Bob Brundage - Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is September the 25th, 2005. This is a Sunday and after a busy day we're talking to Nasser Shukayr, currently from Texas and try to find out a lot of what his life has been about. He's one of the super heroes of the day today and fostering a brand new square dance program that we want to talk about called ABC. So let's start out first of all Nasser with where you were born and brought up and tell us a little bit about life before square dancing.
Nasser Shukayr - Well Bob, I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. They had an Old Schumpert Hospital and a New Schumpert Hospital I was one of the first kids born in New Schumpert in 1958. My mother had married a man from Jordan and when I was about two years old we moved overseas. We were over there about seven months and that's when she discovered that life in Jordan just isn't a lot of fun. So she moved back to the small town of Keithville, Louisiana and I was raised on a farm. We raised chickens and rabbits and hogs, lots and lots and lots of hogs. Went through school in Louisiana. I was late getting into square dancing that was the, I was about 28 years old when I first got into it. I had a computer business. I was a computer programmer and worked in that for about a year and a half, started my own business, consulting firm.
My wife at the time had square danced as a child with her parents. One day we went to visit my in-laws and they said, "We're going square dancing and y'all are going to go watch". So I went and watched. I didn't want anything to do with square dancing. I knew about, and they tried to get me into it for ten years but I thought it was clogging. The reason I thought that is that on the Grand Old Opry on TV they used to say, you know, when they go to commercial, "We're going to have the square dancers dance for you" and then the camera would show them it actually was cloggers. I thought it was square dances and when they came back from commercials the square dancers were still dancing and said, " Wasn't that great square dancing?" I knew my feet wouldn't move that fast. They misrepresented it. But when I went to that square dance and I saw my mother-in law do it I said, "Hey, if she can do it I can too", so we got into a class in Shreveport, Louisiana and it was fun.
BB - Do you remember who the caller was?
NS - Yeah, the caller, Ed Williams who was a local caller from Mansfield, Louisiana. What happened in that class in Shreveport only had five students so about four weeks into the class they said, " We're going to fold this class. There's not enough to mess with" but Ed was teaching another class in Mansfield, Louisiana, about twenty-five mites south of where I was living. So we went each Tuesday night to Mansfield. We enjoyed it. We were in our twenties and this was our date night. Thinking about the lessons, back then it didn't bother us. We were on a program, it was a twenty-five week Learn To Square Dance program which was in vogue at the time. That's what Ed was using. There were nineteen dancers in our graduating class. When they danced the class and club together typically it was like seven squares and this is in a small town of about five thousand people. We enjoyed it. We started going everywhere, going to dances. I started going to dances before we graduated because my wife at the time was already an experienced dancer. I actually started calling before I graduated too. I had seen the caller, you know and tried asking him a little bit about what he did. I started calling patter. After about three months where I called patter once a week at the weekly thing, the weekly club, he said, " Well, sooner or later you're going to have to learn to sing" you know. I didn't want to. I liked patter but he loaned me some records. The first one I did was 'The Devil Went Down To Georgia'. Gary Shoemake's standard on Chaparral.
BB - So, about what year was this?
NS - I started, this would have been about '88.
BB - '88. So, who else were your mentors?
NS - Ed Williams, the local caller there was very helpful. I had had piano and music lessons since I was a child. I remember when I told my mother that I was going to become a square dance caller she said, " Well, at least your music, that fortune I spent on music lessons at least you're going to make some use out of it". I quickly got hooked up with Wayne Morvent from the Beaumont, Texas area. He actually lives in Silsbee, Texas. What happened was, I was in the local Caller's Association, the East Texas Caller's Association. Wayne Morvent came by to do a caller's seminar. He was an Accredited Caller Coach. He offered all the callers a chance to be critiqued. There were 31 callers in the association. All but one chose to be critiqued. I remember Ed. I asked Ed if he was going to be critiqued. He said, "No". I said, "Why not?" He said, "Last year a Caller Coach came by and critiqued me" The Caller Coach told him, “Ed, you need to open your mouth more so people can hear you". Ed said, "I've been calling twenty years and I'm just not going to have someone tell me to open my mouth you know". So, after Wayne Morvent critiqued me Ed asked, "What did he say. What did he say?" I said, "He told, open your mouth more or you'll end up sounding like Ed”. So Wayne Morvent kind of took me under his wing and showed me a lot. Part of that, I had gone to caller's school with Jack Lasry and Earl Johnston.
BB - Oh, did you?
NS - I think this was in, that caller's school was in '87. That ended up being the last, I think the caller's school was in '88, and ended up being the last one that Jack taught.
BB - Was that in Jack's barn?
NS - No, it was at English Mountain, in Tennessee. That was a good start.
BB – Well, Iknow you told me in past conversations that you lived in California for a while there, did you?
NS. Yeah, I did. I was in Shreveport most of my life. Somewhere along the line I moved to Dallas. I was in the computer business. The computers were really good in Dallas. I was there about a year. I had a girlfriend in California and we had a kind of long distance relationship. So I was looking on the computer on the Internet so I thought, for what I do in my computer programming where is the most money that you can make. You know I don't care where I live. Where's the money you know, and the money was in California. So, I moved to the San Francisco area. Lived out there for about eight years. I quit the computer business about the middle of 2000 and just went to calling full time.
BB - Well, how about some of the other associations you belonged to. You mentioned the one in Texas. Did you belong to another one out there in California?
NS - Yeah. I've always supported the caller's association wherever I lived. In Louisiana they didn't really have a caller's association. I lived near the Texas border and I was with the East Texas Caller's Association, kind of made that a Longview, Tyler, Texas. When I lived in Dallas I was in the North Texas Caller's Association that was based out of there. When I was in California I was in the Square Dance Caller's Association of Northern California. It was based in that area. Where I'm at now in south Texas we have the Rio Grande Valley Caller's Association. It's always important to support the local activity.
BB· Then, when did you get into Callerlab?
NS - Callerlab at that time had a requirement where you couldn't vote until you'd been calling, or you couldn't join until you'd been calling three years. The short story is you also had to be calling 50 dances a year averaged over the last three years. I was calling 50 dances. I was calling regularly every week my first year of calling but, on the third year anniversary of calling was when I joined Callerlab so that was about '92, '91 or '92. The first convention I went to was in Pittsburgh and have been to every one since. At my second convention they put me in as the Vice-Chairman of the RPM Committee, Recruit, Promote and Maintain. Then one or two conventions after that I moved up to the Chairman of it. I think it was in '96 or '97 I was elected to the Board, The Callerlab Board of Governors.
BB - So, you've had a busy, busy time.
NS - We're glad to help.
BB - Right. Let's talk about recording. I know you've made several records so tell us a little more about that.
NS - Back when Wayne Morvent took me under his wing at that East Texas Caller" Association dance where he was doing the critiquing I was supposed to call a tip and afterwards he would talk to me about it. During the tip that I called a, did an old record which was Mickey Mouse on the B Sharp label. Wayne Morvent had heard me. He knew of the record but he said, " Hey, I'm going to record that on my record label". He wanted me to record it so he gave me the opportunity to record. I was on Rockin' M Records until the time that I moved to California and I didn't see any reason to be on a Texas label if I was going to be in California. I was talking to Hi Hat Records which was Ernie Kinney's label but he was getting up in years and told me he probably wasn't going to be doing it that long so I got with LouMac Records which was based out of the Seattle, Washington area. I've been with them for nine National Conventions. It doesn't seem that long.
BB - Well, any aspirations for having your own label?
NS - I've thought about sometimes. I probably won't. The way the record business has gone nowadays, it's so easy to make copies of the records. There's certainly no money in recording especially on a square dance label with the numbers shrinking. The economics just aren't there. The number one reason you do it is for advertisement purposes. For advertising or for greater advertisement seems to me to make the most sense to be with a bigger group, to be part of a bigger group. It's better to be part of a larger advertisement than all of the smaller advertisement.
BB - Wade Driver told me one time, I asked him about owning a record company and he said, " Well, anybody can do a record. If you've got $500 you can get a record and if you've got $5000 you can get a record company.
NS - Unfortunately, when I first started I know that if a record sold 300 copies you'd get your money back. If it sold like 500 to 600 you had a hit. The first one I did, Mickey Mouse sold a lot. I think they told me it sold like 2500 or 2700 which was a lot. Now, I mean records are doing good if you sell 150 of them you consider yourself lucky. Part of that is because even though the Callerlab Code of Ethics says, "Don't copy these records" they still do it and I don't know any way that, it's not just square dance records that are copied. Even you know, Paul McCartney and Britney Spears and all these great recording stars their music is copied all the time. It's just the way things are.
BB - It's so easy with the Ipod or something like that.
NS - Just press a button and it's copied.
BB - What's your take on MP 3's and CD's and Vinyl and all this jazz. We were talking about it the other day, you and I.
NS - I was so glad to see the music become of a better fidelity. Vinyl is really a very low fidelity type of music. Every time you play that record it wears it out just a little bit. Of course with the new CD's, MP 3 files those never wear out so you have good sounding music. People nowadays go to disco's and they go to theatres and they go to rock concerts and things and they're used to hearing high fidelity music so I'm really glad to see square dancing take shape. I love it when I'm traveling somewhere and tell people I'm a square dance caller and they say, "We'll, where do you carry your fiddle?" you know. "I don't carry a fiddle. It's all on my computer" and they're fairly impressed.
BB _ Right. I know the last few dances that I went to a young kid would come up to me and say, "Where did you get that music?" I was playing a 45 RPM and they couldn't understand it that anybody today would still be using 45's. They're still useful.
NS - They are. Yes. There'll always be 45's. There's some, Tom Dillander was telling me that there are enough jukeboxes that use 45's that they'll always be pressing 45's just for that one market, just to fill up those jukeboxes. Every time George Strait makes a country hit and then they have to put them in all the jukeboxes in the world. There must be thousands.
BB - What percentage of callers use 45's?
NS - You know, I don't have a feel for that except that one of the record producers was telling me that most of their sales are 45's, like 90 percent of their sales are still 45's. Part of that could be that it's still hard to duplicate a 45. When they sell one CD they really, because of copying they, you know 30 callers get to use that music from that one sale. But there's a lot of caller who use 45's.
BB - What's your experience calling overseas?
NS - I love to call overseas. In a way it's, my experience has been, I first got a chance to call overseas, somehow lucked out and got hired to call a festival in Saudi Arabia. What happens when you call in Saudi Arabia they ask you, "Who are some of the other callers you like?". So that determines who they'll get next year. The guy that was just in Saudi Arabia before me was Jack Pladdys from Cincinnati and he recommended me highly. I had a chance to call in Saudi Arabia and on my record label was another caller from Sweden so I worked it out where, I'd fly like, it seemed to me like I'd never get booked to call in Sweden but I'd fly like to Sweden, which is kind of half way to Saudi Arabia then call there and then go to Saudi Arabia, hit two or three places with that same trip. Actually, on that same trip I think I called in England. That was my first time to call overseas in '98. That first trip overseas was like seven days of calling and then I went back and some people liked me and I had like ten days next, then fifteen. I had a trip, there was one trip overseas which was like 35 days. That's a long time to be over there so I busted it up into two trips a year. Now, currently I'm going over there about three times a year. I just love it. Compared to the USA, the dancers are usually younger. It's special when an American caller comes over there and calls. For the most part the dancers learn the calls quite thoroughly. Callers can, you can call anything you can think of and they can do it. It's just fun to go over there.
BB - Have you had any experience with non-English speaking countries?
NS - Oh yeah. That was fun. I called one time in the Czech Republic. This poor little guy, he was about 22 years old, can't even pronounce his name. It's got some letters in it that we don't have. He picked me up at the airport. He had read about me on the internet. I was kind of like I was his idol or something. It was strange. We were driving down the road in his car. He's weaving all over the road because he's looking at me you know like he can't really believe this American caller is in his car. He was a college kid and I was scared to death. We were weaving all over the road and when we finally got there I told him, "You're a great driver". He just beamed you know. He thought that was wonderful. But they spoke hardly any English there. They appointed a lady, a young lady in her early twenties to be the interpreter because she spoke the most English and it was one or two words. But it was enough to get by but at the time of the square dance they knew all the calls. They danced beautifully. In the Czech Republic it seems to me the average age of the dancers is the early twenties. The square dances started in the Universities there. It's really beautiful to call over there.
BB - How about China or Japan?
NS - I have not done Asia. I need to do Australia, China, Japan.
BB - Well. One of the questions I've asked everybody, you asked me one time in our conversation this weekend, is do you have any regrets? Is there anything you wish you had done differently so far?
NS - Really the only thing is I wish I had gotten into it younger. I dallied around until I was in mid to late twenties and I think of all the time I lost. What did I do before square dancing you know. I watched the 'Dukes of Hazard' and I watched for recreation you know. I watched 'Who Shot JR' that Dallas show and I let things so meaningless, where all the people I've met through square dancing seems so meaningless. I would have to say my only regret is that I didn't start it ten years before I did. I just didn't. It's all a matter of timing.
BB - Yes, that's true. Well, where do you think square dancing has been, where is it now and where is it going?
NS - Well, that's a big question, good question too. I don't that anyone really knows the answer. I know in Callerlab, and I've been on the Board for most of ten years and I've just really been concerned about the future of the activity. There's a landmark publication written I believe in the year 2000 by a Harvard professor, Robert Putnam and the book was called “Bowling Alone, The Decline of Social Capital in America”. Social capital as you, is where you develop friends and do social activities. The alarming thing is where are all these people that used to square dance and used to bowl and used to be in badminton clubs and croquet clubs and gardening clubs? Well, they're all on the Internet or they're watching a thousand channels of cable TV. So I read Putnam's book with interest. Just to summarize, his solution was to say that there's fewer and fewer people that join activities so we need to market to the people who are joiners and like go market people in a gardening club or go market square dancing to people who are in a bridge club that play bridge. My take on that is that those people are already busy. They're, someone in a bridge club is as unlikely to become a square dancer as I am to become an avid bridge player. You know, those people are already busy.
BB - Good thought.
NS - I see where the world has changed and the whole focus of the Square Dance ABC is that the product we offer in Modern Western Square Dancing we basically offer a year of lessons. This is our product. They want us to square dance but they want less than that and we really don't offer them a product. I've worked real hard on this Square Dance ABC to try to come up with a product for the average guy out there where everyone can experience square dancing on their terms. I've deliberately used the Callerlab market research. Over the last five or six years Callerlab has spent a ton of money on that market research. I'm very thankful to them for doing that. The Market research shows that people will buy a square dance, they'll try it. People are willing to try a square dance. They're just not willing to join clubs and take lessons and have a huge commitment. Square Dance ABC is all about giving people a square dance on their terms.
BB - OK. Then it's up to you to describe the ABC program to us.
NS - The thing on ABC and again what the market research shows is that people will try square dancing. We understand in the Modern Western and the Mainstream/Plus world we really don't have a product to sell to people. Our product is a year of lessons and you can only buy it two or three days a year. That's the only time you can buy it. But there is a fallacy to that. What the market research shows is that square dancing has a positive image and square dancing has tremendous brand loyalty and if it's pitched to something that is healthy and fun and social that people will try it, that more than half the people a willing to try it. Where Square Dance ABC came in, we were having an Internet discussion maybe seven or eight years ago and someone, I credit it to C? Smith who is a challenge caller out on the west coast. I believe she was the one who came up with the idea that you could go around like to different bars, OK? And you could get friendly with the people and say. "Hey! I want to show you something" and show them a few square dance moves show them maybe five or six square dance moves. Then make a little circuit go to a different bar the next night or the next week. Three or four weeks later you're back at that same bar where you were before. Say, "Hey! I want to show you something. This is cool. This is square dancing". They'll say, "We've already seen that". And say, "No, I'll show you something different" show them another five moves different from what they had the first time, OK. Then after you've made that circuit three times they have had 15 to 20 moves, OK so then if they wanted to join a class it was not like starting from the very beginning. They had a real good head start in the class. So that did pop into my head that callers do one-nighters all the time. One-nighters are where you assume that these people have never square danced before and that they'll never square dance again. But every caller has a different one-nighter just like I was talking with you and you start with what was it, Left Footers One Step, no, you start with Patty Cake Polka. I start with something different. I talked with another caller, they start with something different. So, every caller has a one-nighter that works. A one-nighter being where you get people who have never square danced before to get them dancing. So, if you come up with a series of one-nighters that people could learn square dancing in these three small doses that they could take in any order. The fundamental difference is that they go up to the next level not by taking lessons but by taking dances, by dancing dances. So, for the first time ever we're selling dancing instead of lessons. That's the innovation of where ABC is at. The idea has been met with tremendous acceptance.
BB - Well, it certainly has. I think it might the salvation of square dancing and I think you believe that same way.
NS - I do. One thing that has puzzled me over the years, Bob Howell from Ohio, when he first met me, he's always called me the “Messiah”, you're going to save square dancing. I think he may have been saying it in jest, you know over the last 14 or 15 years. I don't really want credit for this. You can't really do it without everyone's help but it is time for square dancing to evolve from a year-long set of lessons to where people accumulate experience by taking dances. Look at anything that's popular, the Harry Potter series, a series of how many books is it, six books, however many are in the series. I don't even know how many it is. But see, you could enjoy the fourth book without ever having read the first three but, if you like the fourth one you say, "Man, this is real good stuff. I'm going to read the fifth one or maybe I'll read the second one". The thing is that you can enjoy them in any order and once you've had all six you know then you're in a full-fledged Harry Potter Fan Club. But the tremendous power of it is that each one is a stand-alone experience. That's the power of the ABC thing. Even the world changed. They used to do mini-series on TV. Do you remember when they did those mini-series and you had to watch it every week for six weeks? To the best of my knowledge they don't do that any more. The world is not into the sequential thing. Anything you watch on television for the most part you can watch the set in any order.
This is where we're headed. Three dances you can take in any order and some of those people will become interested and they'll want to take a year long class. Well, we offer that to them. If they want it we have it but for a marketing tool ABC is definitely it.
BB - Well, do you propose at the end, supposing someone over a six week period has managed to get through C, B, and A, not necessarily in that order, do you then try to promote them into a club or are you proposing that there should be ABC dances from on?
NS - The ABC being an entry program for today's busy people. What I propose is that the caller get a hall and divide into two time slots. For example, from to ever Tuesday night would be an intro to square dancing for people, no experience is required. So it's for new dancers, it's for brand new dancers, it's for experienced dancers, it's for anyone that wants to square dance. You sell them a square dance. You sell the fun, fitness and friendship instead of selling a class. This is where brand new people can come in at any time. When they come in you give them some kind of a card or sticker or you punch a hole in a card or you somehow indicate, you tell them, you know look, this is ABC and tonight we're doing the B dance, OK. There's three in the set. There's three slightly different square dances so collect the set, you know. Some will come back next week and some will come back eventually. After they've collected all three they're eligible to go from to in the same hall which is the combined ABC dance that consists of about 22 calls. Not everyone is going to want to come back three times but we find that enough of them are going to want to that makes the ABC dance a worthwhile thing. These people are not going to be avid square dance enthusiasts that want to come every week and learn the latest challenge move and all this stuff. They just want to square dance for fun, fitness and friends. This then, will feed the existing activity and kind of another thing that's the beauty of ABC. We're not proposing any changes to Mainstream and Plus and part of that reason is that Callerlab has been trying to change it for thirty years. It's time to give up the idea that it's going to change. I'd love to make it attractive to brand new people. So, I do see a trickle up effect from ABC. There's a separate population of dancers. Enough of those will want to go into Mainstream and Plus but the vast majority won't. You'll still get more into the existing clubs than you would have gotten without ABC but please understand that the vast majority of people have no interest in taking a year of class.
BB - But you're going to have to continue to recruit all the time aren't you?
NS - Yeah. We're working. We've got some ideas that we're generating on that which we talked just this last weekend. We're trying to come up with a series of fund-raisers. We approach a church or a civic group, a Lions Club, a PTA group or a Scout troop. There are just hundreds of different groups you can approach. You say, "Hey! We're going to have a fund-raiser and sell tickets to this square dance and your date for your square dance is November the 12th of 2005. That's your date. Here's your tickets. Sell your tickets and you keep half the money, give half the money to us and we'll give you a heck of a square dance. What a deal". Everyone needs fund-raiser. This puts you a hundred salesmen out there selling this square dance instead of just one. I see that as a powerful idea that's pretty much unlimited in potential. You'll always have new people then. As new people come in get they're name and address and hey, you're interested in learning more about square dancing. But understand that when they come in the door they're not ready to become a Plus dancer. Some will, but the vast majority won't. In spite of it, ABC you've had one dance, collect the set, offer it to them but if they don't want to don't force them. Just let them have it on their terms. When you occasionally start a class every three months using multi-cycle or if you start a class every year promote that class to your existing base of ABC people. A certain percentage of them, ten percent, fifteen percent of them will choose to take the class and go up the levels.
BB - But in the meantime these ABC dances are still going on.
NS - I think so. It's a product for the community, a square dance.
BB - You know, we old-timers, tape clicks off. Sorry about that. The tape stopped unexpectedly and I was just talking about back in the old days, the 40's, etc. we used to, in my own home town, maybe 30 or 40,000 people there could be two dances every Saturday night, two different callers, two different bands and the whole thing. Of course, in those days we didn't have what there is to do today obviously but these were always continuing things and it was always a repetitious thing too. We did the same dances every night with very little variation in program except from caller to caller. My program, just like my one night stand program, I could recite it to you verbatim because it's what I always do if you follow me. Well, it's very interesting. You've had a real busy weekend here Nasser. You called three dances yesterday, right?
NS - It was a lot of fun.
BB - Well, I know an awful lot of people around, all of the callers around, the full-time callers, these guys in the RV Parks, etc. they're calling four dances a day. I was always happy, the most dances I ever called in a year was 265 and I thought that was quite an accomplishment but you do that in about three months.
NS - It's kind of a different business down there where the square dance activity has become fractionalized where the caller, just like this last weekend, we had a dance that was a Mainstream dance and we had an Advanced dance and a Plus dance all on a Saturday. That's the way the promoters here in Albuquerque had set it up. They set it up a Something-For-Everyone Weekend. That's kind of the way they do in the Rio Grande Valley. All the programs down there are caller-run. Typically you have like a beginner class and then you have a Mainstream dance and a Plus workshop and an A1 class, an A2 dance. I end up running twelve to fourteen dances a week. Some guys are doing even more than that. I know Jerry Justin out in Yuma, he does fourteen or fifteen square dances a week plus he also does a full round dance program. He's a very busy guy.
BB - Well, I remember when I talked to Jerry Helt also in Cincinnati he's averaging about twelve dances a week and obviously he's been doing ABC for years.
NS - Yeah, He's an amazing guy. He's got a club that limited to nine basics. The club dances nine, I think it's the first nine basics. I don't know which nine basics but, as you well know, the guy is amazing. He can do more with less than any guy I've ever seen.
BB - Did you ever hear him do progressive squares?
NS - Oh yeah. He's well known for that. In fact, I was calling in the Cincinnati area, I do progressive squares also, I do mine a little different than he does but I do progressive squares. Deborah Mansis came up to me afterwards and said, "Man, you've got a lot of guts doing progressive squares in Jerry Helt's home town".
BB - Well, I saw Jerry at one of the Nationals with 64 squares that had been pre-programmed so there would be no walk through or anything. I tell you, the amazing thing to me was, he stopped after a patter call and said, " Now, if you look around you'll find that your partner is dancing with, your current partner is dancing with you're his partner or her partner". Everybody is looking around and. " Oh yeah." Then, of course he called a singing call and the last call he called Cross Trail Through probably and Allemande Left and 64 squares hit it on the nose.
NS - I've called it before with 40 squares and it's a lot of fun. It's rare nowadays to have a crowd that big. I think the biggest this year I had 25 squares at the Utah State Convention.
BB - I told you about my biggest dance didn't I.
NS - Yes, you did. That was like 300 squares?
BB - Right.
NS - That's amazing.
NS - I did that in a year.
BB -1958. Well, this has been an interesting conversation Nasser. I really appreciate you're taking the time to sit down and chat with me tonight.
NS - I appreciate what you're doing for the history of square dancing.
BB - Well, thank you very much. It's been a lot of fun, I've covered about 130 different callers now, round dance teachers some people who are not even callers, they're just dance leaders. People like Jim Maczko for instance. So, it's a little contribution I've made, happy to do it.
NS - Sure appreciate you're doing it.
BB - OK. Well, let's call this an evening and thanks again. Have a safe trip and I hope you didn't get blown away down there in Texas and hope you find everything, all your friends down that way.
NS - Thanks Bob.
BB- Ok. Thank you Nasser.