16 Jun

Double Grand Square

Almost every year at the CALLERLAB convention, late at night, Clark Baker can be persuaded to do a few Grand Square variations. I check his list of articles to see if he’d written anything about these, but didn’t see anything (hint, hint).

However, I came across another variation (for 16 dancers) on a contra callers blog, dance callers’ journal. Basically, it involves totally filling in the 16-matrix of a squared set:

Here’s the original blog post: More on the Double Grand Square. You can see it animated here: Double Grand Square.

Everybody does a regular grand square, following the rules (go toward your opposite/partner if you can, back up if you’re close to your opposite/partner, turn 90 degrees to face into the set). All four sides of each quadrant are occupied all the time.

It should be doable by reasonably competent MWSD dancers (if they’re willing to take a full 32 counts to do the figure). In one of the comments, Martha (the author) says, “Now I want to try it with my Western Squares club.” Earllier in the comment, she mentions her square dancing friend Aaron. She lives in St. Louis…could it be she dances with the Gateway Squares and knows old queen fabulous caller Aaron Wells?

11 Jun

Flippo

Marshall Flippo comes to Albuquerque once a year to call a dance; he’s been doing that ever since I can remember…and many years before that.

Here’s a nice article about Marshall, and, because Marshall’s career spans virtually all of MWSD, some aspects of the history of square dancing: Square dance superstar. It was written for an Abilene newspaper in November 2008.

I have a hard time believing that Marshall has recorded over 1000 singing call records. Jerry Junck says he put out a new record every two months for years; if he did that for all the 60 years he’s been calling, that would be 360 records. Vic Ceder’s record database lists 175 recordings by Marshall.

A thousand or three hundred…that’s still a heck of a lot of singers.

One of the things I admire about Marshall is that he always seems to have something new for his dances, both musically and choreographically. Another is his ability to show everyone a good time, regardless of their dance level and ability.

We’ll keep bringing Marshall into Albuquerque as long as he’s able to get here!

10 Jun

Dirty (Square) Dancing

Y’know those patter filler rhymes…stuff like:

A right and left around the ring
While the roosters crow and the birdies sing

And you know that Vic Ceder has a whole collection of them on his site.

Well, how about a whole collection of ribald ones? The book Unprintable Ozark Folksongs and Folklore: Blow the Candle Out by Vance Randolph contains a chapter called Ribaldry at Ozark Dances. If you scroll down to page 762, you’ll find the square dance stuff (warning…totally un-PC…and of course, very het):

The rhymes shouted  out by the caller at ordinary square dances, attended by respectable women, are innocent enough. Otho Pratt, who was raised on Horse Creek near Galena, Mo., said that ‘right at the end of a dance, when most of the decent people had went home, the caller used to get kind of dirty sometimes.’ Every old time caller knows some really ribald calls, which are used at unconventional froics in the backwoods.

Here’s one that may provide an interesting take on calls like Acey Deucey and Relay the Deucey:

Cheat your partner, swing Miss Lucy
Up with her petticoat, out with your ducey

I guess they’re part of our square dancing history…not that you’ll hear about them at CALLLERLAB…

01 Jun

Future of Square Dancing?

Does the future of square dancing lie in barn dances in London?

How ’bout a “burlesque barn dance”? Or a monthly barn dance hailed as “the new rave” for London clubbers?

Check out Ride ’em cow girls:

As soon as we’d got the hang of the basic steps, the music picked up and so did the dancing. The fact that I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing didn’t seem to matter and I soon found myself being whirled from cowboy to cowboy in a complicated tangle of “do-si-dos” and “promenades”. It was all wildly exciting, and judging by the sheen of sweat covering my hide, pretty good exercise too. “I’m having so much fun!” I squawked, catching sight of Caroline as I was swung into the air by one of the more enthusiastic participants.

Cowboy dances are barn again:

I’d heard from friends about Cut A Shine’s Valentine’s barn dance back in February, when it was packed to the rafters with cool, fun, up-for-it singletons. They told me that spinning around energetically with strangers was a brilliant way to meet new people — and had the dates to prove it.

Veterans who knew the moves were quick to help the inept (Dolly had the patience of a saint with me). “Yee-haw!” could be heard all across the room. The sense of exuberant camaraderie was mighty refreshing: jumping into a dance few of you know is a fab ice-breaker.

To my joy, a strapping young man in cowboy boots and open shirt, complete with manly chest hair, grabbed me by the hand.
“Come on!” he winked, “I need a partner for this one.” It was like a Western romcom. We introduced
ourselves to another group and began a frantic team effort to “strip the willow”. The final chord signalled a round of high-fives among this group of former strangers, and my new friend Andy and I went to the bar.

So, square dancing (barn dancing) provides a structured way for young people to meet each other and interact. What a surprise!

15 May

Where are the square dancers?

Tomorrow, at least 5073 dancers in 113 organizations representing 60 unique dance styles will dance down Broadway and through Manhattan in the 3rd annual New York Dance Parade. There’s samba, salsa, ballet, Bulgarian, modern, circus streetdance, pole dancing (!!!), ecstatic, ballroom, belly; even our contra dancing cousins are joining in. But no square dancers.

Dance Parade Inc is a 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is:

to promote dance as an expressive and unifying art form by showcasing all forms of dance, educating the general public about the opportunities to experience dance, and celebrating diversity of dance in New York City by sponsoring a yearly city-wide dance parade and dance festival.

They want to honor Dance’s historical roots, unite in respecting Dance’s diversity, support grasss-roots organizations, legitlmize Dance as a communicative, social form of expression, and invoke joy and brotherhood.

Maybe square dancers would look silly among all the myriad ethnic and current urban dance styles. On the other hand, if paired with the contra dancers (dance styles are together, in roughly historical order), it could be an interesting juxtaposition to show you can do a traditional dance style to modern music. And if square dancers aren’t there, and virtually every other social dance form is, what does that say about square dancing?

13 May

Subversive Squares

Check out the Seattle Subversive Square Dance Society, aka S4. I wonder how they find houses big enough for more than one square and with space for musicians as well. But I like the idea of converging to dance at spontaneous locations.

This group is sponsoring About Dare To Be Square – West!. Looks like fun; maybe I’ll go. Maybe I need to start playing guitar again….

And, in my category of “why didn’t I grab that domain name”, one of last year’s organizers, Caroline Oakley, has squaredancefever.com.

13 May

New Google Search Options

Google added some new search options today (Google’s new search tools showcase innovation), among them on called “Wonder Wheel”.

So, of course, I wonder-wheeled square dance, and then extended from there to square dance caller and then to “square dance caller lab”. Here are the (somewhat bizarre) results:

Who the heck is Matt McGovern, and why is his page directly linked to CALLERLAB? At least he’s a caller and he’s young…in fact, a teenager. But I couldn’t find anything on his site related to CALLERLAB…it doesn’t even say he’s a member. It would be interesting to know why Google links the things it does.

Another interesting view is the Timeline. Here’s one for the search “square dance”:

Notice the peaks in the early fifties and the late seventies.

A snippet from the New York Times October 12, 1951:

OTTAWA, Friday, Oct. 12– Princess Elizabeth escaped last night from the long crinoline skirts and tiaras of state dinners and slipped into something comfortable. She put on a peasant blouse and dirndl skirt and the Duke of Edinburgh climbed into blue jeans and a wild shirt for an evening of square dancing at usually dignified Government House.

Notice that the queen could take off her crinolines and put on a (presumably more comfortable) dirndl skirt.

Here’s the timeline view for “contra dance”:

And here’s an expansion for 2000-2009:

Looks like it might have peaked around 2005-2006, and it might be trending down now, but it’s hard to say.

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

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!