19 Apr

Durango Barn Dance

Here’s a fun description of a barn dance in Durango: Stairwell Sisters not wasted at Durango dance.  Note: 200 people all having a great time.

Stairwell Sisters not wasted at Durango dance
Residents stomp, hoot and holler to San Francisco band

April 17, 2007
By Mike Clark | Special to the Herald

Judging by the whoops and hollers filling the Elks Club, the event billed as a “rural Saturday night celebration” will be part of the Durango Bluegrass Meltdown for a long while. One of the special events of last weekend’s annual bluegrass festival, Saturday night’s Old Time Barn Dance featured clogging, square dancing, contra dancing and assorted buck steps and sashaying around the dance floor to the old-time musical accompaniment of San Francisco’s all-women band, the Stairwell Sisters.

The doings had a decidedly family atmosphere, with kids underfoot and the organization on the loose side. One complication is that not a lot of people know precisely how to do all those steps, so the evening began with a lengthy workshop by Stairwell Sister, Evie Ladin, hitting the high points and the women in the audience – a 4 to 1 majority – enthusiastically joining in.
For the most part, the men either sat with arms folded and eyes glassy, or made their appearance on the dance floor doing a nonspecific shuffle rather like being in a strange church and singing the hymns without knowing the words.

Still, not having the dances down cold didn’t appear to curb anyone’s enthusiasm. This crowd of 200 or so looked as though their natural habitat might be the library or in front of a computer, but they were primed to cut loose Saturday night.

This was dancing for people who don’t normally dance, but the general ignorance of the steps put everyone on an equal footing, so to speak – even the kids. So the crowd overflowing the Elks Club and crowding the dance floor was by no means the hippest group ever gathered in Durango. The dress code was Counterculture Formal. But there wasn’t an ounce of pretension to be found, and they were having as much fun as any group I’ve seen in a long time.

The Stairwell Sisters, one of the Meltdown’s headline bands, plays for a lot of contra dances and hoedowns in the San Francisco Bay area and seemed right at home patiently obliging newbies and experts alike with a solid instrumental backing. There were times, though, when the Stairwell Sisters playing for our haphazard selves had an air of overkill, like the Beatles doing a bar mitzvah.

Not that anyone else noticed. They were too busy do-si-doing and promenading to steps like “Monkey in the Middle” and “Drop the Clutch and Let ‘Er Go” to be bothered. As the evening shifted from dance instruction to dance expression, the raucous group of dancers made it hard for Evie and company to be heard at times.

So if an evening of foot-stompin’, whistlin’, whoopin’ and hollerin’ fun, to the tune of accomplished old-time “Brother, Where Art Thou”-style music sounds like something you want to try, sorry. You missed it for this year.

But you might want to lay out your best T-shirt and Tevas for 2008’s barn dance. And here’s a tip for the organizers of the Meltdown: Guys, you’re gonna need a bigger dance floor.
mike@h2xinc.com.Mike Clark is a freelance writer who lives near Chimney Rock.

19 Feb

Contra article

Article on contra dancing from The Coloradoan in Fort Collins, Colorado:

Young, old, beginner and expert all twirl to contra beat at Club Tico
By KELLI LACKETT
KelliLacket at coloradoan.com

If you can walk, you can contra dance.

And no matter how well or how badly you do it, you’ll end up dancing with just about everyone in the room.

About 150 people showed up on a recent Saturday at Club Tico to move their feet to the piano, guitar, fiddle and mandolin stylings of the Northern California band the Fiddlerats.
“I love the energy and the crowd here,” said Amy Hancock, a 36-year-old massage therapist from Loveland who has been contra dancing for four years.
No Saturday night is the same, Hancock said.
“There are different callers, different combinations, different partners,” she said.
Contra dancing is a form of American folk dance set to jigs, reels and hornpipes. It is descended from English country dancing, which also became popular in France in the 18th century. Some people compare contra dancing to square dancing, but once you see contra dancing in person, it’s clear that they are different beasts.

You can square dance for years and still be considered a beginner. But learning to contra dance only takes an hour … theoretically.

I was among the few dozen people who showed up for free lessons an hour before the dance started. As the band tuned up, everyone shuffled around with their hands in their pockets, not knowing what to expect.

Finally, Randy Crump took charge of the lesson. Crump is one of the founders of the Friends of Traditional Dance, which has organized contra dances and other community dances in Fort Collins. The group hosts contra dances at Club Tico on the first, third and fifth Saturdays of each month. But there’s an opportunity to dance just about every night of the week somewhere on the Front Range.

Jonathan Feiman, a Fort Collins architect and project manager, was kind enough to be my partner for the lesson. Feiman had never danced before but he had a knack for it.

“I was looking for a way to learn to dance. I wanted to start with something that wasn’t terribly complicated” Feiman said.

We formed two long lines — men on one side and women on the other. Crump began to demonstrate steps such as the do-si-do, allemande, balance and the dizzy-making “swing.”

If you don’t master the steps with your partner, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to try them with others as you repeat the patterns as you move down the line of partners.

“What’s nice about contra dance is everybody is at different levels. If you have difficulty, someone will help you,” Feiman said.

For the rest of the night the dances were made up of differing sequences of the basic steps. The beauty of contra dancing is that your feet don’t have to do much except get you in the right place in the line. And the caller walks-through every dance before it starts.

“It’s really fun. And it’s pretty easy to do,” said 19-year-old Marie Johnson, who was contra dancing for the first time.

The regulars — who range in age from 19 to 90 — trickled in as the lesson ended and soon the floor was jumping with swirling skirts. No one who wanted to be on the dance floor was left out, though unless you’re in great shape you’ll have to sit one or two out to drink some water.

“You can come as a single and meet a whole community of friends. You can dance with the whole line,” said Longmont resident Linda Maguire. “Everybody is friendly and easy-going and will help you along.”

Maguire started contra dancing in 1998 to try something new while healing from separating from her husband.

“I laughed the whole time,” Maguire said.

Maguire was hooked. Whenever she travels, she finds a contra dance to attend and takes part in contra dancing camps around the country. She met her partner Brian Klock through contra dancing.

“You make lifelong friends,” Maguire said.

16 Feb

Contra and Politics

In my dance life, I straddle three worlds: gay square dancing, straight square dancing, and ocntra dancing. And I’ve often thought about the political and cultural differences between the groups, especially between straight square dancing and contra dancing. As David Franke, a self-described “religious agnostic and, in political terms, a libertarian, classical liberal, individualist, or radical—anything but conservative” notes, “in 15 years of contra dancing and all the conversations I’ve had with the other dancers when we’re not on the floor, I cannot think of one conservative among them.” However, he thinks this may be changing. Here are his thoughts in (Won by One):

While I love world music and African dance, my home base is traditional American music and dance. In particular, you’ll find me contra dancing every Friday. The odds are that you haven’t heard about contra dancing, so let me explain that its initial roots are in England, but by now it’s as American as, well, apple pie. When I’m on a contra line, I’m sharing that line with colonial Vermonters of the Green Mountain Boys era and every generation of Americans before and since. We dance to live music, with New England, Appalachian, and Celtic tunes being the dominant influences. Many of our dance moves are the same as in square dancing, though we are arranged in long lines of couples rather than squares.

This is a quintessential American experience harking back to an earlier era. Live acoustic music, not the DJ- and rock-oriented club scene. No alcohol or drugs—people come only to dance and socialize. We often share potluck meals or snacks. It’s truly intergenerational, with everyone from grandparents to teens and young children dancing with each other. Dance flirtation is encouraged, but try to go beyond that and you’ll be invited to find a different venue. At a contra dance weekend, everyone adopts the young kids by looking out for them so their parents can dance too. This is a uniquely American cultural community, found in hundreds of towns and cities across the nation.

Why do I bring this up? Because in 15 years of contra dancing and all the conversations I’ve had with the other dancers when we’re not on the floor, I cannot think of one conservative among them. Occasionally one will show up for one or two dances, but they don’t come back. I don’t know why, but from conversations with a few of my conservative friends who know of my strange obsession, I suspect they find it too quaint, too hokey for their tastes. They prefer the more fashionable forms of dance and partying that are popular in the suburbs, the synthesizer over the fiddle, the country club over the Grange hall. Heck, they don’t even know what a Grange hall is. So from my personal experience in social and cultural traditionalism, I’d say Weyrich and Lind have their work cut out for them, culturally perhaps more than politically.

But wait. All this was true in contra dancing until a couple of years ago. Inexplicably and spontaneously, at dances across the country, high-school and college students have discovered this ancient art form and taken to it with all the energy and enthusiasm you’d expect in their age group. Church youth groups are beginning to come together to our dances. And from conversations with the kids, particularly at rural dances outside metropolitan Washington, D.C., I know that a surprising number of them are home schooled. Being outside the cultural mainstream already, they have no problem with a dance form that might be sneered at by the “in” kids at school. And their parents certainly have no problem with the wholesome atmosphere at the dances.

31 Jan

New Feature at Ceder.net

I love databases and database-driven websites. Vic & Debbie Ceder’s Square Dance Resource Net is a prime example of how to use databases to build an interesting, informative, and flexible site.

His newest feature is Caller Notes. It’s billed as an online caller note service; so far, there’s one entry: Caller Notes — Half Sashay, which contains a definition, teaching hints, dos and don’ts, equivalents, flow considerations, good uses, bad uses, gimmicks, extensions, choreography, and comments. Here’s where the database stuff shines. The choreography is pulled from Vic’s choreography database, so it is an evolving and expanding collection of choreo. And, as the collection of comments grows, they too will be searchable (presumably).

This allows a note service that continues to be up-to-date and useable over time.

Note: When I first started calling, there were a number of note services available. These were published by (usually) individual callers and (usually) provided choreographic ideas for featured calls.

19 Dec

Contra Dance Video

Here’s a great video of a contra dance: YouTube – Arizona Contra Dance 2006 May Madness.

It shows Albuquerque caller Merri Rudd and the band The Privy Trippers. The dance is The Devil’s Backbone by William Watson.

MWSD Note: If you watch the dancing, you’ll see that part of the dance includes the “exchange” part of Spin Chain and Exchange the Gears. See Colin Hume’s article, Dance Technique:Enjoy Dancing Better, where he notes that that move appears in other Scottish dances as well.

28 Jul

Contra in Albuquerque

Here’s a nice article on contra dancing in Albuquerque that was published in the Boomer supplement to the Albuquerque Journal on Sunday, July 23, 2006. I tried to find an online link to the article, but clicking on the Boomer link just took me to an error page (don’t know whether it’s the server acting up with Safari (although other special section links work okay)). So I scanned in the article and put it here. BTW, I’m in almost every picture, in a sort of “where’s Waldo” way.

17 Jul

Article on Gay Square Dancing

Here’s a reasonable article from a mainstream newspaper on the recent IAGSDC convention, Wish Upon a Thar: Dancing outside the box. There are a few little oddities…like feeling the need to get a homophobic quote from someone on the NEC…but in general, it was okay.

Here’s the whole article, just in case the online version disappears:

Dancing outside the box

Gays embrace an American tradition: square dancing

By Joanna Smiley | joanna@tlnews.net

Mike Neiheisel stood in the Anaheim Marriott lobby clad in khaki shorts and a black polo shirt embroidered with a rainbow-sail logo. A mix of coffee, nicotine and adrenaline pumped through his veins.

Neiheisel, 51, had left his home in Escondido at 6 a.m. that day with one thing on his mind: square dancing.

He wasn’t alone.

Neiheisel was one of nearly 1,000 people who gathered July 1 at the hotel for the 23rd annual International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs (IAGSDC) convention.

Some of the dancers flew in from as far away as Japan and Grand Rapids, Mich., to do-si-do.

Coincidentally, hundreds of teenagers disguised as action heroes were also in town for the Anime (AX) Expo 2006. A boy with a purple mohawk winced as he brushed shoulders with a gay square dancer in a pink tutu. The third group to book the hotel that weekend, a Christian televangelist group, had yet to arrive.

“It’s wonderful here,” Neiheisel said. “The air is cranked way up, we’re dancing, I’m seeing people I get to see once a year and once a year only.” He floated into the main ballroom with his head held high and his smile utterly contagious.

The gay square dancing boom

It’s a scene that has grown significantly since its Florida debut in 1977. IAGSDC, which formed in 1983, includes 60 clubs, 2,400 members and international affiliates in Canada and Japan. For the past 15 years, the community has been growing steadily, according to Karl Jaeckel, archivist with IAGSDC and one of 10 people who has been to all 23 of the group’s conventions.

“If I had to pick three reasons why we’re growing, I would say it’s because we operate as singles’ clubs, so it’s a great social activity,” Jaeckel said. “We don’t require uniformed clothing, and there is an added element of excitement with gay square dancing. We kick up our heels knowing we are dancing in a welcoming place.”

For Neiheisel, it’s all about the people.

“It’s such a diverse group from all ages and backgrounds that comes together for this one common interest,” he said. “There’s also the benefits of socialization and physical activity. We have a guy in Finest City Squares (the San Diego group Neiheisel is a member of) who is 80 years old and square dancing, so it’s got to be good for you.”

Barbara Klein is a straight square dancer who attended the convention with her friend Melinda, a member of Tucson Squares.

“What I love about it is that it’s high-energy and much more stylized than straight square dancing,” she said. “Gay square dancing is not what you think of when you think of the high school honky-tonk.”

Roots of the dance

New England settlers and immigrant groups who brought folk music to America in the early 1900s probably had no idea how popular square dancing would become.

To unwind from a hard day’s work, pioneers would gather in front of a fiddle player and twist and twirl their neighbors. It became a grand old American pastime.

Square dancing is the official state dance of 22 states, including California. However, in recent years the straight square dancing community has seen a decline. At this year’s 55th National Square Dance Convention in San Antonio, approximately 7,000 people attended, a two-thirds drop from 1994.

Vivian McCannon, 88, of San Antonio, has been on the National Square Dance Convention Executive Committee for 32 years. The San Antonio convention was her last before retiring.

McCannon said she isn’t keen on gays appropriating the square dancing tradition.

“I’m not in favor of (gays), and I’m not exactly sure why they’ve come into square dancing,” she said. “Gays are a touchy subject wherever you go. I’ve seen some at straight clubs. As long as they stay to themselves and aren’t bothering anyone, it’s OK.”

Gay acceptance: a work in progress

Brian Smith, treasurer of IAGSDC and a member of the Vancouver group Squares Across the Border, said about 20 percent of Saturday’s attendees were reluctant to wear their passion for gay square dancing on their sleeves.

“There is less reason to hide in Canada,” he said. “With everything going on in America, the trend is to hide. Where I’m from, gays can get married, gays can get divorced, gays can even file income taxes as a couple.”

David Eppelheimer, a 52-year-old gay square dancer and kindergarten teacher from Grand Rapids, Mich., said July 1 was his 10th convention.

“I’ve always treated myself as a second-class citizen,” he said, smiling at a friend he recognized from last year’s dance. “Now I realize I don’t want to believe that anymore. It feels good to be accepted here, to be who I am in this room full of a thousand people who have dealt with it or understand and are straight.”

In a room down the hall — the designated lesbian square dancer suite — a discussion ensued about why there are more gay men than lesbian square dancers.

“Men need this outlet,” said Olivia Pickette, a square dancer with DC Lambda Squares. “They can hang here and be themselves. It seems more culturally accepted to be a gay woman right now.”

Suddenly, a woman who resides in Oceanside surfaced from behind a soda machine. She said that she had to step out of a photo earlier in the day because she works in the military. (She declined to be named in this story.)

She has three more months until she is discharged, she said. She explained to the group that her sexuality is not accepted in her line of work. If she discloses to her commander that she is a gay woman and sexually active, it is grounds for dismissal.

Square dancing: the common denominator

The clock ticked and Neiheisel emerged from a room packed with dancers. He rounded up his Finest City Squares crew. It was almost time for the Honky Tonk Queen and Fairy Tale Ball.

“The North County group is struggling,” Neiheisel said with a sigh as he handed out collared shirts. “. . . Finest City Squares is doing really well. We meet every week in San Diego.”

Jim Dillon and his wife, Nancy, square dance with Neiheisel’s group. This was their second gay square dancing convention.

“We go to both straight and gay conventions,” Jim said. “They’re perfectly open to straight couples here. (Square dancing) is good exercise, a mental challenge and great fun. (Gay dancing) is very different than straight square dancing, which requires traditional attire, for one.”

Veronica Ramirez, a 16-year-old from Santa Ana, draped in black and clutching a sword, hurried by Neiheisel and his pals.

“Man, I think this is really cool,” she shouted. “The fact that you’re here and out in the open is a great thing.”

Reach reporter Joanna Smiley at 760.752.6735.

14 Jul

Dr. Spock’s Book, Baby and Child Care, Published

This book is one of the biggest best-sellers of all time, and was probably influential for many of us baby boomers.

I guess any song with “baby” in it is fair game, but You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby seems appropriate, or maybe Rockabye Your Baby (songs where “baby” is used to refer to an infant rather than a girlfriend).

Relevant Records

  • (You Must Have Been) A Beautiful Baby (Buckskin 1249)
  • Rockabye Your Baby (Chinook 131)
14 Jul

Woody Guthrie’s Birthday

Called the father of American folk music (also the father of folk singer Arlo Guthrie), Woody wrote more than 1000 songs.

I have This Land is Your Land. Also, if you have a copy of Redwing, you also have Union Maid, a Guthrie song written to to the tune of Redwing. “Oh you can’t scare me, I’m sticking to the union”.

Relevant Records

  • This Land Is Your Land (Grenn 12233)