07 May

Square Dance Mystery

Back before I started square dancing, I read a lot of mysteries (well, I still do, but not in the copious quantities I did back then) and spent a lot of time at “Murder Unlimited” aka “Tasha’s Paperback Book Exchange”, a dead and still-missed bookstore in Albuquerque. The proprietor, Tasha Mackler, was there most of the time; after one bought a few books, she was able to pretty accurately recommend books and authors that one might also enjoy. She even wrote a book, Murder…by Category: A Subject Guide to Mystery Fiction, where you could find mysteries about cooking, mysteries about theater, etc.

So, when I started square dancing, she used to tell me I should write a mystery set in the square dance world. Having absolutely no writing skills, I never even considered it.

Jump ahead about 17 years, and there actually is a mystery set in dosado-land. Don Beck knows the author, Glenn Ickler, and told me about the book when I visited him and his family last summer. After I left, Don tracked down a copy of the book, A Deadly Calling, and lent it to me.

So, how is the book (as it relates to square dancing, of course)? Not awful.

Mitch, the protagonist, is a reporter and is assigned to cover an event at the square dance nationals in Minneapolis/St. Paul.  The dancers are trying to set a world record for number of dancers dancing on bricks, and it’s in the middle of a heat wave, so Mitch and his photographer sidekick Al figure they’ll get some pictures of dancers collapsing in the heat. We’re introduced to the a lady caller, Tennessee McGee, who’s from Minnesota, but affects a southern drawl, and always wears a big cowboy hat. She says, “I am what’s known as a national caller, which means I travel all over this great country doing my thing.” She also says, “Calling square dances is a kind of show biz, you know? If you want to get national bookings,  you’ve got to stand out from the crowd.”

No dancers collapse, but a caller does, and later dies (well, it is a murder mystery after all). The mystery itself is ho-hum, and the motive, while developed in a square dance setting, is universal. (I wonder if there’s anything in square dancing that would be a motive for  murder: “You stole my choreography, so you must die!”) Mitch is kind of a jerk, who is engaged to be married but attempts to play around with any attractive woman he happens to meet, including, of course, Tennessee McGee. He and his partner Al are also inveterate punsters, so you’ll get a few groans out of every chapter.

I read the book to see how it portrays square dancing. It’s clear that Glenn Ickler is a square dancer; he knows the lingo and the culture, noting that most of the dancers have gray and white hair, and even describing century books. One character, a single woman square dancer, says, “Guys without partners are worth their weight in gold. Hey, how about you learning to square dance? Our club has classes every Thursday starting in September,” capturing both the plight of single women in square dancing, and the relentless recruiting. Mitch’s response is typical Mitch; he didn’t care about square dancing, but he was interested in seeing more of the woman.

However, it’s also clear that he’s a dancer, and not a caller. On CALLERLAB, he has Tennessee say, “It provides the training courses for  new callers and the refresher classes for experienced callers. Big Eddie taught at Callerlab (sic) for a good many years.” I’ve found that a common misconception among dancers is that caller schools are called “callerlabs”. Of course,  the CALLERLAB convention does provide some caller training, but that’s not the same as a caller school.

Here’s a bio for one of the deceased callers:

Eddie Plummer Junior had become enamored with square dancing at the age of fifteen. The ever-changing patterns were fascinating to his mathematically-inclined mind, and he loved dancing in a group where he could put his hands on four girls. He joined a teenage square dance club and pestered the caller for a chance to try calling until, one night, he was given the  mike for a hash tip. Big Eddie had told Johnny that three minutes of seeing all those people moving the way he directed them made him feel like a god, and he decided, on the spot, to learn to be a caller.

“Pa said controllin’ a floor full of people was better than havin’ sex,” Johnny Plummer said. “But I ‘spect he got plenty of that, too, after the dances. He jist wouldn’t tell me that in front of Ma.”

At the age of twenty-two, Eddie Plummer Junior was still known as Little Eddie, but he had a degree in mechanical engineering from Kentucky University and a certificate of completion from Callerlab.

Another caller’s (also murdered) ex-wife describes him thusly:

“What he had was a twenty-four-hour-a-day hard-on. The man wore a jock strap when he  called a dance so he could keep it under control. Otherwise, when the girls twirled, Lefty’s cock whirled.”

It’s a light, fun read, with some square dance talk, a lot of sex talk (but not much action, despite Mitch’s best efforts), and a whole lot of punning.

I’m sure Tasha would be pleased that someone wrote a square dance mystery.

27 Apr

Wilde Bunch’s Crossover

The Wilde Bunch has what we call a crossover when dancers finish Basic. We do some fun dance-related thing, and give the new dancers a certificate and their Wilde Bunch name badge.

Rick Weber is our crossover guru and always comes up with fresh ideas for the dancing. Tonight’s was particularly clever and fun. It was chicken related (obligatory links to my Dance Like A Chicken Day post and another Chicken Dance post), so I was able to break out my chicken paraphernalia (hat, dancing chickens, etc.)

Rick had asked me in advance for a list of calls that could be done from a squared set and calls that could be done from facing lines. He picked out calls and put them (along with some additional instructions) inside of plastic eggs. All I knew was that the calls inside plain-colored eggs could be done from a squared set, the ones in multi-colored eggs could be done from facing lines, and the pink egg contained “Allemande Left and Right and Left Grand (while clucking like a chicken)”.

Rick passed out the eggs to people in the square. My job, while calling, was to tell someone in the square to open their egg and read (call) the instructions. So they got to do things like “Four ladies promenade while the others act like they’re laying an egg.” It was lots of fun, and an easy and inexpensive gimmick. And, of course, Barnyard Reel (BMVCD 3054) is perfect music.

Don’t forget: May 14 is National Dance Like a Chicken Day.

27 Apr

Bunko on the Titanic

It was not a disaster – no icebergs encountered!

This past weekend, I called for the Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus (3 sessions – Plus/A2, C1, and MS/Plus) and the Denver Half Crazies (2 sessions  – C2 and C3A).

The theme for the Saturday night party dance was Remember the Titanic. But before the dance started, we played a party dice game called Bunko (aka Bunco, Bonco, Bonko). The game has been around for a while and there are many rule variations; this set is closest to what we played (but I liked this description, particularly the Food/Snacks:

FOOD/SNACKS (This is very important!!!!) (P.S. M &M’s ARE A MUST)

It’s a good mixer game; people move around and change partners a lot. There’s absolutely no skill involved; the game is 100% luck. My luck was not in Saturday night.

I think the Rainbeaus plan to do some Bunko at their fly-in in September, Mountain Mix: Chase Right for the Silver. It should be fun; a good way to break the ice and get people socializing (of course, just square dancing is a good way to do that also). Speaking of the fly-in, someone noticed that the roman numeral for 2009 is MMIX, so they made a couple of buttons:

Two buttons publicizing Mountain Mix, using MMIX

Two buttons publicizing Mountain Mix, using MMIX

At the dance, I tried to keep an oceanic theme going. At Plus, we worked Load the Boat fairly strenuously in one tip. I had looked up Sink the Boat in Burleson’s, but it ends in a squared set with everyone facing out; it didn’t seem worth taking the time to teach it. Musically, of course, I had to do My Heart Will Go On (available on Hanhurst as an MP3 (MP3ABC 9)). I also threw in The Morning After from The Poseidon Adventure (available on vinyl (GMP 1014)).

I hope people had a good time; I sure did!

23 Apr

Square Dance Puzzle

Warning…this is totally geek-centric.

Here’s how I found this (embarassing description of meaningless surfing follows…)

I was going to start writing choreography. I decided to see if CSDS had been updated, so I went to Vic’s site. Once there, I saw that he’s added a new document to his site: Two Couple Primer. So of course, I had to read it.

There was a link at the bottom to an 80-page ebook on pairs dancing, but it lead to a 404 error (there’s a typo in it). So I deconstructed the URL and ended up at KARL BELSER HOME PAGE. Okay, clearly a square dancer; let’s see what he does.

Hmmm…this looks interesting: COMMITTEE TO PROMOTE SQUARE DANCING HOME PAGE. (I wish Karl wasn’t so into all-caps page titles…). I wandered around the links here for a while (checked out the organization’s history and the square dance videos at the Saddlebrooke Squares site).

Then I went here: Square Dancing 101. Whoa! This is an odd document. This description of square dancing for the Unnamed Facility Square Dancing Club is unlike any introductory document I’ve ever seen and includes some complicated rules about handholds (“Handholds are greedy”) and token movement.

So of course, I had to discover what this was about. More URL deconstructing led me to the MIT Mystery Hunt. The url of the square dancing page indicates that it’s from the 2003 puzzle. I tried starting from the top, but couldn’t figure out how to get to the square dancing part. So I started back from the Square Dancing 101 document, and got here: Barn. Of course, square dancing would happen in the barn.

I didn’t attempt to solve the puzzle, but here’s a puzzle for you: can you identify the caller in the audio files that go along with the puzzle? Hint: MIT notwithstanding, it’s a West Coast caller. Here’s the solution to the puzzle (both of them).

So, I told you it was nerdy. I think I’d better go write choreography now.

22 Apr

Video: Bear Miller calling to Hooked on Classics

Bear Miller recently posted a video to his Facebook page showing him calling high energy Plus at a Halloween dance in Colorado. (You may not be able to access the Facebook stuff if you’re not registered.) The music? Hooked on Classics (check the link if you’ve ever wondered what all the tunes are in that medley of disco-infused classical extracts). iTunes link: Hooked on Classics.

Note: almost no square dance costumes…just a variety of Halloween costumes.

At the very beginning of the clip, note what the dancers do when Bear calls Square Thru 4. Later on, you can see the non-active dancers doing that move while the actives actually square thru.

Bear nails the ending. Sort of like a gymnast sticking on the dismount, except callers aren’t required to do it…it’s just way cool when we manage it. Bear was good…I thought he wasn’t going to make it, and then bang! there it was.

22 Apr

Summer Decisions

Oh dear, oh dear…shall I raise the level of my incompetence and attempt to learn C3B this summer?

This would involve traveling to Germany, most likely attending iPAC, and then heading to Plön for Clark Baker‘s weeklong C3B compact class.

I learned C3A in a weekend a long time ago, and have been dancing (using the word loosely) it two or three times a year ever since. So it’s not like I’m bored with C3A even remotely. On the other hand, there aren’t many opportunities to learn C3B in an intensive way (which is necessary for me, since I sure can’t learn it through regular classes in Albuquerque).

So, do I need or even want to learn full C3? Yes, I think it will increase my choreographic understanding, and it’s always fun to learn something new. No, I’m not even really competent at C3A; I don’t get to dance it all that much. Full C3 would be one more level that I wouldn’t get to dance that much. I’ve heard that C3B is really hard.

Do I want to go to Germany for a couple of weeks this summer? Yes, it would be exciting. No, I’d be away from T-B. I haven’t been out of the States in over 20 years (I think that’s a yes and a no).

Decisions, decisions….

20 Apr

Dance Quotes

I’ve been adding some new dance quotes to my collection. In general, I’ve focused on quotes that are relevant to dance for regular people, not performance art dance (read ballet/modern). However, if I like a quote, I’ll include it. I don’t check for quote or attribution accuracy…if I find it out on the internets, I’ll grab it. After all, it’s just for fun.

Here’s a complete list of quotes in my database: Dance Quotes.

19 Apr

Contra dance caller on Wife Swap

Last Sunday, when I went to Glen Echo for their Sunday contra dance (skipping the DC/DC closing ceremonies), I danced to the calling of DeLaura Padovan and the music of Live Culture, which includes DeLaura’s husband, Steve Hickman.

DeLaura, Steve, and their two girls were one of the families in Friday’s Wife Swap. So I ended up watching Wife Swap for the first time. It lived up to my expectations of reality TV (that’s not a compliment). The Padovan-Hickmans came off pretty well (I wouldn’t want to live such an extreme off-grid life, but I’m not going to criticize their choices). As for the other family, or at least the other wife, Shannon Nicole…well, she may become a poster child for ugly materialism run rampant.

Dance relevance other than DeLaura’s contra calling? Well, a write-up about the show said something about DeLaura’s having a hoedown in the Burrough’s living room. Maybe she did, but if so, it got cut in editing.

Oh yes…the dance at Glen Echo was fun (loved the band!) and I ran into four people I met at Pinewoods last summer.

17 Apr

I’m ba-a-a-ck

It’s been two years…too long.

Time to get back to blogging. Not that I haven’t been thinking about it; I’ve got dozens of URLs saved up in my Evernote notebook.

But I fear WoW took its toll, plus day to day life. And then my original, hand-rolled blog was attacked by spammers. First I had to shut down comments. Then the spammers discovered my form for adding content, so I had to change that. Clearly, I needed another solution. I could have researched web security, and rewritten my code…but I think in the long run, it’ll be easier to go with WordPress; spammers, after all, never rest.

A little history: I started this blog on February 10, 2000 – over 9 years ago (practically an eternity in internet time). There have been a few gaps since then, but never one as long as the current two years. I first started using Manila software at EditThisPage.com. Then I went to my home-grown system. And now WordPress.

I was able to automate some of the transfer, but there were some glitches, so I ended up re-reading almost every post I’ve made. I checked a few links (and commented on a few that no longer existed), but I know there are many others that are dead. I’d like to go back and revisit some of the topics I covered way back when.

Now I need to try to recreate some of the functionality that I liked about the old SquareZ. The dance quotes will be easy; I just need to export from one database and import into another. However, the “on this day” stuff will be harder to implement. I’d like to do it using WP’s plugin technology so I can change themes with impunity. And I’m sure I’ll be changing the look, as I learn more about themes.

In the early days, I think I was the only blogging square dance caller around. Now, of course, there are many. Most of them are journal-type blogs (with a bunch on LiveJournal). I plan to continue my more traditional link-and-comment type of blog. Based on the analysis at this site, I would call myself a “Topical Blogger”, in that I “focus on very particular niche”…in my case, calling modern square dances and contras.

Since I have a LiveJournal account, I’ve set WP up to crosspost. Ditto Facebook. No more lurking, I guess.