of them.
So, in 1975 I took over your English dance, and I started a short-lived contra in Berkeley; I later started another contra in Berkeley and an English dance at Ashkenaz15 that didn’t last very long. I started something in an art center on a pier in San Francisco. Meanwhile, Bruce Hamilton16 moved to Palo Alto and started an English dance in San Jose. Bob Fraley moved to the Bay Area and started the first English dance in Palo Alto. So, things started cropping up. Kirston Koths moved in and started a Berkeley contra that kept going, unlike mine. When my contra in San Francisco failed to keep going, Charlie Fenton started another one in California Hall—that dance moved out to St. Paul’s on the West End and has been going for a long time. It just felt as if a couple years after you left everything exploded, and suddenly there were all sorts of new people. The same thing happened when I left—as soon as the vacuum was there, all these people filled it, and lots more stuff happened.
TK: I assume the Bay Area group now has a board of directors and an organizational structure that wasn’t there when you left, or had that started?
BF: I feel like I created that. You had a single English country dance in San Francisco, run by you, Chuck Ward, and Nora Hughes, and that was the English Folk Dance Society of San Francisco (or some similar title).
TK: Yeah, we had some official structure. We might have even been a CDSS Center.
BF: Yes, you were a Center17, and you were very early in getting onto the nonprofit group exemption. I learned all that later when I became CDSS Director. But I think you had no appreciable organization, no bank account then.
Then, in 1979, I was hired to teach English country dancing at the Mendocino Folklore Camp, an international folk dance camp held at the Woodlands in Mendocino. I loved it so much that, with my first wife Jenny, in 1980 we created the English dance camp at Mendocino. In 1981 we added the American week. After the first year began, we started thinking that there should be an organization. That’s when we created BACDS, and we merged the earlier organization, the English Folkdance Society of San Francisco, into it, and also brought in any of the contra and English dances that wanted to join us.
Some people thought I was crazy to create BACDS. They said, “You created this camp. Why are you giving it to BACDS?” Even though at that time I had no intention of leaving California, I thought the camps and dances should have permanence, should be more than me, and so I created the board and all that.
I remember very early on talking the board into hiring me as the part-time paid administrator of BACDS. It was about a one-tenth time job. My first task was to learn how to do accounting, then to create an accounting system, and finally to figure out how we stood financially. A couple of months later, I came to a board meeting and said, “Well, I have two things to report. The first one is that I finished that task of putting a financial system in place, and I can tell you your financial standing. The second one is, ‘I quit,’ because I can show you that you can’t afford to hire me.” And it went back to being a volunteer organization. Even that little bit of time was more than BACDS could afford back in those days.
TK: Before we move on and launch into CDSS, is there anything else about your early career that you wanted to get in?
BF: I had learned morris dancing in high school before getting to Pinewoods, and learned more at Pinewoods. I think you taught some morris or sword at the dance weekends, too. When I moved to Berkeley, I started a morris team, the Berkeley Morris. We first met in what was then the Ho Chi Minh Park. I wanted to be the Ho Chi Morris Men but no one else would agree to that.
Then, starting around 1977, I began doing some small calling tours, and by 1980 I was doing bigger tours. In those days it was primarily contras and squares—English groups couldn’t afford to pay enough to cover travel costs. My first tours were on the East Coast, in New England, and then I started touring in northern California, plus a little bit of Oregon and Washington.
TK: So tell me about moving east, and how that happened. Jim Morrison had stopped working for CDSS and moved [to Virginia]. CDSS was struggling with a series of short-term Executive Directors.
BF: Gay [May Gadd] had been National Director for decades; I don’t remember exactly when she stopped. 1974-ish? Then Genny Shimer18 came in; she wanted to do it for only a year, but stayed maybe a year and a half. Next Jim Morrison stepped in for a couple of years, at which point he moved from New York City to Virginia but stayed on as Artistic Director, and Nancy White-Kurzman served as Executive Director for a couple of years. After Nancy, Bertha Hatvary came in as Interim Director and then was hired as Executive Director for a while. Bertha’s biggest strength was the newsletter and publicity. At some point they started looking for somebody new, and approached me. By then I had already been organizing lots of weekends, and had started and run Mendocino for a few years.
Then someone asked me if I’d like to work for CDSS. At first, I didn’t take it seriously. Meanwhile Jenny received a job offer from a school in Greenwich, Connecticut. I had graduated a few years earlier with a BA in Architecture from U. C. Berkeley, and was working as a draftsman in an architect’s office. In late 1982 a recession hit, and my architecture boss kept telling me he was going to lay me off. With the job at CDSS as a possibility, and Jenny’s solid job offer, we moved east. After we moved, I interviewed with CDSS, was offered the job, and began as the National Director on February 1, 1983. The job title was later changed to Executive and Artistic Director.
TK: Tell me about the scene at CDSS when you came into it, what your reaction was, who the mentors were there. I know Sue Salmons and Genny Shimer were there. John Hodgkin was Treasurer, right?
BF: Yes, John was Treasurer, Sue was Chair of the Executive Committee 19.
Sue worked so hard. In later years I realized she quietly had served as interim Executive Director in the many months between when Bertha Hatvary left and I came in. Sue never had the title, she never asked for recognition, but she came in every week and just made the office run. She was always there, working the phone all the time. I had a lot of respect for her energy and for what she wanted to do, even if I didn’t agree with all of her decisions or the methods.
So Sue was there, and Kit Campbell was office manager. Genny Shimer was also around; she was the quiet person on the artistic side. I had such reverence for Genny, for her teaching, and for her sense of where CDSS ought to go artistically. If I had a question on artistic matters I would go to Genny or possibly to Jim. I knew Jim better, but he lived a lot farther away.
[And] John was Treasurer. I learned an awful lot of nonprofit accounting from John. He also had a philosophy. When he was a young man getting into accounting, one of his bosses gave him a financial leg up and said don’t pay me back, just pass it on—give a similar gift to someone else when you can. That became a model for us at CDSS, one we couldn’t always follow. The idea was that we would support you now in the hopes that you would support someone else later, and we would just keep lifting people up.
TK: So by the time you’d been there three years or so, you were developing your own opinions about what things were working and weren’t, what the vision was or wasn’t, and what your vision might be. Tell more about that.
BF: I remember very early on, I told somebody that I was the director of CDSS, and he said, “Oh, you’re the New York Society.” That was this CDSS member’s image of what CDSS National did—it focused on New York City. And there was some truth to that. There was also Pinewoods, and some others might have said, “You’re the Pinewoods organization.” So there was Pinewoods, and then there were NYDAC (New York Dance Activities Committee20) and the Folk Music Club21, and also weekends at Hudson Guild in New Jersey, but the main focus was on New York City activities as a showcase for the nation. In my interview before I got the job, someone asked me what I thought of NYDAC and the Folk Music Club. I had already heard some mutterings and disagreements about what was going on with them, and I said, “Well, we’re a national organization. The local organizations should make their own decisions.” And I heard back “You can’t say that.” And I took that literally—I stopped saying it, but I didn’t stop thinking it.
When I came into the job, some people expected me to revitalize the English dance in New York City because I was a teacher as well as an administrator. But my focus for CDSS was national, and in my first ten years I used my contra touring, which I was doing quite extensively then, to get myself all over the country and to build up CDSS’s visibility and membership. The membership of CDSS grew rapidly, and perhaps doubled, in those years. CDSS went from an organization that had been largely English dance based, with some folk music and some contra dance, to one that grew particularly on the contra dance side, partly because I was all over the country calling contras but also because we were riding the wave of contra dancing that was sweeping the country.
Then our rent in New York doubled—our rent in this grungy top floor space in the garment district. So we looked all over New York City and found that, even at double the old cost, it was still the most reasonable place we could rent in NYC. Bertha Hatvary, who was still involved, said, “You should move Sales to New Jersey to save money because it’s cheaper.” She didn’t mean move the whole office out of New York City, just the sales department. Then, someone at our Leadership Conference in the South said, “This is crazy. Your rent is so high, come to where we are.” That started the whole brouhaha about whether we should move or not, which lasted a while. Eventually we did move [to Massachusetts]. I looked at it as a question of where we could find something we could afford that was close enough to serve Pinewoods, our major program. It was a big political hassle, moving.
TK: So it was an economic decision at its core. I remember you were interested in living somewhere else, and I know that Jim Morrison wanted to live somewhere else when he worked for CDSS. Back when he wanted to move, he had suggested moving the Society, but there was no question then that a move was going to happen. How much of the Society’s move from New York do you think was prompted by your wanting to move it out?
BF: I’m not sure what would have happened if Jim had not already tried to get CDSS to move [in the 1970s]. Jim tried and failed, but his attempt set the stage for another try. I wanted to move because my salary was so low compared to New York City costs. I had gone looking for a place around New York where I could afford to buy a house, and the closest was an hour and a half drive from the city. Everything was very expensive. So I wanted the move in a personal sense. I remember saying to Sue Salmons and Mary Judson that I couldn’t afford to keep being Executive and Artistic Director in New York and would happily help them find a new ED if CDSS preferred to stay in the city. So I was looking both for a cheaper place for CDSS and a cheaper place for me and for the staff, a place where the current salaries wouldn’t be so far out of line. They would be low instead of abysmal.
TK: The other aspect, of course, was that to make CDSS more of a national organization—a move from New York City to almost anywhere would potentially help.
BF: That’s true. Even though that wasn’t the main thing on my mind, I thought it wasn’t a bad idea either. CDSS had become ingrown and it needed to grow and change. Moving was one of the biggest ways to grow and change. We lost a number of members in New York City, but we gained many more new members elsewhere after the move.
1 Mary Judson brought English country dancing to Los Angeles in 1967. Her group, The Carol Dancers, became the center for English country dance in Southern California, and fostered the growth of future dance leaders Brad Foster, Bruce Hamilton, Gene Murrow, and Lydee Scudder, among others.
2 Lydee Scudder began dancing at age five at Duke Miller’s Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire, square dance. In her Pasadena high school, she persuaded the administration to let her teach folk dance as an alternative to PE, and introduced folk dancing to her fellow student Brad Foster. Lydee, her sister Alice, and Brad danced with teacher Mary Judson and performed at Southern California’s Renaissance Faire.
3 Home to CDSS summer programs since 1933; near Plymouth, Massachusetts.
4 Longtime director of CDSS and before that of the NYC chapter of the English Folk Dance Society which became CDSS; May Gadd died in 1979.
5 See explanation later in the interview.
6 Duke Miller was a high school football coach from upstate New York who called summer dances in southern New Hampshire from the 1950s until the late 1970s. Well known for his singing calls, Miller influenced many callers, including Brad.
7 Marcel Vinokur (1929-2014) was an international folk dancing teacher for over sixty years. A pioneering aeronautical engineer, he contributed to the manned space program, working at NASA Ames Research Center.
8 National Director of CDSS from 1975-1977 and Artistic Director for three years after that, Jim Morrison is a musician, caller, and display dancer. In 2014 he received CDSS’s Lifetime Contribution Award; he lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.
9 Choreographer, composer, musician, singer, and caller, Patrick Shuldham-Shaw (1917-1977) started English folk dancing in London at the age of six. In 1971 he was awarded the English Folk Dance and Song Society’s highest honor, its Gold Badge.
10 Founded in 1948, Stockton Folk Dance Camp is located at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and specializes in international folk music and dance.
13 Charles “Chuck” Ward, organist and pianist; in the 1970s, he, Tom Kruskal, and Brad Foster laid the foundations for the Bay Area Country Dance Society. Chuck is a 2009 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award recipient.
17 In the 1970s and ‘80s, there were two levels of group membership in CDSS: Centers, for the larger and more formally organized groups, and Affiliates for the smaller groups. It caused some confusion and the designation was later simplified to the single “Group Affiliate.”
19 Jeff Warner was President, Genny Shimer was Vice President, and David Chandler was Secretary; the four officers had comprised the Search Committee for the position of Director. Brad was officially hired after the January 1983 Exec meeting; he was in his second CDSS National Council term, and had programed CDSS’s Family Week the previous summer. His goals for CDSS, stated in his application for the job, were: “increased outreach to and communication with center/associates and members, as well as greater exposure among non-CDSS groups; increasing the membership of the Society by developing new ways to show its value and effectiveness for members; and quality programs at reasonable costs to participants as well as to the Society.” (Source: minutes of the CDSS Executive Committee meeting, January 17, 1983)
2010 Lifetime Contributor ~ Tom Kruskal
A TRIBUTE AND A CHRONOLOGICAL LOOK AT TOM’S DANCE AND MUSIC ACCOMPLISHMENTS
by Deborah Kruskal
Tom is known mostly among the dance community for his fifteen plus years of work with Great Meadows Morris and Sword. For those who don't know GMMS, it is a high school group consisting of several rapper teams, most of which exist for only three, four, or five years (such as the original Velocirapper). There is one team, Candyrapper, which has continued on for eleven years, changing members as seniors leave and freshman arrive. In addition the entire group practices morris together. Tom has also run Hop Brook Morris for twenty-one years, since our daughter, Lily, was ten.
But there are many other ways that Tom has contributed – some short lived, others still in existence. Here is a chronology of his various contributions, the events and initiatives that he has started in his desire to “give back” and to share his love of traditional music and dance. I have witnessed the birth of all but the first two of these endeavors. In writing about them, I find I cannot hide my total admiration for what he has done over all these years.
- Tom organized and ran the first Pinewood’s Morris Tour when he was a sophomore at Harvard (1965). He had just come back from England where he met and toured with the Chingford Lads and was totally enthralled with “the Morris”. He was determined to dance out here in Cambridge. So he gathered men from the Wednesday night morris class (which later led to the creation of an active side of the Pinewoods Morris Men) and danced throughout Harvard Yard. This is possibly the first public tour in this country, although Tom thinks a team called the Village Morris Men may have had a tour in New York City at about the same time. He had to go to Harvard’s Board of Overseers to petition for a permit to dance. As it was the beginning of the Vietnam riots, he somehow had to convince them that their group would be civilized. (He did not tell them that they danced with very large sticks!) The Harvard Tour has continued annually every fall since that date.
- After college, he moved to California. He knew Chuck Ward from Berea. Chuck and Nora Hughes wanted to start an English dance, so the three of them collaborated in starting the Bay Area Country Dance Society. Nora was the administrator, Chuck the musician, and Tom the caller. When he moved back east six years later, he urged the group to hire Brad Foster as his replacement.
- In 1975, having moved back to Cambridge, Tom became a Director on the original Board of Pinewoods Camp and acted as chair of the Management Committee for six years.
- After leaving his position on the PCI Board, he joined the CDSS Board as Treasurer, for a term of nine years. He remained on their finance committee for several years after that.
- In 1979, Tom and I found ourselves buying a very large house in Nantucket (it wasn't our original intention – we wanted a tiny cottage, which we found, but it came along with a fourteen-room house!). Nantucket was quickly seen, by Tom, as a perfect venue for a morris tour. So a year or two later we began Daffodil Weekend, though it wasn't on that date to begin with. The weekend was a family affair with the Pinewoods Morris Men, their wives (or girlfriends), and children all staying at our house (with a few in guest houses). It has been a favorite event of the team ever since, with children taking care of toddlers, who grew up to take care of the next round of toddlers. Each year PMM dances through the crowded streets of the town, followed by dancing in S'conset at the tailgate picnic of antique cars.
- In the early 1980s, Tom and Gerda Conant, who was the Pinewoods Camp Manager at the time, came up with the idea of Labor Day Weekend as a way to extend the season. The concept of camper-run activities in order to keep expenses down was so successful that it was used as a model for Camper's Week and First Weekend.
- In 1988, Lily was in the Christmas Revels. She loved it so much that Tom decided to start teaching morris at our Unitarian church, First Parish of Sudbury. It was a step to his real mission, which was to bring a Revels-type production by the children to a Sunday service in December. Complete with a longsword dance, Abbot's Bromley, and a mummer's play it was an outstanding success. This has continued as an annual event at First Parish and is thoroughly enjoyed year after year. The morris dancing continued as Hop Brook Morris and is a youth program of the church.
- Tom and I attended Family Week at Pinewoods annually from the time Lily was four. We felt the community created by dancing together was so special that we ran a monthly family dance in Lincoln for three years, with the help of Boston caller Rich Jackson. We arranged for childcare for the youngest, dances for the kids, a potluck dinner, and activities afterwards so the grownups could dance. It involved bringing over games, a TV, and videos, i.e. a lot of work!
In 1994, when one of the Hop Brook kids (David Fleischmann-Rose) insisted that Tom continue teaching after the eighth grade level, Tom decided to start teaching rapper. Our son, Peter, joined this group the following year when he started high school. The seven kids (six boys and one girl) became Velocirapper and wowed the community with its youthful energy. Their signature move was the forward unassisted flip. It was the first of many exciting rapper performances to come from GMMS.
- In 1995, Tom once again became a director on the Pinewoods Camp Inc. Board and served as Treasurer for nine years. He still is on its Finance Committee.
- In 1997, there were several youth teams practicing in the area. There was Banbury Cross in Brookline, for instance, which had been in existence since before Hop Brook. Tom and Peggy Marcus (whose two sons, Andrew and Aaron, danced on Velocirapper) decided to organize a morris ale for youth teams. Someone, I'm not sure who, came up with the brilliant name of the Ginger Ale. This is still an annual event, and is hosted by the various teams in rotation. In the spring of 2000, Tom decided to bring Velocirapper to the Sword Spectacular in Whitby, England, an event which occurred every four years. The youth team made a stunning impression on the Brits. Four years earlier Orion had raised eyebrows. And before that, New York City’s Half Moon Sword. Now the States were definitely being looked at with respect by the sword community.
- One of Tom’s major gifts is his ability to see opportunity. When Christmas Revels had their Appalachian performance in 2000, there was a sizable group of teens who did longsword dancing and clogging in the show (taught by Judy Erickson). The teens excited so many of the younger children and friends of the dancers that Tom decide to make a real push for recruitment. Hop Brook gained many members, while Great Meadows grew to five teams, with over forty kids. His approach was, and still is, to teach them the basics but then let them create their own dances. His guidance is minimal, but ready to step in when needed. When the kids first come into the group they think they are in charge and in control. By the time they graduate they realize that they could never have done it without Tom.
- Tom fell in love with the concertina when he first heard it on his trip to England in 1965. He became a master of playing for morris. Many had asked him for a lesson, so in 2002 he decided he would give a class. He bought four concertinas from the Button Box [in Sunderland, Massachusetts] and rented them out to the participants. This endeavor was not long-lived, but did have long lasting effects on some of the students.
- Spurred by the continuing enthusiasm of the teens in Great Meadows, Tom decided to undertake the Herculean task of bringing three teams – Beside the Point, Candy Rapper, and Slightly Green – to Whitby, England for the 2004 Sword Spectacular. This took a tremendous amount of planning: fundraising, transportation, hospitality, chaperones, and money accounting. To say nothing of convincing the parents that spending so much money for a weekend was completely worth it. The work that went into the endeavor was definitely worth it. Everyone came back excited about dancing and couldn't wait to go back.
- When the kids found out there was a competition every year called DERT (Dancing England Rapper Tournament), they insisted on going. Despite Tom's reluctance that this was not perhaps going to be as rewarding an experience, they persisted. They went, learned new figures, got recharged, and their enthusiasm and skill grew once again. In 2005, 2006, 2009, and 2010, Tom took one or more teams to DERT. One year, Beside the Point won the award for Greatest Buzz Factor. And in 2009, Candyrapper came first in their division.
- The teams have performed in this country as well – at NEFFA, the Marlboro Ale, and the New York Sword Ale. All these events did not fall in his lap. He pushed, convinced, and nagged until the various organizers agreed to accept underage participants. And then he found chaperones, drivers, and musicians...and dealt with all the consequences.
- At the end of every year Tom has a huge party where all the kids and their parents from age nine to eighteen come, play games, dance on the lawn, play music, and sometime clear out our barn for a contra dance. It is a great event to celebrate the dancers and for the kids and parents to thank Tom. He honors the seniors by giving each of them one of his silver rapper pins.
- Tom also spends the same amount of energy hosting other visiting teams. We have had many teams from England stay at our home with us and tour with Pinewoods Morris Men and whoever else is available. But one time stands out in particular because it was more than just housing a group of morris men. In 2006, NIFTY, a large dance performance team of kids from England, came over. It was mid-August, and they needed some place in this country to dance. They were already scheduled for Berea, but wanted another venue. They had a lead in Cleveland, but Tom thought they had to dance in the Boston area. He put together a four-day tour – complete with hospitality, transportation, meals, and venues to dance at, including dancing at Plimoth Plantation and an afternoon performance for English week at Pinewoods. (Again, through considerable persuasion he got permission to bring them to camp for a non- program event – the most memorable part of their trip was swimming in Long Pond after their performance). And this was all at an impossible time of year, when most people were on vacation.
- In Tom's last year on the Pinewoods Board he came up with another brilliant concept. Pinewoods [PCI] and CDSS were becoming increasingly aware of how difficult it was to attract young people to camp. With Tom's knowledge of their lifestyle, he realized that filling out an application months in advance and paying $800 plus for a week that they were unsure they would like was a large hindrance to them. He wondered why scholarships couldn't be given to under-subscribed weeks at camp at the last minute. This eventually led to the Next Generation Initiative, a scholarship program that would offer a free week on behalf of both CDSS and Pinewoods. The recipient would need to be someone under 30 and new to camp, ideally with leadership potential. This was tried out in 2007 and with modifications has been adopted by all the User Groups at Pinewoods. Each year, up to twenty or so young people are now introduced to camp.
- Also in 2007, Tom decided to create a day of multiple sword workshops. He called it the Sword Workshop Extraordinaire. He had the idea of a one-day event with seven or eight teachers, each doing two or three workshops simultaneously. He found a place, recruited the best teachers, publicized it extensively, and received sponsorship from CDS-Boston Centre. The event was repeated in 2008.
- And finally, DART – Dancing America Rapper Tournament. After so many years of bringing teams to England, the powers that be on that side of the pond convinced Tom to hold an event in the States. Over a year of planning with a committee of nine produced an exciting weekend of rapper dancing in Kendall Square, Cambridge. We had fourteen teams competing in four pubs, followed by a feast and more dancing. There were workshops on the following day. Three teams from the United Kingdom thoroughly enjoyed the celebratory feel of the weekend. Next year's DART is now in the planning stage.
- For thirty-three years, I have watched ideas hatch, seen them evolve – sometimes quickly, sometimes after simmering for years. Tom has always said, “Anyone can have ideas... it's making them happen which is hard.” That seems to be his amazing skill – to figure out how to make an idea a reality. He finds the right people to share his enthusiasm and momentum. He also says, “Half the battle is just showing up” – which he does, every Sunday. His schedule runs like this: 9:00 am church choir; 10:00-11:00 am, the service; 11:45 am-1:00 pm Hop Brook; 2:00- 5:00 pm (every other week) Pinewoods Morris Men; 4:45-7:00 pm, Great Meadows. Sometimes he comes home groaning, questioning why. Sometimes he's completely elated. But he continues on in a never-failing drive to create, develop, and sustain ways to share his love of traditional music and dance. I have been enlisted, I have joined in, but it has been his remarkable vision, energy, and ability to make things happen that has enabled all these ideas to come to fruition. When his kids perform, or when they leave for college – those are the only times I have seen him really moved – almost to tears. It is so rewarding for him to see the joy that he has known to be felt by them. It is, indeed, his ministry.
2010 Lifetime Contributor ~ Tom Kruskal
Tom playing his concertina: Ampleforth sword dance tunes "Morpeth Lasses" & "The Old Wife of Coverdale"
Morpeth Lasses (mp3)
Tom Kruskal's (mp3)
2010 Lifetime Contributor ~ Tom Kruskal
INTERVIEWED BY PAT MACPHERSON
Tom has had a very full life apart from English music and dance: running a successful jewelry business Tom Kruskal Designs, working with sculptor Dimitri Hadzi, designing stone fountains for fifteen years, visiting rock quarries, singing, and cooking.
To elicit the following interview, Pat MacPherson spent a wonderful evening talking and eating dinner with Tom Kruskal and his wife Deborah, who has been his sounding board and helpmate for his many projects. Two of Tom and Deborah’s young friends, Erika Roderick and David Fleischmann-Rose, stopped by at dinner time to add their voices to the conversation. Their freeform talk ranged from Tom’s youth to the present, circling around and eventually answering the question of what drives him to create as much as he has.
TOM: I went to the first University of Chicago Folk Festival in 1961.
PAT: Why did you go?
TOM: That’s a good question. I was interested in folk music already. The first instrument I bought was a banjo; I used Pete Seeger’s classic banjo book. I think it was the Kingston Trio or something that inspired me. This was before I was a freshman in high school, I think.
I made a mountain dulcimer, in high school. I went to the University of Chicago Laboratory School, which is kindergarten through high school and was started by Dr. Hutchins, and he had a lot of interesting ideas about education. It was a pretty rich environment. [Traditional singer and musician] Frank Profitt visited my school and gave a concert; I didn’t actually see him. And the shop teacher decided to make a project of making a dulcimer. So he took Frank Profitt’s dulcimer and modified it; and when I was thirteen I made a copy of his dulcimer in this shop project.
PAT: Nobody in your family had played folk music?
TOM: No folkies in my family, although my mother was a very gifted amateur classical musician and was very supportive. I was in a children’s choir that was very successful, which is an interesting story all onto itself. When I started in third grade, eight years old, I went to the first meeting of this choir. We had a new assistant minister at our church and he’d been in the Harvard Glee Club and he took it as his mission to start a children’s choir. So I came to the first meeting and it became a big thing. It turned into something called the Chicago Children’s Choir and de-affiliated from the church. Jody, my younger brother, was in it too. We sang with the Lyric Opera, with the Chicago Symphony, and hosted the Vienna Choir Boys. Chris Moore, the choral director, was a visionary and he would talk to us about what we were going to do and his eyes would bulge and he would get really excited. He didn’t talk down to us. He talked to us like we were important and we were going to do these things. He didn’t get along with adults too well; my mother thought he was nuts. I would come home and say we’re going to sing with the Lyric Opera, and she didn’t believe me.
That musical experience was really important to my life and also to my working with kids, I would say, the fact that I got so much from this guy. It’s a lot of why I’ve been willing to keep doing stuff with kids when my kids were no longer doing it.
PAT: So, you were in the choir and you bought a banjo, you went to this folk festival, and you heard what?
TOM: I heard old time music and Southern American music. I loved all this authentic stuff and it just got me. Doc Watson came to the second University of Chicago Folk Festival and nobody knew anything about him; he just came up with one of the invited bands. And then my grandmother, Lillian Oppenheimer, invited me to go to Christmas Country Dance School at Berea College in Kentucky. My grandmother was the founder of the Origami Society of America. She had some small connection to CDSS people because she went to Brasstown [John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina] a bunch of years and did origami with them. She was a real personality and she was a person who sponsored and attracted odd, talented people of all kinds into her life. There was this one guy, Alfonso the Great, a friend of my grandmothers, and he came and visited us at her house in Chicago. That made a big impression on me. I didn’t see his act because he threw knives around his assistant, but he did sleight of hand and magic. I was very impressed.
DEBORAH: I think that’s a funny story of how your grandmother took you to Berea.
TOM: My parents were going to a square dance. I had done some square dances in grade school, you know, when the recreation guy came with parties for kids, with a record player. I loved it. And my parents were going to this square dance at the faculty club. My father was a professor at the University of Chicago, and I grew up around there. And I wanted to go; I was maybe twelve. And I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t go. I was really upset that I couldn’t go. And my grandmother was either there at the time or heard about it and that’s why she invited me to go to Berea the next year. I was probably thirteen. And that was in 1962 or so. I graduated from high school in 1964. At Berea that first time, I took a morris class from John Ramsay, who was a student at the University of Iowa in Ames.
I was playing music with a group of friends in Chicago, because I did have my dulcimer at that point and we were playing in a little band with guitar, banjo, and dulcimer playing bluegrass, and when they heard I was going to Berea, they wanted to go too, so I had two friends with me. We came back home and I went and bought an accordion at Maxwell Street flea market for $25 bucks, because I wanted to do morris dancing. Because I was the only one who could play this thing and could play the morris tunes, my friend did Nutting Girl morris jig and we went and performed places. And I went to Berea every year through college.
The first year I was at Berea, Bicky [Beatrice] McLain was the bigwig there, and had brought back a tape recording from England that had just been made of William Kimber playing concertina and talking about meeting Cecil Sharp. I heard this and I totally fell in love with that sound. At Berea, I met May Gadd, Genny Shimer, and Chuck Ward; the New York crowd was there. Not so many Boston people.
The Pinewoods Morris Men was formed at Pinewoods Camp in 1963 when Nibs Matthews was over from England for a couple of years. And he said you guys dance fine; we should make you a team. So, PMM joined the Morris Ring and formed a team that didn’t really exist.
The first fall of my freshman year at Harvard was 1964 [class of '68], and I started going to English Wednesday nights and there was nobody my age. I started going to the morris class, which was held after country dancing, taught by Arthur Cornelius. They were very welcoming and they were glad to see someone young. And I struck up a really close friendship with Cajy [Renauld Cajolet] and we would go out drinking afterwards and stay up late talking and he would get in trouble with his wife. I was sixteen.
I went to Pinewoods for the first time on a Bolles scholarship, a full scholarship, to go to CDS- Boston’s July 4th weekend at Pinewoods Camp in 1965. It made a big impression on me, getting that scholarship. Parenthetically, that is one of the reasons why I am fixated on giving these full scholarships [New Generation Initiative scholarships] one time, to people. Not just needs-based, because there is something about getting a full scholarship to come and do something that is different.
After that first time at camp, of course, I loved it. And then I went to the CDSS weeks; I don’t know how I afforded it. There were two dance weeks and I went to both of them. I got hired on staff pretty early, probably the next year, to play accordion, and to do dulcimer for Folk Music Week. I was hired to play accordion because Phil Merrill, then CDSS’s musical director, wanted accordion players and especially wanted to encourage young musicians. I wasn’t really good. It wasn’t like it is now; now we’re lousy with great musicians. There were no musicians then; there were no young people; nobody! Well, maybe Gene Murrow.
So, I went to England that summer of 1965 with one of my friends from Chicago and Nibs gave me names and things to do. I was given an introduction to the Beaux of London City, one of the old morris teams in London, who took me around on their Thames Valley tour, with all the Thames Valley clubs. It was an epiphany for me. I said this is it! This is what morris dancing really is, clearly. It was a gas.
PAT: The thing that was a gas – what was that?
TOM: Just dancing out on the street in public, like that. The whole thing that morris dancing is; I loved it. I already liked the physicality of morris dancing and I liked the tunes, but then adding on this whole thing of the public theatre part of it was a revelation. The public theatre part of morris was totally missing in the U.S. at that point. It was done at the World’s Fair or as a performance on stage, but not out as public street theatre, where you are just out there, passing the hat.
When I came back to Harvard my sophomore year, that’s what I wanted to do. So I went to Art Cornelius and I said, I want to start a Harvard Morris Team and we’re going to do this tour. And he said, OK. So, I got my house, Dudley House at Harvard, to sponsor this, the Dudley House Morris Team. I had a flyer I had done and we had to get permission. It went all the way to the Harvard Board of Overseers, because this was 1965 and there were already problems with campus anti-war demonstrations; it was already an issue. So, of course, they were all Anglophiles, so I wrote about the English traditions, passing the hat, and I was told later by Archie Epps, the Dean of Students, that they all were amused by it; they gave us the permission. So we did the morris tour; it was a big success and we had a good time. The Dudley House Morris team never happened; no students were interested. I didn’t know how to organize something then. The tour itself was the Pinewoods Morris Men, who were the people from the Boston Centre class and a long time after that the Pinewoods Morris Men became a Boston-area team. It was maybe after I’d come back from California, maybe late '70s.
DEBORAH: When you came back from California you joined Black Jokers.
TOM: Pinewoods Morris team didn’t exist as a team; I joined Black Jokers in 1974. By 1975 or 1976, Pinewoods Morris Men had started trying to be a team. Other things had happened while I was in California. There was a huge folk revival and I was in California when that happened. I graduated in 1968, was in Madison, Wisconsin for a year while my first wife finished college, and then we went to California. And there may have been a folk revival in California but I wasn’t part of it. But here in Boston, there were hundreds of people coming to the English dance and whole contra dance scene, and there was lots of going on.
While I was in California, I co-started what became Bay Area folk dancing. You know that from the Chuck Ward article in the CDSS News. Chuck left Berea and got out to California a year before I did, and he got in with Madeline Green, who was the international dance leader, who then died, and Nora Hughes was her sidekick. Chuck wanted to start an English dance and he convinced Nora to help and he asked me if I would teach because I had just arrived from Boston. So, he had a deal with Stewart Smith, who was a Scottish country dance teacher, to use his studio in exchange for Chuck playing for his class. So we did an English country dance thing for a year or two there, then we danced at another spot and eventually moved to Berkeley. And when I left California in 1974 I turned it over to Brad Foster. So, Chuck and Nora did the work of getting the place to dance, and the organizing, and I taught and was the front person.
I would teach from books; pretty much just flying on my own. I’d gone to Pinewoods every year and bought the books – the Country Dance Book and Fallibroome and Apted. There was enough material, but not so much all the new stuff that there is now. I tried starting a rapper team but it didn’t ever fly. I taught some community dances at adult centers.
It wasn’t like the East coast, there wasn’t the same scene. I was also getting my jewelry business, which I started in 1969 in Madison, Wisconsin, going. I decided to do jewelry instead of getting a job. And I just went and bought a bunch of stuff.
DEBORAH: His major at Harvard was visual arts, and he was all signed up to start his Masters in Architecture.
TOM: I was about to go to the Graduate School of Design at Harvard and then I read the course catalog and I said I don’t want to do this. I dropped out before I started. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, ever since I was a little kid. When I was a really little kid, I decided I was going to have a circus, I was like five or six and so I went out in the streets and handed out tickets to people and one guy came and I did my circus. We tried raising hamsters; we got a breeding pair of hamsters and tried to raise them and sell them. These are all experiences that mold you. My grandfather’s business – Kruskal & Kruskal Furs – was the largest wholesale furrier in the '20s in New York. He was just the classic Jewish entrepreneur, starting with a pushcart and I used to love going there, see all the furs, and the business stuff.
PAT: The first thing I wrote down when I was thinking about what to ask you is “entrepreneurial spirit” and it just seems to be blasting out of everything you’ve done.
TOM: I get ideas and I like starting things; I like seeing where it will go. It’s usually nothing about making money, like the concertina lessons.
DEBORAH: Tell about the concertina lessons.
TOM: Well, it just struck me that that was a symbol of things I get myself into. For some reason, I get asked on and off if I can teach concertina. I’ve tried to give a few private lessons and I found that unsatisfactory so I’ve taken to saying no pretty much. I don’t like doing it. No one practices; they’re not serious. So I decided it was my duty, or something, that I should try to teach concertina to fill this need. People want to learn, they see the instrument, they like it, but the instruments are very expensive. So I came up with a plan: a six-lesson package deal, every two weeks, we’d meet, and I had five or six people, a class, and they would get an instrument to rent and six lessons. And then at the end, if they wanted, they could buy the instrument, or not.
DEBORAH: The concertinas were from The Button Box, in Sunderland, Massachusetts.
TOM: I put a lot of work into it, doing the lesson plan, and creating a book of tablature, and writing out tunes for people. I ended up with a CG and a GD class.
DEBORAH: Whenever Tom goes into these things, he goes in whole hog, a hundred percent. And he gets totally absorbed by the organizational part of it and his way of processing is by talking out loud, and bouncing it off people and I’m the “bouncee.” He is just intense and thorough. Lots of people have ideas but he makes them happen, which is what makes him unusual.
PAT: You have to be persistent, but you also have to have an analytical mind because you are creating a new system and you are asking, what is the system going to look like and what will make it successful.
TOM: That’s right. Organizing any of these things that we do, it is almost mathematical. You try to think of what it’s going to be like, plan it right, brainstorm ideas; there’s all the detail part which is important. There’s a lot to it.
PAT: So what happened with the concertina class?
TOM: Well, I did the two classes and they were semi-successful, but I didn’t repeat them. I was thinking I would, but I fueled most of the need of most of the people who had asked me. The classes were both full but I didn’t have a lot of people pounding on the door for more. And I didn’t find them as satisfying as I thought I would. People would skip a lesson; and it was way too good a deal, I wasn’t charging enough.
PAT: Another really good quality of an entrepreneur is knowing when to move on.
TOM: So a lot of these things don’t keep going. And in fact, things don’t have to keep going forever. A lot of things do but they don’t have to. I mean the sword workshops that I did a few years ago, those were successful. We decided not to do anymore. The third one coincided with Tony Barrand’s celebration day and so it was clear that we weren’t going to get anybody to come. And it did seem like there were no other opportune dates. And then I wanted to do DART too.
PAT: Do you want to talk about that process?
TOM: Well, I had been going to the English DERT, which stands for Dancing English Rapper Tournament, which has been going on for maybe twenty years now. It came out of an effort to raise the standard of rapper sword dancing and Phil Heaton was one of the main organizers. I had been going to the competition for the last four or five years, with my Great Meadows teams. They wanted to do it, so I went and helped them do it. I had to organize the trips, the plane fares, etc. which was an unbelievable task to try to get a bunch of teenagers and their parents to plan a trip and get the money, the permission slips, and all that. I like doing that kind of stuff, basically. It’s a thankless task; you just do it.
So Phil had been saying we should do DERT in America. I was saying, OK, I’ll do that. So he polled the English teams. DERT travels around a different town every time and so it would be in Boston, instead of in England. He thought he might charter planes and fly everyone over. But that wasn’t going to happen, so I just decided to do it anyway and we called it DART – Dancing America Rapper Tournament.
We started planning at least a year before the event, which just happened in October 2010. I formed a committee of a lot of Great Meadows people and representatives from every Boston area team that I could get. It was a really good committee. Deborah did the t-shirts with Rhett Krause. We had a treasurer; it was cosponsored by Great Meadows Morris and Sword and Boston Centre-CDS. CDSS gave us a grant, which we gave back because we did really well.
I was out there banging the bushes to get teams to come: we got three English teams – Thrales, Sallyport, and Mons Meg from Scotland, and altogether we had fourteen teams. There was a lot of undercurrent anti-competition feeling, although it was a competition. At DERT there are awards, prizes, judges, and stuff. We tried to really play that down; make it be a fun and supportive event, and I would say we succeeded. Everyone who came had a really great time with universally positive response from the dancers.
The English teams loved it; they thought it was much more celebratory than the one in England. We picked up on the format from DERT of dancing in pubs, so we got four pubs right close to Kendall Square [in Cambridge Massachusetts] to agree to this. So there are two judges in each pub and each team goes around and does the same dance at each of the four pubs and they’re scored. Friday night we had registration and a contra dance with Rodney Miller, and Bruce and Sue Rosen, which was nice. We had warm-up dances at MIT, dancing in pubs, and Saturday night we had a nice dinner and show dances.
DEBORAH: There was a great spirit at the pubs. The community came. People from CDS- Boston, parents, and friends would be piling through. It was a party in each pub and they would go pub hopping to see the teams. Have you seen so-and-so; they’re going to be at this pub; you should go over there and see them. It was really fun.
PAT: How did the people who normally frequented the pubs react?
TOM: We were there in the afternoon; we ended at 5-5:30 pm so it didn’t really interfere. It couldn’t have gone better. It was a great event. I was the instigator and I was the chairman of the committee. I had to crack the whip; for me too, of course. I think I’m more guilt-driven than most people.
DEBORAH: At the same time, one of the teams, Sallyport from England needed housing, so Tom said let’s host them all. So we had twelve people staying here while we were running the event.
TOM: That was a gas. They were really fun.
DEBORAH: When you told me I had to sleep twelve people here! We just had mattresses on the floor.
TOM: They were great guests. They cooked us dinner on Sunday night.
DEBORAH: You got a lot of satisfaction because it was so successful.
TOM: Almost everyone on the committee agreed to do it again next year.
DEBORAH: At our local church, where Tom first started teaching kids, he does this Revels-like ceremony; he started when Lily was ten years old, so it’s been twenty-one years. I remember that year when you did that first one; you put so much energy into it. He had little kids dancing morris and the St. George and the dragon mummer’s play, the sword dance, and Abbot’s Bromley. Every year since then he has somehow managed to get them to dance and participate. And in order for everyone to do a sword dance, he has two sword teams and makes it like a competition.
TOM: This year we had seventeen kids and we have a new play every year.
DEBORAH: He just keeps doing it. And he puts energy into taking the kids to the New York Ale, and the Marlboro Ale, and to England, and he just keeps on putting it out.
TOM: Why do I do that? I really don’t know.
DEBORAH: At the end of the year, we have this big party and we say goodbye to the kids and Tom’s saying goodbye to them and it’s the only time I’ve every seen Tom come close to tears – when he sees how the kids have grown.
TOM: A lot of times, I just feel great after the church Christmas show. I remember one time after that show, maybe ten years ago, and I had to drive to a Revels performance at Sanders Theatre right after. And I had this feeling – this may sound odd – that I could die now and I would be satisfied with my life. It was a funny thing – it was a good feeling. It came from loving the kids and how it had gone. So maybe that’s why I do it. That’s enough of a reason really, to give back to all those people who taught me – Chris Moore and others.
One year I had a whole group of kids from Christmas Revels join my Hop Brook group. That was a big change for me, that group. I had just done church kids and their friends up till then.
DEBORAH: This is where your entrepreneurial stuff comes out, Tom. Here we were at this Christmas Revels show and there were teenagers doing a sword dance that were just hot, you know, and Tom said here is a goldmine. So he quickly came home and made a flyer, with my help, and passed it out to all the Revels kids and their parents and they all came to Hop Brook.
TOM: Hop Brook was about to die out; I only had six kids to dance. I had had waves of church kids come through and create groups, but there was a lull in the demographic and in the church too. It got below critical mass and the kids weren’t having fun. And I said to the kids, I’m going to have to go outside and get more people to keep this going. Most of them stopped when I did that, actually, because it turned out they weren’t that into it.
The first era of the Hop Brook kids was my daughter, Lily and her friends. That was a really nice group, maybe eight to nine kids; they went through four years of doing Hop Brook together and they were great. And then I had a wave of boys that was basically David Fleischmann-Rose and his friends, and Peter [Kruskal], who was a year younger; and then I had another wave that was girls, including Erika Roderick and then I had a dry spot. With Lily’s friends, once they got to high school, one girl wanted to continue but it didn’t happen at all. They couldn’t do it on their own – they had no music; they needed an adult. So when David Fleischmann-Rose and his friends got to that age they wanted to keep dancing.
DEBORAH: He said you have to keep teaching me! You’re not allowed to just stop.
TOM: So, I decided they should do rapper because I remember doing rapper when I was that age at the CDSS weeks at Pinewoods Camp. I remember as a teenager being in a set of people and it was dancing really fast and impressing the old people. So, I said, we better do rapper. Sunday afternoon was the only time they could make it. So we had a core group of six and we would meet every week and do it no matter who came. I would dance and one of the parents would dance, even with only three kids. And we did some morris and longsword too, because they did those things and liked them. The second year was when it became Velocirapper. So we went to England, to the Sword Spectacular; we went to Cambridge Revels, the New York Sword Ale, and the Marlboro Ale in Vermont.
PAT: Was this one of the first teen teams doing rapper?
TOM: There was Greenwich Guard, of course. They were dancing back when Rhett [Krause] was in high school.
PAT: Did this really start something?
TOM: It took about ten years. When Velocirapper went to the New York Sword Ale [sponsored by Half Moon Sword in New York City] those people saw that we were doing a teen team and eventually New Moon Sword, a teen team was started. The younger siblings of the Velocirapper kids wanted to join Velocirapper, who didn’t want them on the team. And so I said, well, I’m going to start a bigger team and I want you guys to be part of it. But I want to have everybody who wants to do rapper, do it. It will be a different team; we’ll meet at the same time and I’ll be there.
DEBORAH: And the whole group was called Team X because they couldn’t come up with a name.
TOM: So Deborah did the flyer and I convinced Tim Radford to come and teach us morris and Joe Kynoch to teach us rapper. We set the time and place and we had twenty-five kids come – some I’d seen, some I hadn’t. I sent the flyer to all the morris teams, the Revels world, the folk/international, and Folk Arts Center world. I was gathering in the chits with the second generation. A lot of these kids had seen Velocirapper at NEFFA [New England Folk Festival]. I got a lot of people from that and I got a lot from the home schoolers. Great Meadows Morris and Sword [the high school group], which came out of Velocirapper, came from a need I saw which was clearly expressed by those Hop Brook siblings who wanted to keep dancing. I knew how to make it happen by that point – you do it by blanket publicity and listing everywhere, make phone calls to parents, push flyers on people; you push it.
DEBORAH: And when Candyrapper formed, the following year, that was mostly the girls. That was a really hot group which made a tremendous impression. They all went to the Sword Spectacular, Marlboro, New York Sword Ale, and Whitby [England]. We needed a huge fundraiser for that – the parents raised $8,000.
PAT: There are so many teams who don’t do that – who don’t go to England, who don’t have that experience. What effect do you think that has had on these kids, who are now adults?
TOM: Huge effect.
DEBORAH: Because Whitby was only four days, the parents said you gotta be kidding me, you want me to spend $1,000 for a long weekend and Tom kept saying, it will be a formative experience and they all agreed afterwards that it was. The parents agreed.
PAT: How did the kids talk about it?
DEBORAH: They loved being out in this huge scene.
TOM: My idea is that the kids run this; they’re in charge. I’m their mentor, not their teacher, and I’m not their policeman for better or worse. They own it. It has pretty much worked but not always.
PAT: Who’s teaching the dances?
TOM: They teach each other now. But I’ve also had people come in. For a couple of years, I had Rick Mohr come in for rapper. They learn a lot of figures at CDSS weeks at Pinewoods Camp, and from when they were in England. Margaret Keller came and taught us a bunch of figures. I can’t teach what they’re doing now. It’s gone beyond me. It worries me a little about losing the new figures so I’m trying to videotape what they’ve come up with or popularized or used a lot, then you can run it slow motion and you can see what’s happening easily enough.
I’ve had this in mind for two or three years as a critical project. I convinced [local Boston dancer] John Browne to video it for me and we had one session with Candyrapper. It’s a project I want to do, but I just haven’t had the time to do all the follow-through it takes to get it down.
DEBORAH: And then there was that wonderful fool dance. It was Velocirapper that did this dance at the New York Sword Ale and they had Jim Klimek, a very talented kid, who was in Revels from the time he was a baby, who is a clown and juggler and is in Los Angeles now trying to make it. He worked on the Ellen DeGeneres show. He and Aidin [Carey] worked up this fooling skit that was just the cleverest and funniest that I’ve ever seen in my whole life. I said, we’ve got to video this and we tried, but getting the kids together in the summer was impossible. Everyone went off to college, so it wasn’t possible.
TOM: Half Moon has a video of it.
PAT: So a lot of kids have graduated and moved on to other things.
DEBORAH: Or try to start teams at their colleges.
TOM: Muddy River and Newtowne have taken all these kids from my group, Great Meadows, which is great for those teams. It’s gotten to the point now where I get the credit for any kid’s team. Everyone thinks they’re mine – it’s pretty funny. Once Great Meadows really started going, we would go to NEFFA and we would have twenty-five kids up morris dancing. I had nothing to do with that other than showing them it could be done. But then the kids see other kids doing it and then they want to do it. It’s about getting a critical mass.
PAT: What are the other teams?
TOM: Snicker Snack, Pocket Flyers, Candyrapper, Rapport D’Or, which doesn’t mean anything, but it sounds like rapper – rapport.
DEBORAH: Other teams retired – Fresh Blood, Slightly Green, Beside the Point (that was a really good team), and Scrambled Six.
Erika Roderick, a longtime dancer and participant in Tom’s teams, arrived and we sat and talked.
PAT: Erika, tell me your story.
ERIKA: Both my parents were involved with folk dancing in Boston since they were in college; my father is Steve and my mom is Michelle. They met on [Boston international folk dance ensemble] Mandala. My dad found morris dancing and was on Black Jokers and then joined Pinewoods Morris Men, and my mom was also on [Northwest team] Rose Galliard for a time when I was little.
TOM: Steve started to teach Hop Brook with me when Erika was around six. He came and played and helped with it.
PAT: Was joining the team your idea or what it because of your dad?
ERIKA: I knew I was going to. We turned into Unitarians [the church where the Great Meadow Morris practices are held], partly because of belief things, but also because we’d been doing the morris. I wanted to do it; I had watched my dad. I had been one of the morris kids of all the Pinewoods Morris Men for years. I was friends with [Tom’s children] Peter and Lily and knew about the Hop Brook kids’ team. And Daffodil Weekend [in the spring] was a huge part of the friend/morris kid/feeling group.
DEBORAH: When we bought our house in Nantucket in 1979, it didn’t take Tom long before he decided that we should have the Pinewoods Morris Men out to Nantucket. So that started in 1982; I did everything with Peter on my hip. So, we had the team and all their families, and there were a lot of kids. It was a family event. Succeeding generations of kids took care of the younger ones.
TOM: It’s one of the things which have kept the Pinewoods Morris Men together all these years.
ERIKA: It’s a tradition and it brings the kids back. All the things that happen are fun. It was this band of kids that you could go off with on your own. It was the first time that I was able to say, “OK, I’m going off with Peter and Lily, Mom!!” It’s the feeling you can run free like at Pinewoods.
PAT: Did the children’s teams dance during Daffodil Weekend?
DEBORAH: No just PMM. If it gets more than thirty-five to forty people, it gets hard to manage. And we would have to house everyone.
TOM: On Nantucket, there are thousands of people on the island and it’s the ultimate morris tour; there are tons of kids and families watching. We would dance and we would attract these mobs of people. It’s great.
ERIKA: I went to Daffodil Weekend every year and started morris with my best friend Emma [Kynoch] and of course we wanted to do that together. We danced on Hop Brook from 1994 when I was in fourth grade until 1998. I had known Tom since I was a baby. My younger sister insisted on joining the team too, her name is Molly, so she was on it too. In my generation, there was a bunch of boys from the church too, who were younger brothers of the first generation of boys who had been on it. There was an interesting grouping of people who were morris kids and people who were church kids. I joined Great Meadows in high school and it was Team X and Velocirapper.
TOM: Velocirapper didn’t really accept you guys.
ERIKA: We were siblings, and younger. They were all about, this is our thing and we’re teenagers and we don’t want you to do it. And now we’re all fine; we’re all dancing with [Boston longsword team] Orion. We were doing morris all together and we formed Candyrapper, in the second year, in the spring. The first year of Team X was 1999. And we were in Appalachian Revels in 2000, as Candyrapper.
TOM: Do you remember driving back in the car from Lilac Sunday and we were having the idea of a team; we were talking and Deborah came up with the name.
ERIKA: I do remember that. We went to the Ginger Ale.
TOM: That’s another thing we started – the Ginger Ale.
At this point, David Fleischmann-Rose arrived at Tom and Deborah’s and joined the conversation.
TOM: David has learned the concertina without any help from me at all, other than being a role model.
DAVID: A big inspiration.
TOM: But he’s been teaching a couple of my kids, which is great. David and his family were in the church when Deborah and I joined.
DAVID: We joined the church in 1987 or 1988 and at that point I was six. I thought Hop Brook was really cool, because I was a little kid and didn’t know any better... and it is cool. I started dancing through church and I remember really wanting to start dancing in fourth grade, but at course I couldn’t because Tom wouldn’t let people dance until fifth grade. So, I started with fifth grade when I was eleven and the thing that really made it, I think, stick for me was that there were a few of us that were about the same age that all did morris dancing together and we were also all in the same school, and the same church, and we became good friends.
PAT: Boys that age don’t usually dance.
DAVID: But you’re jumping onto a stage...
ERIKA: You’re hitting sticks together...
DAVID: It was fun, exciting, and energetic and it was all boys. I did a little tap earlier and that was all girls and they drove me out of that. But this was very different. But also if you have a critical mass of peers that are all doing it, you want to be where your friends are, so that really brings you in. And that’s how I got to know Tom, because he was running Hop Brook with Steve [Roderick]. I remember looking up to the whole older group dancing.
One thing that I will mention is that we were crazy enough, and didn’t really think about the social implications, but we decided that we should do sword dancing at the middle school talent show when we were in seventh grade.
ERIKA: I was on that too and I did an Irish step dance.
PAT: How’d that go?
DAVID: I think it was actually OK. We just did simple Ampleforth and our principal was cool enough to say OK, I’ll dress up as St. George and you can kill me. But of course we didn’t have the time to do the whole play, so people didn’t understand it. So he just came out dressed in the crusader outfit...
TOM: They had a cafeteria tray, with a cross on it.
DAVID: ..and we killed him on the first night and there were huge complaints. Six swords happened to make a star that looked the Star of David. And he just came out in this crusader outfit, with the cross on it. So, someone complained that what we were saying was that the Jews killed Christ. Nothing at all to do with it!
TOM: Interestingly enough, Christmas Revels has had this problem already and they had something written up about this issue, all ready to go. I was able to hand this over, and explain the sword dance, and say we’re sorry.
DAVID: It was quite a political stir.
PAT: David, maybe you want to talk about the role that Tom has played in your life. Tom, you can go in the other room.
ERIKA: Tom, get used to it; on your celebration day there’s going to be a whole night of this.
DAVID: Well, that’s a big question because Tom been an integral part of my life for a long, long time. He got me started in morris dancing, introduced me to the folk community in general, from Marlboro to Pinewoods Morris Men. It started with Hop Brook, then to Velocirapper, then Pinewoods, and now I’m dancing with Orion as well. So really all of the sword and morris dancing I do, is really all Tom’s fault.
If you hadn’t happened to have started a team for Lily, and we hadn’t happened to have moved to Sudbury, and go to the same church, my life would be totally different and I would say that it would not be as good because I really enjoy all the things that I do and all the people that I’ve met. It’s such a wonderfully supportive community. I certainly wouldn’t have picked up the concertina, which I’ve been playing now for about twelve years, which is kind of embarrassing because I should really be a lot better after twelve years of playing the concertina, but it’s really something I enjoy and something that’s a pretty big part of my identity and I think, um, when I look at Tom, it’s not that he’s necessarily the best dancer, I’ve really haven’t seen Tom dance all that much...
TOM: I used to dance...
DAVID: That was before my time, but it’s really just his ability to create warm and welcoming and nurturing environments, whether it be for very small kids who need one approach, or high school who need another approach. At this point, I think what enabled a lot of that is not just who Tom is, and how Tom is, but how he approached life in general – ninety-nine percent of the time, friendly, happy, cheerful, willing to work with a wide range of people to get things done, but also pulling people together and buckling down when things really need to happen. And I think one of the things that has really enabled a lot of this is simply his musical ability. I mean, he has such amazing musicianship – if you can find a group of people who are willing to dance, the biggest issue is finding someone who is able to teach and someone who is able to play and Tom can do both of those things at such a high level that he’s sort of a walking folkdance tutorial! [laughter]
ERIKA: You should make a Wii thing.
DAVID: So that’s really what it is. If he were lacking either as a teacher or musician, a lot of this wouldn’t have been possible. But he’s also got a really good approach for kids... I think it’s tough, especially for/with high schoolers, because you have a lot of different personalities, people at very difficult times in their lives, and you somehow make it work that they do a lot of self-direction yet you are still the sun around which they all orbit. They all know that you are the authority, and the person that they go to if they have any questions or issues or things that they can’t resolve themselves. But because you set the tone and the stage for it, people can come into that and make it work, by and large.
TOM: Aw, David. (hugs)
PAT: You met David when he was little and now he’s here able to say that to you. That’s incredible.
TOM: Erika has been helping this year with Great Meadows. You’ve seen some of it from my side this year.
ERIKA: It has been very interesting, now I can be this person who has been in Hop Brook and Candyrapper and now I can help Tom.
PAT: You’re behind the curtain.
ERIKA: And kind of stepping through. They don’t see me like Tom, but I’m kind of the person who’s helping. I think I always had a window into what you did, Tom, even when I was on the team. I had talked to you about some things and found out what you thought about them. And definitely it is true, what David said, Tom does a lot of behind the scenes thinking about teams before they’ve even been formed, thinking about new kids before they’re even there, where they would be good, etc. Getting opinions and respecting their opinions, but yet he is deciding and helping them have the best outcome that they could without seeming like deciding everything as the dance teacher and you are my class. It doesn’t feel like that at all.
PAT: Especially with high school students who want to develop their own things and you don’t want this person saying, you have to do this or that.
ERIKA: And that’s exactly why it works. And I don’t think half of them would be there if it was just a dance class, or someone telling you exactly what to do. And that’s why they love it and they’re given an art form that they think is neat and start to get the coolness of it because they go to events and they see the world of it, which is a very neat world, and then they are given a lot of freedom in what they can do. Here’s a team, doing some kind of weird stuff, and here’s Tom going “that’s interesting.” You let them do things, but also suggest things, slightly on the side and sometimes those things make it in.
DEBORAH: Like Candyrapper’s first kit.
ERIKA: So Candyrapper formed in the fall of 2000 and took a few new members and started practicing every week and we had to come up with a kit for our first gig. So two of our members went to the mall and called everyone, we have the best outfit and they came on Sunday, back from the mall, and they had bought these powder blue, pleated mini-skirts, cheerleaderish-style, and these purple, tank-toppy things that had low, low back ties. We went, oh, that’s kind of cute. It was kind of nice from a girl standpoint, but we were having some mixed feelings. Then they tried on the outfit for us and Tom was saying, no. That was one of those times when he laid down the law and then afterward, we were like, oh no, Tom doesn’t like it.
TOM: I didn’t say it on the spot; I wrote an email...
ERIKA: And then we were all really embarrassed and felt bad. And I’m still embarrassed. He was totally right.
TOM: I didn’t want men to see you dancing in them. I probably agonized about that email; I made Deborah read it a million times. I didn’t want to dampen your enthusiasm.
DAVID: As much as credit Tom should get, I do think we have to get a little bit of credit for starting the whole thing, because really after eighth grade, at that time, there was nothing. Mike, Mark, and I were the same age and we wanted to keep dancing and we went to Tom and said, Tom! We really want to keep dancing and he said, oh, alright. I’m kind of tired of morris though, why don’t you try rapper, and we said, what’s rapper? Because we had no idea! So, then we said, alright, we’ll try this rapper thing, whatever it is and when I first starting talking about it, we only had three people and that’s not enough for a rapper set, and went up to friend and I said, do you want to do rapper dancing with us, and he said, no, I’m not interested in rap, because that’s what he thought it was. But that first year, the only reason it even worked was because I knew another kid, Andrew Marcus, through German school and we find out his family also goes to UU Church in Newton where they also do morris dancing for some strange reason [Banbury Cross Morris and Sword]; so then I said, well, do you guys want to do rapper dancing. And he brought in Miranda Egelston, so those were the first five and we barely had enough to practice, starting in 1996.
TOM: We would make the parents dance.
ERIKA: And that got us all doing rapper.
DAVID: Then other young people in Banbury Cross saw us and said, let’s do that next. And I also, in a negative way, am responsible for the creation of Candyrapper because I didn’t want my sister to be on my team.
ERIKA: It was a good thing... I forgive you for it.
DAVID: She’s never forgiven me for it. And it was a good thing because you guys were amazing and really much better known than Velocirapper ever was. And now we all dance together on Orion.
David had to leave, but Erika, Deborah, Tom and I enjoyed Tom’s wonderful cooking and we continued talking to Erika about Tom’s effect on her life. I brought up the tune "Tom Kruskal’s" written by Amelia Mason and Emily Troll, and recently recorded by Elixir. [listen to the tune]
ERIKA: The Elixir recording is good, but I have a recording that Amelia, Natty [Smith] and Emily did at Pinewoods. I bet Amelia and Emily wrote the tune at Pinewoods together, that’s my memory, because they were at Pinewoods working and volunteering together, and that’s when they started playing and writing tunes. Now they’re in a band, Anadama, with Bethany [Waickman]. They’re both Tom Kruskal people and they named the tune for Tom because Tom was important to them. I remember so well when they played it for July 4th skit night. I remember you, Tom, and Frank [Attanasio] were giving your inspirational speech to raise money so young people who enjoy Pinewoods could keep on enjoying it and then Amelia, Natty, and Emily came out and played the tune and dedicated it to you and it was perfect.
TOM: I was thinking about highlights of dancing – remember that Harrisville women’s tour that I took Candyrapper up to?
ERIKA: That was an early thing. It was really fun. My biggest memory of that was driving in the car and saying, Tom’s a crazy driver and it was snowing.
TOM: We were driving up to Harrisville, New Hampshire; we just went and danced morris a bunch up there. We stayed in a little cabin.
ERIKA: That was really fun – it was one of the things we did as a team. We really bonded with Tom and everyone else. We listened to the Rankin Family CD in the car.
PAT: Erika, do you know how special this has been in your life?
ERIKA: Yes. Tom is a huge reason why it all happened. For me it was a natural thing that became my whole life, in my own way. All my best and truest friends have come from these activities. That and Revels – they are very much intertwined and that’s always fed into it. Candyrapper is the strongest connection because we started as this team the same year that most of us were also dancing as a group of teen dancers in Appalachian Revels in 2000.
DEBORAH: That was a real pivotal year – the kids that were in Revels coming over to our house after the performance and Peter would drag them over to the contra dance. That’s when they all started going to the contras at the Concord Scout House. They would stay in the corner and they were just dancing by themselves over there.
ERIKA: Thursday nights at the VFW we did that too. Me and Peter started carpooling, going together. There were just five of us, the only young people there. And now, I don’t go to contra much anymore because of Orion rehearsals on Thursday nights, but I went once recently and every time I go now, it’s huge! It’s awesome.
DEBORAH: It’s interesting that one of our dancers, who moved out to the West coast, said young people aren’t doing anything out there. There are no young people contra dancing, or English dancing, rapper, or morris. He’s convinced that it’s because of Tom activity here, that it’s different on the East coast. But this whole process has taken years and it’s a rich environment. It’s inoculating a very fertile ground.
TOM: I think I’m the result of something, not the cause. It’s because it was there; I found rich ground. I was forced to do it by the need. I’ve used other people as much as I can because I needed help.
ERIKA: There are pockets of interest in Revels, the church community, the small morris kids community, NEFFA, and dance and Revels families in the area, and Tom was the one to do this at the right time when there were a lot of kids around and then have it get big enough that it survived past that catalyst time.
PAT: What part did the CDSS weeks at Pinewoods Camp play?
ERIKA: I think that was just another piece of the puzzle. I grew up knowing about Pinewoods Camp by being around it, via the Pinewoods Morris Men, and having my parents rent out the Conants’ cottage [next door to the Pinewoods Camp property]. We didn’t go when I was a little kid, or go religiously every year. Actually I went to CDSS Campers’ Week with the Kynoch family as a ten year old first and went every year since. Then my family started coming to Campers’ Week and then from there I went to volunteer on crew.
DEBORAH: Remember that year at English and American when we got Candyrapper to go? We were guardians for all these fifteen year olds and we dragged them all there.
ERIKA: It was great! And that was my transition year from going as a camper with my family to going as a volunteer and then as an adult. That was a real high in my memory. Going to an adult week for the first time was a revelation.
DEBORAH: It was really interesting last summer ; it was such a funny feeling to have you guys all in Pine Needles cabin, as adults. They’re there, having cocktails parties.
ERIKA: That was a really big deal. We’ve been aspiring to that for years, to be old enough.
DEBORAH: And they had ownership. These kids that we saw from babies now are in an ownership position at Pinewoods; it was really, really cool.
ERIKA: It’s like growing up in a village in the old way of things, when you are in this place where people know you and you can go far in the small community and you have great things or drama together and it’s beautiful. I can’t imagine it being better.
TOM: Most people don’t have this.
PAT: I had the same experience in my life. I grew up in Toronto and had that whole dance community from the time I was a little girl, but then I left Toronto. So, I recreated it in Boston with Scottish dance, then English, then contra. Those dance friends from my twenties are still my friends now – they are my people.
ERIKA: My group of friends was because of Tom and Hop Brook, Candyrapper, and Revels – we were fifteen years old saying, we know that we are going to be good friends when we are fifty. You just have that model. It’s so powerful. You have your parents who had been friends with people since they were young dancing together. So you are younger than that knowing, that’s what they’ve done, so clearly that’s what I’m going to do. So, you are my friends. You kind of knew that.
PAT: Not only do you have the friends in your own peer group; but you have friends in the generations above you.
DEBORAH: They asked if they could come take cooking lessons with Tom. How many twenty- three year olds want to spend an evening with sixty year olds in an evening in the summer?
TOM: It was really fun. It was so much fun you came twice.
ERIKA: We’ve had fun with you for a long time.
DEBORAH: We all have this love of dance, the music, and we share a lot of the same positions.
ERIKA: I think there’s a similar way that people like to have fun. On New Year’s we had a bunch of folkie friends and bunch of friends from college who are not folkie friends, but the reason that it worked was because we all liked to have fun in the same way. I don’t even know what I mean to define “in the same way,” but I think we have same sense of humor and lightheartedness about things. We enjoy cooking and eating, drinking, and singing. We have similar activities but also a similar kind of attitude.
PAT: You just said a remarkable thing. Singing was in there. We’ve incorporated dance into our lives, which is unusual enough, but singing is really not something we do naturally anymore. It has become professional; you have to be in a choir, and when have you ever heard someone say, let’s have a song! What would you do?
TOM: It’s not part of my family tradition or our culture.
ERIKA: Tom hums a lot. I love that. When you dance with Tom, you have a humming partner.
DEBORAH: When I first started dancing with him, he would sing harmonies along with the country dances as we danced.
ERIKA: People who are my age know and honor Tom. There is this whole other extension into Maple Morris [a community of young morris dancers] – a lot of people are from Great Meadows or are Tom-connected people, but many aren’t. But they all still know Tom. I think it still has that sense even with people who weren’t part of the Tom teams. We counted this year and I think about half of Maple Morris were from Tom teams.
PAT: Is Candyrapper independent now?
ERIKA: No. Velocirapper was our model and they ended; they had a couple of generations and then they stopped. And then all of us in the younger group said that’s so sad they’re just ending. We didn’t really get that. When it came to the time when my friends and I were graduating from Great Meadows, we asked, should we keep the team going? I remember really analyzing what would be the different options. We just sat down and talked about it.
TOM: Now it’s a new leadership. The team dances great. They’re as good as they’ve ever been. It’s dancing to metronome and British style.
Having finished dinner, Deborah and Erika leave for Orion practice. After cleaning up, Tom and I sat down to talk again. Tom plays Ampleforth sword dance tunes: Morpeth Lasses and The Old Wife of Coverdale on his concertina. [listen to Tom playing Morpeth Lasses & The Old Wife of Coverdale]
PAT: When did you learn to play concertina?
TOM: Well, I bought my first one in 1965, which is the one sitting right over there. I just played around with it, just picking up how to play it over time. It was a slow and gradual process. Nobody around me played, so I didn’t take lessons. I mostly listened to that William Kimber recording, that Bicky McLain had. That was the main thing, and just sort of developed my own style of playing. Playing for morris dance is pretty much what I do.
When I bought my first concertina, I was staying at Sidmouth Folk Festival with the Chingford Lads, which was a young team (1964-5) in England and there was a guy there, Peter Boyce, who was running the kids team (high school boys). They were performing at Sidmouth and I roomed with them in a dorm situation, called the Scout House at Sidmouth. Nibs Matthews had set it up for me to do. One of the boys was their musician and he played concertina and he was the one who told me where to go to get one, and he showed me some things. That was the most of a lesson I got, was that.
PAT: Do you think of yourself as a musician outside of playing for morris?
TOM: No, not really. I love music; I always have done something musical in my life and I love singing although my voice is a wreck. It’s hard singing in my church choir, which I really enjoy and I like the people. I’ve got a breathing problem and paralyzed vocal chords, closed in a shut position. So, I’m just breathing in through a small hole, which is not normal. Normally the vocal chords open up and they can breathe. It makes me sound hoarse and singing is a strain.
PAT: It must make it difficult to dance as well.
TOM: It does; I can’t take in enough air. I can do English country and that’s about it. I can’t morris dance, which is shame because I loved it. But I danced for a long time; there are other parts of my body which don’t want to morris dance either! It’s alright. I teach morris to the Hop Brook kids and the Great Meadows kids as well. Morris I know more than they do and I make them do it. You can teach style without having to jump high, absolutely.
PAT: Do you know of other people who have done what you have done in this country?
TOM: There’s Banbury Cross, a kid’s team longer running than mine which was started by Lynn Beasley, when her kids were little. She was involved with Revels and she started a morris team. And she was a very organized and dynamic kind of person and she held that together for years. She always hired good people; Erika’s father Steve was one of their teachers and various other people. And then, Lynn started another team along with her daughter, Emily Beasley, that’s called Mulberry Morris and they’ve been going for quite a while. Banbury kept going under new management. They’ve been a major force. I hardly invented this idea.
PAT: But elsewhere in the country?
TOM: Berea College always had the Country Dancers performance group. Swarthmore has had college teams over the years; there’s Green Mountain Morris Dancers (boys) and Maple Leaf Morris Dancers (girls), in Norwich, Vermont led by Chris Levey with Jane Finlay, who danced with Ring o’Bells in New York City. And they were also all involved with the Dartmouth, New Hampshire Revels. Revels is a big recruitment tool for getting kids interested, because the show has a lifetime, everyone gets excited, and then it ends and people want to keep going. So, Revels is a huge incubator.
In England, from what I’ve talked to people, having a high school team was really unusual; it’s more typical that little kids would dance in an adult team, but it’s changing there too. They would get to age 12 or 13 and they wouldn’t be seen dead doing it. I don’t know about morris, but in the sword dance world, this past summer at an event with Orion in Grenoside [England], they had a whole youth longsword competition.
I think traditionally it’s been a family thing. We stayed with some people in the Newcastle [England] area, quite a long time ago, and they were describing their teams and how they did this big family event every year. All the families came; it sounded like Daffodil Weekend for us. And it was obviously very strong for them and really part of their community. And of course a lot of the traditional teams were family-based. A lot of the sword teams tended to be all of one or two families. And women did dance some when they had to, from within the families, in sword teams.
So, there is that family part which is pretty strong here too. My end of the year party is a big event for all the teams; I do it for all the kids, young, old, graduates, and we usually have eighty to a hundred people here in the summer. I do deep-fried turkey and French fries. Kid’s food. And other than that it’s a potluck. It’s pretty cool with all the little and older kids and families, parents, siblings.
PAT: It’s a very strong instinct in a family for the younger kids to want to do what the older kids are doing, and that has been incorporated into your work. It’s part of the dynamic of the family.
TOM: It’s cool. That’s powerful stuff.
PAT: Are you training new musicians?
TOM: I don’t do a lot of that. I have tried to drag some of the kids into the music, especially morris music. David’s been teaching two of my kids. Tim, who is a Hop Brook little kid, played with me at the Christmas show on the two morris dances. He’ll be able to play morris and that’s what he wants to do.
Music is personal; it’s introspective and the things that I’m dealing with, with the kids teams, is broad group dynamics. It’s very different than music.
PAT: The group dynamics stuff – you did it because it felt right to do it that way, or did you think about it?
TOM: I didn’t think about it until after the fact. It was my natural inclination and it became intentional.
PAT: How did you know to keep your hands off of it?
TOM: I don’t know. It was always a struggle; I do tend to interfere; I have a tendency to want to take over to some extent, but with them I think in that case, maybe, David didn’t want me. It was very much his thing and I respected that as much as I could. Now I just can’t be in charge of them all; they’ve got to run themselves and do their own thing.
PAT: Are they all practicing at the same time in one place?
TOM: Yeah. There are sometimes four different teams in a not huge parish hall, but it’s big enough for four rapper teams, one in each corner. The groups have always seemed a little chaotic to adults. They think it’s out of control. They say “Listen to Tom, you should listen to him.” It’s hard for the parents. Especially with the littler kids; their parents get more upset if they think their kid is misbehaving or not being respectful enough, or they’re not getting enough attention, or whatever it is. I have great parents, though.
PAT: How did you get involved with the home school community?
TOM: A few kids found me. The home schoolers around here are always looking for things for their kids to do. So, they consider morris dancing part of their education. The parents are more supportive and tend to be more active. It’s a subtle difference but it’s clearly there. And then, a couple of times some of the home school parents said, should I post your flyer at the home school place and I say, sure do that. And we get a few more. Maybe fifteen percent of the kids are home schooled. It’s interesting; it’s a different kind of kid; they seem to know better what they want and if they like the dancing, they like it in a clear cut way. It’s what they want to do.
PAT: John Ramsay has had a lot of success teaching English country dance in the St. Louis home school community.
TOM: I really could do so much more than I do. I’d have to stop my job though. The time I deal with meetings, things like DART, taking kids to the New York Sword Ale, doing registration, by the time I deal with all these things, it’s just – I could work harder I suppose but there’s a limit.
PAT: Are you grooming a lieutenant?
TOM: Erika is young still and almost too close in age to the kids. She’s twenty-five maybe. She has been working as a teacher for a couple of years now. She’s been involved with organizing Maple Morris, and maybe I can imagine cutting back a little and not having to be at the church every Sunday for the team practices.
That’s a big thing. I’m not there every week, but when I miss one I have to take an action to deal with it or cancel. It’s hard; and now we have grandkids in Ireland and stuff going on. I do as much as I can. There have been moments when I’ve wanted to be more organized about it; having a committee and more parent involvement. But I don’t think that’s what the teams want.
That’s why I brought Erika in; that’s a more likely solution. We need parents to be helpful but not to be in charge of anything. One of the parents has been our treasurer forever and [Boston dancer] Kem Stewart has been helpful in the background, getting bells made for us and doing things. But basically, that’s all behind the scene and the kids don’t have any sense of that.
PAT: Is there a connection between your profession as a jewelry designer and music and dance?
TOM: Maybe. Maybe my jewelry designs have something to do with music. They’re all very simple things, but they’ve got a movement and fluidity to them at their best, anyway. Or just a gestural quality, that might be like dance in some way. I think that’s plausible.
PAT: It’s not something that you’ve consciously done?
TOM: No. And you know my typical day at work is a constant stream of organizational tasks really, not that different from the dance teams. It’s an organizational job; I’ve got five employees and there’s designing jewelry and there’s making jewelry, which is great, but a lot of it is administration. I’m kind of in charge of things, but any kind of strategic planning which needs doing, I have to do it myself. And there is always a need for marketing. I like that stuff; I enjoy it.
PAT: So maybe that is the connection.
TOM: It is! Great Meadows is an organizational job in a lot of ways; and it’s about people. It’s certainly about dancing too.
PAT: It couldn’t happen without a certain instinct for what will work with people.
TOM: I am pretty good with people, I think. But it also takes a toll on me. I find it hard and I get upset because I want everyone to be happy. That’s my main problem; I don’t want strife and I really hate it. I hate it. So that’s hard because with the team groups there are always problems, but also at work too, inevitably. On the other hand, I’m fairly good at trying to work through it all. And I am very patient and that’s a virtue certainly with the kids.
PAT: Do you have good perseverance?
TOM: Almost to a fault.
PAT: A perfectionist?
TOM: No, I’m not. I couldn’t be and do this, actually. I mean Deborah is a real perfectionist. She will always get upset if, say, Candyrapper is not stepping together! I care about excellence and I recognize it but it’s not really what I’m trying to achieve.
PAT: What do you think you are trying to achieve?
TOM: Just to keep community going, through the dance and music. That’s what I’m trying to achieve, holding it together and not the perfection.
You want to do your best and feel good about it, and there are parts of the dancing that you don’t get unless you are doing it right or well. But that can be achieved at lots of different levels of perfection. Say with morris dancing, you can get the feeling of doing a dance well and being all together – morris dancing has this wonderful thing of being together but not holding hands; lines going forward and back and your sticks clashing. You can get that pleasure of doing that without being great morris dancers. The kids get that and I see it at all ages.
PAT: They don’t expect that probably.
TOM: No, I don’t think so. I mean, it often happens that doing morris at Marlboro Ale when the kids’ teams go, and sometimes it can click for them, they really get it or start to get it. It’s funny about the excellence part, because there are some people in all the groups I’m involved with that want it to be better and more precise. And it’s not that they’re wrong; it should be better and we’re trying, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s fine to strive to be better even if it’s never going to be achieved and you can still get some of what it means to be better.
PAT: There was a recent thread on the ECD List with some people writing about those ephemeral moments when you reach dance perfection. It happens like a spark between two people in a dance and I think we’ve all experienced it but you can’t plan for it. You can work on your style and musicality, etc. and then it will happen sometimes.
TOM: That’s right. If you obsess about it too much, it can ruin your fun of just doing what you’re doing.
PAT: There is a whole part of your life in music and dance which we haven’t talked about which is less creative, but you’ve spent a lot of time working for PCI [Pinewoods Camp] and CDSS doing management work. Do you want to say anything about that work?
TOM: Yeah. That was a large part of my life; especially before I started doing kids teams. Because I was there when Pinewoods Camp, Inc. first started and I’d just come back from California in 1975 and PCI had just been formed and I was asked to be on the board. We were just trying to figure out what we were going to do. We didn’t really have a manager, so I was chairman of the management committee, for six years. I was fairly young; in my late twenties. But then I stopped doing it; there was too much to do, with my business and a family, and everything. And I had been on the CDSS Executive Committee in New York City and then became CDSS treasurer for nine years. At that time there were no CDSS committees, and so we decided to have a finance committee and I was chairman. We met monthly and did all kinds of work on reporting. We were trying to pull things together, budgets, etc. As that ended, I became PCI treasurer at the same time, for about a year.
I’m good with numbers; I was a math major for two years in college. My family is all mathematicians; my father was a statistician; my uncles were mathematicians; my brother’s a math person. They’re all math people. I’m good with numbers, he said modestly.
PAT: Well, if you have to run a business it definitely helps.
TOM: I’m good at the financial analysis part of stuff and it’s not a question of being a professional accountant, it’s a sense of things. I can look at these reports and spreadsheets and I can see things. Not the nitpicky stuff, but I can see something doesn’t make sense or what’s really going on. It is something I can do and I care about a lot. It’s a way to help. I’ve always been on committees, and boards. I can compromise and talk to people and process; it’s a way of interacting with people that drives some people nuts or puts them to sleep. But I’ve always liked talking. And there was the recent capital campaign of PCI I was fairly involved with.
PAT: Have there been any turning points in your life, in the context of what we’ve been talking about?
TOM: I suppose getting involved with teaching those kids opened up a whole thing for me to do that I just went with. That felt like a turning point. But I’m sort of the slow plod along type; steady. I’ll get these flashes of ideas, something that I ought to do, a lot! Those are like little turning points, mini-turning points, and I usually will take them a certain ways. I’ll talk about them usually with Deborah, take a few steps, look into them, and then sometimes they’ll take on a life of their own. Usually nothing happens luckily. I mean you can’t do all those things. A lot of the things I’ve done have started that way. Just little flashes of inspiration; to me they seem like opportunities of things which should be done.
When Hop Brook first when to the Marlboro Ale, it was one of those little things. It hit me: we should go to the Marlboro Ale, you know, so I called Andy Horton, and asked, can this happen? So, we worked out a way for it to happen. Those are like mini-turning points and a lot of them are sort of obvious, but it’s all the stars being aligned just right and it becomes clear that this is what should happen now. You see it – I mean, it’s there for the taking.
PAT: It all goes to back to having an entrepreneurial way of looking at life.
TOM: That’s what I do in my work too.
PAT: Do you think there’s a “what’s next” for you?
TOM: I wonder how long I can keep doing this. The “what next” would be finding a way to cut back some but not have it end. Maybe that will work with Erika. And I don’t think I could stop doing it, but I could have some flexibility not to go every Sunday necessarily. Like what David was saying is true – I can play, and teach, and kind of have a certain rapport with the kids. So it’s a lot of things that are hard to replace, in some ways.
Having Erika come to help was a mini-flash. That’s what it was like starting the group. I feel like I took what was there, waiting to be taken. I know I did. There were all these kids around, and I saw it and I just took it.
PAT: It’s the same as seeing the pattern in the numbers.
TOM: Right! It is. It’s a lot of work once you get the idea. Ideas are cheap; doing things is really hard. Ideas seem like the creative part, but sometimes I think that the “doing” is the creative part. Solving the day-to-day, week-after-week little things and how you deal with them, the decisions you make, that’s creative as much as the initial idea.
PAT: There’s the flash and then there’s the character that takes it past the flash. Those things we’ve talked about: patience, perseverance, being comfortable with it not being perfect, and recognizing when it’s not going to work.
TOM: And there are hard parts and they are not fun at all. On the other hand, I usually come back home from performances or trips feeling energized. I often dread going, a little bit, because you’re on stage, to some extent, you’re out there. My challenge now is to figure out if there’s some way that things will continue when I am cutting back and I’m not sure there’s an answer to it. But there are more and more of these kids coming back to town after college. Natty is coming back at the end of January and I’m hoping he’ll be involved because then I’ll have a musician [Natty] and a teacher [Erika], which really could run it, if they wanted to.
PAT: And you’d be willing to pass it on.
TOM: Yes, I would be willing if they wanted to do it. They’re cheerful people so maybe they would. Erika has just been coming and helping getting a feel for it. I haven’t actually turned stuff over to her but I think it’s possible. The little kids are easier in some ways. I’m still really their teacher, more than the teens. The teens tend to rebel against authority; and I’m not that much of an authority. I know they appreciate what I do. With the little kids it’s different. They do pretty much what adults tell them. I like them to be wild. I don’t want to squelch them. I want to channel that energy into the dancing.
PAT: Do you do any non-English stuff?
TOM: I don’t think I do actually. Very occasionally we take vacations that aren’t dance activities. Otherwise it’s just committees, and dance groups, or organizing things. But I guess I must like that, because it’s what I do.
2011 Lifetime Contributor ~ Bob Dalsemer
INTERVIEWED BY BRAD FOSTER
Bob Dalsemer, recipient of the 2011 CDSS Lifetime Contribution Award, specializes in calling traditional American contra, square, and circle dances. He has composed a number of new dances in traditional style and published two collections of square dances (“Smoke on the Water” and “When the Work’s All Done”), and the book/recording West Virginia Square Dances (available for free in our online Library), about old time square dancing in several West Virginia communities. Raised in Baltimore, he cofounded the Baltimore Folk Music Society and helped start the dance program for the Folklore Society of Greater Washington. Bob has been an integral part of CDSS for many years: a member of the National Council in the 1980s, vice president (1988–1990), and president (1990–1996), and has been on staff or served as program director for a number of our summer programs. He became Coordinator of Music and Dance Programs at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and moved to Brasstown, North Carolina in 1991.
Interview by phone on November 13 and 28, 2011, by Brad Foster, CDSS Executive and Artistic Director Emeritus [with additional notes by Brad].
BRAD: When and where did you first start dancing or playing music?
BOB: Well, I started playing music when I was fourteen. I went to a summer camp where there was a counselor who played guitar and got a bunch of us interested in singing. We learned a lot of songs, took a canoe trip, and sang all the way down the river. When we got back we wrote a little musical show using tunes from a lot of the songs we’d learned. I got interested in that, bought some records, and my parents gave me some records by The Weavers for Christmas. I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar, and took a few lessons, but I didn’t really like it so I continued on my own. When I got to high school I got a banjo, and started to teach myself with Pete Seeger’s book [How to Play Five String Banjo]. From the banjo, I got interested in bluegrass. I played in a bluegrass and jug band through at least three years of college.
I didn’t really get into dancing until I came back to Baltimore after college. I met some folks who worked for the American Friends Service Committee who had been to Berea [the Christmas Country Dance School at Berea College in Kentucky], and they got me interested and took me down to Berea in 1969. While I was there I met some people from the Baltimore/Washington area who had a very small dance group in Baltimore. That was Mary Harrell and John Owen, and I joined their group. The Hardings [Barbara and Mart Harding] were in that group, also Joe and Gwynne Blundon. When Mary left town, I decided to keep the group going on my own.
That first time I was at Berea, in 1969, I met a number of people. [Future CDSS director] Jim Morrison was my roommate. We were standing next to each other when they were handing out the roommate assignments, he had a fiddle and I had a banjo, so we said “Hey, do you want to room together” and said “Okay.” Gene Murrow was there. I think I met John Wheeler around that time, and some other folks.
John [Owen] and Mary [Harrell] also took me to Pinewoods the first time, probably in 1970. Then things really got started! I met Marshall [Barron] and Phil [Merrill] and had a great time. Marguerite and Otto Wood [who played for the John C. Campbell Folk School for many years] were also on staff.
I got very involved pretty quickly. I guess I was 26 in 1969. I started calling in 1971 or 1972. When Mary left town, I found a church hall that was near where I lived in downtown Baltimore and we started a group there. When we first started up, John Owen taught a session of morris before the main dance. Shortly after we started John’s work forced him to move away. We had that hall for a couple of years. We were dancing two Wednesday nights a month. It got popular enough that at one point I found a second hall, and we were having dances every Wednesday night, but in different locations. I think about 1975 I found the Lovely Lane Church hall, where they are still dancing today.
About that time too I was running a series of monthly folk concerts in Baltimore with a friend of mine named Michael Quitt. The series was called “Sweeney Todd Presents.” We had been bemoaning the fact that all the coffee houses in Baltimore had gone out of business, and there wasn’t any folk music. In 1975 we decided it was getting to be too much work for just the two of us, so we got a group of friends together and founded the Baltimore Folk Music Society.
BRAD: Didn’t you work for CDSS at some point?
BOB: I did, just a few months. Jim [Morrison] and I got to be pretty good friends. He was working for CDSS in New York. This would have been in 1971. He got me a job as an office assistant. I went up in the late spring, worked through end of summer, and I was at Pinewoods for a few weeks. The CDSS office was on Christopher Street. Jim and I had an apartment close to Eighth Avenue.
BRAD: What was [longtime CDSS director] May Gadd like? What was it like working for her?
BOB: She was great; she was a character, and she had her little peculiarities. She didn’t always like what Jim and I were doing, but most of the time she let us do it. The big thing that I remember was–we organized a dance with Dudley Laufman. We made a publicity flier for it, and put it all over the place in New York. I don’t think she was happy about spending the money to publicize it, but she did let us do it. She had her particular vision and we had to work around her a bit. She was always complaining to me because Jim liked to sleep late, and never quite got into the office on time. She used to complain to me about that, and I told her that there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I grew to really love her a lot. I thought she was a remarkable teacher. It was very difficult to watch her get to a point where she really couldn’t teach any more [late in her life]. I remember spending a couple of summers at Pinewoods where it was heartrending to see that she couldn’t remember things anymore. I was really sad when she died. I owe her a lot, as I do you.
BRAD: I think I first met you at Pinewoods, and you were calling and playing accordion. When did you start playing accordion?
BOB: I started playing accordion right after my first time at Berea, in 1969. I’d taken the beginning English country dance class with Bicky McLain. Her son, Bun McClain, the middle Raymond and the dad of the McLain Family Band, played accordion for that class. I suddenly realized, whoa, there is an instrument you can have at a dance and be the whole band. You’ve got everything you need: you’ve got bass, you’ve got melody, and you can carry it around. I talked to Bun a lot that week. The family band had just started, and they were playing a lot of bluegrass, which is something I’d been involved in. We’d get together and play music. [Bun’s son] young Raymond was still in high school, I guess Alice [White] was maybe 15 or 16, Ruthie [McLain Smith] was probably 12 or 13. I don’t know what their age differences are, but they were pretty young. They were very impressive even then. I asked Bun to show me how the accordion worked. When I got back to Baltimore. I took some lessons from a Mr. Tedesco who had an accordion studio. I took about a month’s worth of lessons from him mostly to figure out how the bass section worked and I bought an old Excelsior accordion from him. When I went up to New York and lived with Jim, that was probably most of what I was doing, working on the accordion, trying to figure out how to play the thing.
BRAD: When did you start playing fiddle?
BOB: I started fiddle a little before accordion but I didn’t get into fiddling very seriously until I moved to West Virginia for a year in 1978-79. I had a lot of time to myself, and hung out with a great fiddler named Woody Simmons. It was a severe winter. I was supposed to be doing school programs, but schools were closed a lot. I’d stay home and play the fiddle.
BRAD: Was this when you did your fieldwork collecting dances?
BOB: I was hired by the Randolph County Arts Council to be artist in residence in West Virginia that year. I helped to organize dancing in Elkins, and I did both music and dance programs in probably every school in Randolph County at one time or another. I had a weekly program for the Sheltered Workshop for mentally handicapped folks. And while I was there that year I made it my business to go and visit old time square dances in West Virginia. That is when I started writing my book [West Virginia Squares, published by CDSS]. As you can see I had way too much free time that year. I visited a lot of traditional musicians in Randolph County. I wrote a little article for CDSS about Currence and Minnie Hammons who were ballad singers in Randolph County [in Country Dance and Song, volume 10, 1979, pp. 30-38].
BRAD: Were the Augusta Heritage camps there then, or did they come later?
BOB: They were, but they were not run by the college [Davis & Elkins College] yet. It was still under the auspices of the Randolph County Arts Council. The summer following the year I was there I was on staff at Augusta. And then I ran the dance week for them the first year it [was run by] the college, in 1979 or 1980.
BRAD: Do you remember when you were first on staff with CDSS?
BOB: According to my list, I was on staff in 1976 for the first time. Jim Morrison hired me to be the American caller for one of the two Dance Weeks. In the afternoon, they would have two sessions of American dancing. One would be at the same time as rapper sword, and the other would be opposite longsword. I called mostly squares from Maryland Line [a small rural town between Baltimore and York, Pennsylvania]. All the young folks at Pinewoods thought it was great, but some of the older folks didn’t like it at all. I won’t mention names, but I remember one older Pinewoods attendee of many years said to me “Oh, those stupid simple squares, we used to do those years ago.”
I was co-chair [Program Director] for Family Week with Meg Lippert [then Durham] in 1978. Looking at my list, I was on staff at Pinewoods [in] 1976-1980, and then 1982-87, 1990, 1993-95, and then 2000 and I think that was the last time. So I was on staff during the ’80s almost every year except for one or two.
BRAD: And you ran American Week for a while.
BOB: I know I ran English & American Week a couple of times, but I may have run American Week too. [CDSS records show Bob first ran American Dance Week in 1984.]
Brad. In 1978-79 you were doing the Arts Council work and that lead to the publication of West Virginia Squares. Can you tell me more about that project?
BOB: I started out just going to dances the year that I was in residence there. I made recordings and wrote extensive notes, and when I got back to Baltimore I continued working on it. I don’t know how many drafts I did, all hunt and peck on a little portable typewriter. I ended up getting a little grant from NEA─not much, really, a few hundred bucks─so that I could go to a few more dances in West Virginia as part of that project. They paid for my transportation plus some blank tape. I shot a little bit of super-8 film at a dance in Independence, Pennsylvania, which is right on the West Virginia line.
BRAD: When did you come to CDSS with the project?
BOB: Jim encouraged me. After I showed him what I was doing, he passed it along and they agreed to publish it. Jim and Bertha Hatvary [then CDSS director] were the editors.
BRAD: The finished product arrived in 1983, in February or March, soon after I started working for CDSS. I was very impressed with the material you had there, and very pleased to have that out. Later on you published New England Quadrilles─is that right?
BOB: I did a little booklet that I put together. I think CDSS carried it for a while. The idea was to show contra dance callers how to call New England style squares.
BRAD: I’m going over the publication history I can remember. Sometime later you did your paired “Smoke on the Water” and “When the Works All Done This Fall.”
BOB: That was in the ’80s, and another example of having too much time on my hands. I don’t remember exactly the years. That was a lot of fun, really. Especially with the musicians who I got to do it. We ended up recording it in the Boston area because Peter [Barnes] knew a guy who was a good recording engineer up there. Peter and Bill [Tomczak] were both there. Steve [Hickman] and I went up there, and we got together and did it. I don’t think we spent more than two days in the recording studio, knocking those things out. It was really a lot of fun. You can still get everything on Do-Sa-Do.com. You can get individual dances with or without calls in mp3 format and the book is in pdf format. It’s a Western square dance site.
BRAD: I love those books; they had a big impact on me. Did you do any other publications? Those are the ones I can remember.
BOB: We did one here at the Folk School, which is unfortunately out of print, a project called Folk Dance Fun for Schools and Families. Nanette Davidson, Marsha Owen, and myself started with the third grade at Martins Creek School. We worked with them when they were in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. Martins Creek is the little elementary school that is closest to Brasstown. That’s where [the dance] “Sasha” came from.
BRAD: Did you introduce “Sasha” to us?
BOB: We were introduced to it at the Folk School by one of our Danish hosts, Hanne Jørgensen, who learned it at her folk school in Denmark. She taught it to us, and in turn I taught it to a whole bunch of people. Steve Hickman probably spread it around as much as anybody. I asked Hanne to find out where her teacher had learned it, and we learned it had come from a book by a Danish folk dance teacher named Klaus Jørgensen [no relation to Hanne], and it turned out I knew Klaus Jørgensen, I’d met him on my first trip to Denmark. At that time he’d given me several folk dance books he’d written, but not the one that had “Sasha.” After we’d traced it back to one of his books, I wrote to him and he wrote back giving me more background about where he had learned it.
BRAD: I have a vague memory that before you left [Baltimore] you started a callers collective or a callers group.
BOB: Yes, we did that. A group of callers in the Baltimore, Washington, Northern Virginia, Annapolis area, and we started getting together monthly I think, discussing things, calling dances for each other. I think it may still continue to this day. I know a number of the callers in that area, particularly Ann Fallon from Annapolis, and Susan Taylor in Baltimore; I think Robbin Marcus who is now in Atlanta was involved in it. I think some of the gals who are doing the square dance in the DC area now─four or five women callers─may have been involved. I think we started just before I left for here [North Carolina], so it was probably around 1990. I moved here in 1991.
BRAD: When you started [at the Folk School], I felt like you were rebuilding it all.
BOB: Yes, we definitely were. I think when I started we were running about fifteen music classes a year. Now I’m running some fifty music classes a year. Maybe eight or so dance classes a year, of which Winter Dance Week is really the only weeklong one. We have a Dance Musicians Week and I have my Callers’ Week. Everything else is just weekends.
BRAD: You were President of CDSS, 1990-1996, and on the National Council before that?
BOB: Yes, that’s right. I was Vice President a number of years before I became President, under Genny [Shimer, who was President from 1984-1990]. And before you came on board [in 1983] and we reorganized everything, I was on the Executive Committee.
BRAD: Any memorable things, memories you have of those days, being on the Exec or being on the board?
BOB: There was a fair amount of tension, generational tension, between older and younger folks, and between people who wanted more American dance and people who really didn’t care for it. Certainly the most difficult [years were] the transition between May Gadd [National Director until 1974] and you [Brad became National Director in 1983]. I didn’t experience much of that because I wasn’t on the Exec much in those days. I definitely remember when we discovered that you were interested in being director. That was very exciting. I can remember several of us who were very much in favor of that, and other folks who weren’t so sure. I can remember that very clearly, that kind of tension. And of course there was the question of moving out of New York [City], both before and after you became director. Jim [Morrison] kind of pressed for that too, but it didn’t go anywhere.
BRAD: I remember talking to some people who adamantly rejected the idea of moving. I valued and respected them, and didn’t want to hurt them, and thought maybe I should resign and let things be as they were. Then I talked to you, and to Genny [Shimer], and both of you said you thought the move was a good idea. That encouraged me to stay, to wait and see what happened.
BOB: I felt the move had to happen, because I felt things in New York were just way too entrenched. We needed the break. And I think we’ve all been proven right, and that it was the best thing we did. I think CDSS has a lot to be thankful to you for. Getting us out of New York was certainly a big one.
BRAD: It was a different era, looking back at it for me. CDSS has changed so much since then.
BOB: So much, yeah. It is totally different. And it probably will be different in the future. It will probably be good, I mean, change is good.
BRAD: I know you toured [as a caller]. I know you went to Denmark. But I don’t know much about your touring. Are there any highlights of your touring either in the U.S. or outside?
BOB: Gosh, I think some of the most exciting dances for me have been ones that were actually largely for non-dancers. I can remember once I was invited to call a square dance in Washington, DC. I think it was when they had just finished L’Enfant Plaza, and they were having a big street celebration on a Saturday. I went over with Bob Paisley’s bluegrass band, Southern Grass. We had this huge square dance with a couple hundred people of all ages, half of them black, just the people that were out there. And having it all work, you know, and just having all of those people having a great time and kicking up their heels. That is probably one of the most memorable dances I can remember.
I guess another one was calling a square dance for Maryland Bar Association Convention, of all things, with another bluegrass band, the Johnson Mountain Boys, and looking out on the floor and seeing the Comptroller, which is what they call the Treasurer of the State of Maryland, and two or three Maryland supreme court justices. All the lawyers out there whooping it up on the dance floor! Stuff like that, you know, I think I remember stuff like that more than calling at NEFFA, which is certainly an amazing experience too.
And I think CDSS actually got me this one gig I can remember doing. They had a series of dances outside Lincoln Center, in New York City, in the summer time with just whoever showed up. I did one of those with Chip Hendrickson, which was a great experience. I can remember the last dance we did. He got everybody in this huge Sicilian Circle, and he said “Let’s just trade off calling rounds of this.” Which we did, and we just improvised each round as we went along. I think we were on our way up to Pinewoods when I did that. It was probably the mid 1980s.
BRAD: Is there anything else you can think of, that would be interesting to add to this?
BOB: Well, I’ll tell you. One of the great, recent experiences was just a couple of weeks ago, the Dare to be Square weekend that we had here [at the Folk School]. That was amazing! I got an email from Tony Parkes today in which he said that one of the best things as far as he was concerned was getting to dance to all of these great callers. I’ve got to second that!
BRAD: I was jealous, I wanted to be there so much. It was an amazing gathering of people.
BOB: It was indeed. The great thing is that we got it documented [led by David Millstone, and with a grant from CDSS]. People will be able to see the dances. Seeing the dances is going to be interesting because there was probably a two to one ratio of women to men. Seventy-five to eighty percent of the people there were callers. It was pretty darn fun just having all those folks around. [100 videos from that weekend are available at Vidcaster and YouTube (the same material is on both sites), and on the Square Dance History Project, David’s bigger project, of which Bob is a consultant.]
BRAD: And back in the 1970s and ’80s, I would have said there were more men than women who called.
BOB: Yes, it was the reverse. Before Sandy Bradley, there were hardly any women callers, for American anyway. Most of the English callers were women I guess. Sandy’s inspiration really changed all that and now there are way more women than men.
I just want to say how much I appreciate all the opportunities you’ve given me over the years and everything you’ve done for CDSS. You have just an outstanding legacy, and gosh, if anyone deserves this award it’s certainly you.
BRAD: Thank you, Bob.
BOB: I think that should come up sometime, soon. Of course, you aren’t old enough yet!