Article Details

Jim Mayo Novmber 19, 1996

Bob Brundage - Well, here we go again.  This is Bob Brundage.  Today we’re in East Hampstead, NH at the home of Jim Mayo.  Unfortunately, Jim is a little incapacitated today having thrown his back out a couple of days ago trying to catch one of the speakers off the speaker stand.  So we’re - and the date, by the way is November 19, 1996.  And we’re very anxious because we have such a luminous dignitary with us today (laughter.)  But we’re anxious to learn more about Jim Mayo.  So Jim tell us a little bit about square dancing and a little bit about life before square dancing and how you got involved and one thing and another.

 

Jim Mayo - Well, there wasn’t much life before square dancing for me.  I started square dancing when I was in high school.  It turns out my sister was working in Dublin, NH and she discovered that there were square dances and she sent an emergency call home to my parents and said “Send the kid up, I need a partner.”  That’s how I got taken to my first square dance with Ralph Page. 

 

BB - There you go. 

 

JM - And, uh, I found that it was fun.  So I danced all that summer and then I kept on dancing for a while through the winter.  It was little harder to get there during the winter and I had just gotten my driver’s license. But I danced fairly regularly to Ralph for a couple of years.  I went off to college and in my freshman year at Yale the Outing Club was losing its square dance caller.  He was graduating that year.  And so they looked around to see if they could find somebody that knew how to dance.   Then they said “Mayo, why don’t you learn to call during the summer.?”  It happened that I was working in Dublin and Ralph had a square dance institute.  One afternoon he was going to teach people who wanted to try calling.  So my first calling was to Ralph Pages orchestra playing Crooked Stovepipe.I learned the dance and Ralph coached me a little bit and then when I went back to college I found a fellow from New York State who had done a little calling.  He and I together did most of the calling for the Outing Club parties for the next three years.

 

BB - Where was it you were born and brought up.

 

JM - I was born in Nashua, NH, just twenty miles East of - er West of here. 

 

BB - OK

 

JM - Well actually I was born in Framingham, MA but we moved when I was very tiny to Nashua.  That’s where I spent my childhood.

 

BB - Right. So we’re talking now about you finished college, you went to Yale and tell us what happened after that.

 

JM - I went in the army.  That was the Korean War at that time.  I volunteered.  It turns out my destiny was to go into the automobile business with my father.  But I figured if I volunteered I could get some control over what happened to me.  I don’t know whether that worked or not but I spent the whole tour of twenty odd months at Fort Dix in New Jersey.  There I finally managed to persuade the Service Clubs that they should let go of the old codger that was calling square dances for them and use a young whippersnapper from ‘A’ Company that was right on base there. It took a while to get them to pay me.  I think I worked six months for nothing.  Finally they paid me $5 per night.  It was fun because I had to be a whiz at the first night of class because it was a training base.  They let the troops out to go to the Service Clubs in the sixth week of training.  So each week I had a brand new crew of guys.

 

BB - There you go. 

 

JM -  The girls were always the same because they were the USO volunteers and they came over from Trenton.  But I got to do a firstnighter every night for about 18 months that I was there at Fort Dix.

 

BB - Well that’s great.  So that lasted, what did you say, 21 months. 

 

JM - 21 months.  I came out of there in ‘54 and came back home to go into business with my father in the automobile business.  It took me nine months to put him out of business. 

 

BB -  Ho, Ho, Ho, come on.

 

JM - It’s just about true.  We looked at the automobile business at that stage and the companies were urging dealers to lie to their customers about the price so that they could jack up the resale value of what they offered for used cars. 

 

BB - Right. 

 

JM - My father just didn’t want to be that dishonest.  So he went out of the business.  But while I was there we started the Allemande 8's in Manchester, NH in 1955. 

 

BB - OK, and are they still dancing?

 

JM - Allemande 8’s they just stopped dancing this year. 

 

BB - OK, there you go.

 

JM - I called for them every other week for 30 years, until 1986.  I left to go away on a five month trip and they got another caller to take my place. 

 

BB - That’s got to be some kind of a record. 

 

JM -  The Fairtown Squares just shut down and gave me a plaque saying I had been calling for them for 29 years.

 

BB - There you go. So you’ve had vast experience along that line with the local clubs.  Many of the so called National callers that I’ve talked with didn’t have too much of a home program.  But I know you did. 

 

JM - Oh, I did.  I called - when I first started working for MIT I was then calling 260 nights a year along with my full time job.  I was calling for three clubs and teaching three classes

 

BB - There you go.

 

JM - It was pretty much every night of the week. 

 

BB - Yeah, I guess it was, and twice on Sundays. 

 

JM - Sometimes. 

 

BB -  Right. So, well you’ve had an affiliation with a lot of different people.  I know you’ve conducted caller schools and, I think somewhere in your resume there, not a resume but the sheet that you did for the New England Hall of Fame presentation about your past history.  So that will save us the problem of transcribing all this information.  And it certainly is very interesting. Tell us about some of the earlier big events that you got involved with before you started to go National. 

 

JM - In fact I never really did go National.  I became known to the National callers because New England was a very popular place for them to travel. 

 

BB - True

 

 JM - And, uh, as they came through I, Joe Casey and I,  had started the Tri State Callers Association and we arranged for many of these callers to come and talk to Tri State and share with us their experience.  In the process many of the callers who did travel stayed at our house and I got to know them quite well. 

 

BB - Right

 

JM - That’s really the basis for me being known nationally.  I’ve always had a full time job with my calling so I couldn’t do the kind of touring that most of the nationally known callers did.

 

BB - Right

 

JM - I did manage to do some traveling for the company and could usually get in touch with callers that I knew.  They would let me call for their club or arrange a date.  I used my vacations to travel.  Largely to become known in the nation but I never got to do the kind of traveling that usually establishes a reputation. 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - But I did get to know most of the callers who were traveling.  In those days a caller could come into New England and do three Saturday nights at the barn BB Right JM At the barns.  They were Newton Pavilion, Bay Path Barn and Hogie’s –

 

BB - Square Acres

 

JM - Square Acres -

 

BB - Right

 

JM - and the Canoe Club.  If they worked three Saturdays they could fill every day in between with calling dates.

 

BB – Sure. So it made a very popular place.  And most of the callers who did travel came through New England every year. 

 

BB - Yeah

 

JM - Usually they stayed at my house for a couple of days and we got to be good friends with most of them. 

 

BB - Right.  Well that’s great.  So, ah, how about the New England or Atlantic Conventions.

 

JM - I was there at the first one - 

 

BB - There you go. 

 

JM - along with your brother.  Were you there? 

 

BB -  I was there.  Yeah, that was when we had live music. 

 

JM - That was in the days when we in New England, at least, were in transition between traditional dancing and modern dancing. 

 

BB - True. 

 

JM - Ralph Page and Al and you were all there, along with Ed Gilmore - 

 

BB - Yeah

 

JM - and, uh, that was an interesting period trying to distinguish between traditional and what we now know as modern square dancing.  The line was not as clear in those days. 

 

BB - Right   I guess everybody knows that Ralph Page was not particularly fond of the direction that square dancing was taking at that time. 

 

JM - Ralph was not at all enthusiastic about my shifting over from traditional -

 

BB - Right

 

JM - into the modern approach to things.  He thought I had gone to the dogs.  I find as I get older that I understand his attitude -

 

BB - Sure

 

JM - more and more as I look at the things that we have given up -

 

BB - Right

 

JM - in that transition into modern square dancing.  We lost a great deal.  We gained some things but I’m afraid that we paid too dear a price.

 

BB - So, alright, lets’s talk about CALLERLAB.  You were one of the initiators of CALLERLAB. 

 

JM - Well, yes.  And largely because of the fact that I knew the Hall of Fame callers from their travels in New England, when they were setting up this - The first meeting was just Hall of Fame callers. 

 

 BB - Right

 

JM - The second year, the second meeting that they held they each invited somebody else and I think it was Al that invited me to come to that meeting.  So I was there from the second meeting

of the founding group on through.  It’s interesting, when they finally did get it established and held the first convention they were sitting around the room trying to decide who was going to be the chairman. 

 

BB - Right

 

JM - And I believe that the reason that they picked on me was that I was the only one in the room that wasn’t a threat to any of their jobs.  Since I wasn’t traveling there weren’t going to do much to increase my taking the traveling dates by making me chairman. 

 

BB - I see. 

 

JM - It was sort of by default. 

 

BB - Right. Well, Any thoughts about what happened during the formation of CALLERLAB?

 

JM - It was a wonderful experience to watch callers begin to work together. 

 

BB - Right

 

JM - We were not, any of us, a trusting lot in those days.  Most of those callers who were the best known at the time were independent businessmen.  They had not had much experience, if any, with working in organizations.  But the idea of compromise wasn’t foremost in their minds.  They were independent people who, if they wanted to do something, did it.  That had always worked for them.  Here we were asking them to give up something for the good of the activity and the future of square dancing.  That was not behavior that came easily to them.  Uh, I remember particularly the day that they were talking about Frank Lane’s calling Snaperoo. 

 

BB - Oh, right. 

 

JM - Frank used to use the term Snaperoo for Star Thru.  And the group was chiding him saying “Frank, why don’t you get in with the rest of us here.  Give up that silliness.”  At the time we had just invented the term Trade By - 

 

BB - OK  

 

JM - but Marshall Flippo was very reluctant to give up Barge Thru which was a ½ Square Thru and Trade By. 

 

BB - Right

 

JM - Frank turned to Marshall and he said “Marshall, if I quit calling Snaperoo will you quit calling Barge Thru?”  Marshall said “It’s a deal.”  And they both did. 

 

BB - I’ll be damned.

 

JM - One of the earliest stages of compromise.

 

BB - So let’s continue. (The telephone rang and we were interrupted by Jerry Junck. They had a little conversation.)  So let’s continue. 

 

JM - CALLERLAB business always takes priority. 

 

BB - That’s right.  Alright, so you’ve gotten involved in CALLERLAB and things are going along great.  Uh, ..

 

JM - I’ve been involved in square dance organizations since the earliest days.  I was, by inclination, an administrator.  My work at MIT was as an administrator, and administrative assistant.  So organizations have always been a fascination for me.  I’ve enjoyed them and I joined with Joe Casey to start a caller’s association, our local callers association, Tri State Callers.  And I was one of the founding members of the New England Council of Callers’ Associations and I was also a founding member of CALLERLAB.  I have believed that square dancing will benefit from organized activity on the part of callers.  Since my earliest involvement I have been interested in caller training and in the organizations of square dance callers.  It’s that which has been, perhaps my most important focus aside from the actual calling. 

 

BB – Right and you’ve been associated with many other national leaders too.  You’ve been heavily involved in caller’s schools.  Do you want to tell us any comments about these?

 

JM -Well, I go started teaching callers soon after I got started with the clubs in my home area here.  I realized that I had used up all the free nights that I had and that if we were going to expand square dancing at all we were going to have to have some more callers.  So I started what you might call not a floating crap game but a floating callers school.  I was running a Sunday 3rd Sunday workshop at the Hayloft in Chester, NH and I started teaching callers at a school in the evenings after those workshops.  It never started and it never ended.  If a caller wanted to learn to call he came.  We did it on the third Sunday every month for almost ten years.  Most of, or many of the most respected callers in this part of the Northeast of Boston area of New England came out of that school.  And, uh, I realized as soon as I started teaching that they needed a textbook and there weren’t any.  So I wrote a textbook which I published in 1966.  Published 50 copies of it and I’ve still got two of them.  I don’t have any ideas of where the others went.  But it was, I think, the first textbook that was ever published that was directly intended to be a handbook or textbook for people wanting to learn to call.  Others had done a lot of choreography and stuff but this was an early one and that work continues as I was one of those who helped develop the CALLERLAB accreditation program for caller coaches.  And I have taught callers schools all over the country and all over the world. It’s been one of my true loves in calling.  I like to teach and I like particularly to teach callers.

 

BB - Right, and this is still ongoing.  You have other callers schools on the agenda, I’m sure.

 

JM  -Oh yes.  I have one next summer with Tony Oxendine in Georgia and I did one last summer with Al Stevens and Chris Kiendl in Germany.  I expect that I can keep on teaching callers as long as I can get around assuming my sore back will get better.

 

BB - What about National Conventions?

 

JM - I went to a few National Conventions but I became disappointed with ...  Well in my years as chairman of CALLERLAB we tried to get the National Executive Committee  to let us work with them to make the National Convention a better event to deal with the problems that they were having with the programming and with sound. 

 

BB - Right. 

JM - They essentially told us to take our marbles and leave them alone. 

 

BB - OK  

 

JM - At that point I became very discouraged with the attitude of the National Executive Committee and I have retained that discouragement to this day because, in my view they have been taking money out of the square dance activity in substantial chunks for a number of years and, to my knowledge, have never done anything that benefits the activity other than to run their convention.  I think there are several problems in the way they run their convention. 

 

BB - OK  

 

JM - So I stopped attending.

 

BB -  Ok.  Have you done any teaching of round dancing? 

 

JM - I was a round dance teacher and ran a round dance club -

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - until, again, I got so busy that I couldn’t keep up both ends of it. 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - But I cued and called at several of my clubs until about 15 years ago I guess. 

 

BB - Well that was the trend of that time.  The caller was expected to cue -

 

JM -  Yes, sure  

 

BB - and many of the dancers were expected to memorize the round dances too

 

JM - I’ll never forget one dance that I called, it must be twenty years ago now, in Seattle.  I often, on my vacation, set up rather long range tours.  But this one I was calling a Sunday afternoon Association dance in Seattle and they gave me a stack of round dance records.  They said, “These are the rounds.  You just put them on between your tips.” 

 

BB - Right.  

 

JM - So I ended my first tip and I was putting away my records.  The guy came running up and said,  “Put on the round dance.”  So I put the round dance record on and immediately the floor was full.  Almost everyone of the 40 squares of people that were there was on the floor doing the round with no cues.  And I set the needle back to start them over again.  He said. “Don’t do that. Just put the needle on.”  And for the rest of the afternoon I would take my record off, put their record on and put the needle down.  And then put my record away.  And almost everybody danced that entire afternoon’s round dance program without a word of cues.  

 

BB - Imagine.  Very interesting.  How about contra dancing.

 

JM - Well, I did contras for a long time, cued them. But in my early club programs I didn’t realize that contra wasn’t going to be part of modern square dancing - 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - and so they were in the early days of my clubs but the interest in square dance variety overtook the contra program.  So, while I dearly love to dance them, I’ve not had the opportunity.  I don’t call them very often these days but I enjoy doing it when I can. 

 

BB - Right.  Is there any association with the line dance type of thing in the square dance clubs here as there are in some areas?

 

JM - Very little here in New England.  Our callers are pretty much of one mind that mixing line dancing in with square dancing is not of benefit to square dancing.  We did, in the early days,

have line dances like Amos Moses.  Where it was part of the square dance... we did it as a round, as one of the rounds in the evening program.  But when it came back as its own entity we felt that it was a competitor for our customers.  I heard an interesting observation by Al Monty just this past weekend.  Uh, he noted that in the early days of square dancing many of our recruits came because the women wanted to come dancing and they brought their men with them.  Now those same women go and line dance by themselves and leave their men at home.  And, uh, that certainly doesn’t help us to fill our square dance classes. 

 

BB - Right. I want to ask you also about recordings.  You have done some recordings?

 

JM - I did a lot of recording over the years.  I never really set out to do very much but one of my early friends in the activity was Bruce Johnson.  Bruce was the production manager for Sets In Order and McGregor. 

 

BB - Right.   

 

JM - He really helped me to steal a concept from your brother.  My first recording and one of the most popular ones I ever did was “Best Things In Life Are Free”.  And I did it because I had learned to love the music from Al’s recording on Alamar.  But that, too, became pretty much a standard and is still in regular use.  Bruce then started the Pulse Record Company and I made a couple of records for Pulse.  Then Frank Lane got me to do a couple of records on Dance Ranch.  And I think I did one on TNT.  Then MacGregor started up again just recently and I did a couple more for him on MacGregor.  And I think that’s all the companies I have recorded for.   Most recently, just about a year ago...  A beautiful piece of music on MacGregor, “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”  It was just released this past June.

 

BB - Right. OK, well I had a couple of more questions on recording but I think we can skip those.  Uh, what about hobbies, Jim.

 

JM - I’m a square dance caller. 

 

BB - Yeah  

 

JM -   If you’re a square dance caller and have a full time job you don’t have a lot of time for other hobbies.  I’ve been an avid skier longer than I’ve been a square dance caller -

 

BB - There you go.    

 

JM -   and I still ski regularly.  One of the joys of reaching the age of 65 in New Hampshire is that the State owns two very nice ski areas and you can ski midweek free of charge if you’re 65 and a resident. 

 

BB - Wow! OK  

 

JM - I take advantage of that.  Now that I’m retired I no longer ski on weekends. 

 

BB - Are the ski facilities fairly close to here?  

 

JM - Well, Sunapee is about an hour and twenty minutes from here - 

 

BB - OK  

 

JM - and Cannon Mt. is about two hours.  

 

BB - That’s really great.  Do you get free ski lift too

 

JM -   Yep.  

 

BB - Wow, that’s better than the golfers had out in Albuquerque

 

JM - Yes. Absolutely!

 

BB - Let’s get a little profound.  What do you feel is the appeal of calling square dances?  What do you find appealing about calling?

 

JM - Well, Interesting.  It may have changed some over the years.  Clearly, when I started, I remember very clearly thinking “I can’t do this because I’m not a singer and clearly you have to sing.   And it looks very complicated, like auctioneering and I probably can’t do that either.”  But, once I got into it, I think the thing that drove me most in the early days was the opportunity to help people have a good time.  In the earliest days of my calling there wasn’t any of what we know as choreographic puzzle.  One memorized a whole routine like a poem and then called it the way you had memorized it so there wasn’t any of the puzzle solving chess game type of thing that some callers find fascinating.  The whole game was to let people have a good time.  And it was very clear that square dancing was something that people enjoyed.  That’s certainly what got me started in it and it still is a major part of my interest.  But I also found that I could sing.  I like to sing, I like to sing and it gives me the opportunity to “make music -

 

BB - Right

 

JM - and  also like to see people dance.  So maintaining the feel of dancing that square dancing has to offer is one of my personal goals and personal satisfactions.  To not only provide choreographic variety but also to provide it in time with the music is a very rewarding thing.  It’s

also been true that I’ve been able to travel a great deal through my square dancing. 

 

BB - Right   

 

JM That has been pleasant also.

 

BB - Well Jim this has been a very interesting conversation and I, I’ve been asking everybody I’ve been interviewing “Where do you think square dancing has been.  Where do you think it is and where do you think it’s going”.

 

JM - Well, it’s interesting to look back over the ... now 50 years since I started dancing. 

 

BB - Right.

 

JM - When I started dancing we had only traditional square dancing here in this area. 

 

BB - Right. 

 

JM -  I guess even Al hadn’t gotten to modern in ‘47.  I, I base his involvement in modern square dancing from the Pappy Shaw conference which I think took place in ‘49.  

 

BB - OK  

 

JM - Uh, but before that we were doing traditional square dancing in which the calls were all memorized and the dance didn’t change from one night to the next or from one year to the next.  I danced as a teenager with Ralph Page three nights a week all summer long.  I did that for several years.  I loved every minute of it.  And there was hardly ever a word changed in his entire evenings program.  We danced the same thing over and over again.  But, we danced it to live music.  We danced it on the beat.  It was unthinkable that a call should be given other than prompted before the phrase of the music - 

 

BB -  Right   

 

JM - and the sense of dancing that was part of the activity was overriding.  Clearly we did not have what is known today as choreographic challenge.  Not even choreographic variety.  We danced different patterns but everybody knew the whole pattern and if Ralph ever stopped calling it wouldn’t have stopped the dance a bit. But we then discovered, and I don’t know who did this. I’ve often thought it was Ed Gilmore that discovered that you could change the call and that people could, in fact, hear the change and react to it.  Uh, I’ve personally attributed that to the development of sound equipment that was good enough that people could, in fact, hear the call.  And as soon as that became available, right after the Second World War, it became possible to change the square dance figure.  And that marks, in my mind, the advent of modern square dancing. 

 

BB - Right. 

 

JM - Uh, I was in the development of it, the beginnings of it here in New England.  And, as a young, eager, just-starting caller the idea of creating dance patterns was very intriguing - 

 

BB - Right   

 

JM - uh, that we could call three different routines in the same - to the same piece of music - was a novel idea that really grabbed me.  I ran eagerly into it.  Al was doing it with his Connecticut Club and because I was there in New Haven I got to see it at work and to experience it as a dancer.  And it continued to grow. Even then, maybe only in New England, I don’t know about the rest of the country, but certainly here, we tried very hard to keep the music involved, still.  We varied the choreography but we also managed to prompt call it.  One of the striking things that everybody that came to New England commented on was the Alamo Style figure that rattled the rafters.  And every dancer’s foot hit the floor at the same time because it was never called off the phrase. 

 

BB - Right.   

 

JM -   That was a way of dancing that was, I guess from all I’ve heard, uniquely New England.  It certainly was one of the things that became a part of my own sense of dancing. But then somewhere we began to really invent choreography.  Before that we had memorized routines and we put them together so the dancers didn’t know which one we were going to use next but they were memorized routines.  We started, we got the dancers through them often by walking them through the routine before we called it. 

 

BB - Right

 

JM - That was common into the ‘60s.  Somewhere between the middle ‘60s and the middle ‘70s sight calling or the mental image - some call it the slot system - freed up callers so that they could, in fact genuinley create choreography.  I know that Les Gotcher thinks he invented sight calling.  I’m not so sure I agree with that.  But whoever did it, it changed square dancing forever.  When callers became able to change the choreography or to create it as they went along, unfortunately what happened at the same time was that we lost this close connection with the music.  We were so busy inventing the choreography that we couldn’t do that and maintain the feel of the dancing, the sensuous side of square dancing.  

 

BB - Right.

 

JM - Square dancing as an activity has always in my mind had three important characteristics.  The sensuous, the feel of moving with the music; the sociability, the chance to work as a team with other people; and the intellectual which was added to it somewhere in the 1960-1970 period when solving the choreographic puzzle became important.  My personal view is that during that period we overemphasized, almost to the point of ignoring the other two, but we overemphasized the intellectual side.  We held up the dance puzzle, the choreographic puzzle, as the most important aspect of the activity.  And, that to my mind was the beginning of the end.  We gave away two very important appeals, the sociable and the sensuous aspects of our activity.  We concentrated our attention exclusively on the intellectual puzzle solving which surely was fun.  It was fascinating.  I enjoyed it as much as anyone both as a dancer and as a caller. I learned to sight call and I loved the fact that I could create dance puzzles.  But then one day I looked down on the floor and realized that while I was enjoying my puzzles there were a lot of people standing around trying to figure out what to do next.  And I began, then, to pay attention to how successful the dancers were.  I’m afraid that it took a long time for callers in general to notice that the people they were calling for were not being very successful.  The consequence of that is that we have attracted out of society a group of people who are indeed fascinated by the choreographic puzzle.  These people enjoy the challenge of solving the puzzle -

 

BB - Right.  

 

JM - and minimize the importance of the social and sensuous aspects.  We no longer worry about the phrase.  In fact, most callers take the first beat of the phrase for themselves.  They start their calling on the first beat of the phrase - 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - which guarantees that the dancers never get it, or at least if they do it’s an accident.

 

BB - Right

 

JM - Uh, most callers will tell you, “Well we can’t maintain choreographic variety and pay attention to that phrase.”  I think that’s hogwash.  I believe if even a moderate caller gave the dancers the first count of the phrase for the first step, they would get it much more often throughout the rest of the dance than they do if the caller takes it for himself on the first phrase.

But, all of that as it is, I, I see a continuum available in square dancing even today.  Uh, we have all the way from the traditional which in New England is a thriving activity.  There are a number of successful traditional dance programs - 

 

BB - Right 

 

JM - going now.  There the content of the dance is primarily sensual - is moving with the music.  The dance routines are not changed.  Callers call them pretty much the same way each time.  And the intellectual end of that continuum is non existent.  From there you go all the way to the other end, the challenge program with its own 4 or 500 calls done in 86 varieties of each one -

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - and there it’s rare to see any what I would call dancing.  I’ve been told there are groups who can solve these puzzles and dance at the same time but I’ve never seen one.  The groups I’ve seen are ones who scramble from one place to the next and then wait for the next call. 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - They scramble to the next place.  But that’s also fun for them.  They’re obviously having good time.  They go regularly.  They enjoy.  I see that as the other end of the continuum and most of modern  square falls somewhere along the line between those two.  My personal feeling is that we have moved too far toward the intellectual challenge end of that continuum with most of modern square dancing and that in the process we have paid little, if any, attention to the sensuous end of it. The sociability is not much under the control of callers although, surely, we can influence it.  But most of the sociability aspect of the activity has been turned over to the clubs.  They’re the ones who decide whether people are enjoying - are having a sociable time and enjoying each other.  My hope is that we will some day soon realize that we could appeal to a much larger audience if we moved back toward the sensuous end of this continuum.  If we changed the balance so that we were not so heavily concentrated on the intellectual aspects of the activity and, rather, gave - made available to potential future dancers, the full three pronged appeal of sensuous, moving with music dancing, sociable teamwork together with a chance to shake hands and smile at each other as we danced and, along with it, choreographic variety but always with the conditions that to enjoy the puzzle, one must be able to solve it.

 

BB - One of the comments that come up following that with quite a few of the people I’ve interviewed seems to be that would be great but that we probably can’t do it with out present day dancers.  We can never ask them to switch from their intellectual aspect back to the sensual and we may have to do it with all new dancers.

 

JM  -I think not only new dancers but also new callers. 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - I think most of the callers who are calling today have come to our activity - come into it - understanding only the intellectual challenge side of square dancing.  That is all that they’ve ever seen.  Few of them have ever experienced good dancing with a sensuous, moving with the music,

dancing to the phrase, taking one step for each beat of the music.  If callers have never experienced this they surely are not going to be the leaders in making available to future - dancers.   My personal campaign now as a caller coach is to try to persuade new callers not to go into the club calling business but to stay rather in starting new groups, do one night stands.  Concentrating on making dancing available and recruiting a whole new group of people.  And if they do, never tell them about modern square dancing. 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - I don’t think we can keep a secret but pretty soon it will fall of its own weight.  It’s pretty well observed that most of the people who are involved in today’s modern square dancing are senior citizens to say the least.  And it may be that they won’t interfere if new groups start in new towns.  Time will tell.  

 

BB - Right. 

 

JM - Square dancing will never die.  It’s too much fun to die.

 

BB - Some people are thinking that costuming has an influence on this activity.  Some people are saying, you know, that they young people look at these square dance dresses and say “Boy, you’ll never get me into that kind of a thing.”  Older people who are a little overweight or something say that they will never ...      How do you feel about costuming? 

 

JM - I think that costuming has not been a major problem for us.  On the other hand I don’t see any reason for us to insist on costumes for dancing.  When I started we didn’t wear costumes.  We wore comfortable clothes.  We did kind of like long sleeved shirts.  But that was made clear but full circle skirts.  In those days women didn’t wear slacks.  Certainly not out in public. And so we didn’t have costuming to start.  Many of those that I’ve talked with clamor about the costuming - about wanting to maintain the costume, don’t realize that it’s a creation within the last thirty years. 

 

BB - True   

 

JM - So if it went away I wouldn’t cry.  There too, I think if we let it go with those who enjoy it.  Today’s society says that all the standard dress taboos have gone away.  There’s no reason why we can’t let that happen in square dancing also.  In my own groups, without me ever having said anything, the people who dance to me on Wednesday  in a workshop come in street clothes.  But, when I have a dance on Friday night, they all come in square dance clothes.  

 

BB - Right. 

 

JM - We don’t have any rules.  I don’t ever say that you have to dress.  That just happens.  But, if we don’t make rules and let people come as they will, I don’t see that as a problem for square dancing.

 

BB - Well, you mention encouraging new callers to, uh, to do more one night stands and so forth.  Do you have any secrets for this recruiting problem that square dancing has today?

 

JM - Uh, we have some clubs in New England that have been very successful and are continuing to be successful.  Just this past Sunday at a callers association meeting I heard about the Litchfield Swingers that have 33 people in their class.  The Concord Coach in Concord New Hampshire have over 30 people in their class.  How do they do it?  We asked.  And the answer was “The old fashioned recruiting ways.  Every club member gets a post card.  They have to list the names of five people who might come.  Then the Executive Committee goes and makes telephone contact with all of those people.  And, if they fail to show up the first night of class, they get a telephone call the next week.  It’s hard work.  But where the clubs are willing to recruit, that works. You ask about the one night stand business.  One of the newer callers in this area, Chris Pinkham, believed me when I encouraged him to try the one night stand business along with his club calling  and he went to the camping show in Manchester last spring and.  went around to each of the campgrounds that had a booth there and said “I’m a square dance caller and I can provide you with an entertaining program at your campground.”  He booked every single Saturday night for that summer at that camping convention.  And he has now booked Saturday and Friday for next summer with the same campgrounds because they had so much fun doing his one night stand square dancing that they came back and said “Can’t we have another night?”  He said “Saturdays are gone, you’ll have to take Friday.”  So they took Friday.  So square dancing is a popular product which can be marketed if somebody is willing to work at it.  But, if all you want out of square dancing is to make challenging puzzles, you won’t be a one night stand caller. 

 

BB - Yeah, I remember way back a number of years ago, one of the callers who came into the activity, came in through the club program and the class program.   He had a chance to do a one night stand and he got there and he discovered that he didn’t know how to call a one night stand.  In fact a fellow told me back in Albuquerque before I left for this trip that he attended another callers one night stand and he had to teach Square Thru  before he could use a singing call.

 

JM - There are a number of people who do that in their square dance classes these days.  And that’s unfortunate.  We’ve got a guy down in Connecticut, Jack - and I’ve forgotten his last name who does only one night stands.  He used to be a club caller many years ago and he gave it up and went into the one night stand business.  BB Yeah, there’s quite a few around.  Hal Petscke for one.  JM This guy came to our callers school.  He was calling over 290 dances a year and his income from that activity was more than the entire income of the four callers on the staff of the school combined. 

 

BB - Right. 

 

JM - There’s a message there which some of the new callers are beginning to understand. 

BB - Right.   

 

JM - Out of that could come a rebirth - 

 

BB - Right  

 

JM - and its going to be callers with that attitude that rebuild our activity. 

 

BB -  And that ability to maintain - 

 

(Joann enters, says “Hi” and “Look at me -.Look at my eyes”.)

 

BB - So one of the things we want to be sure to mention before we get to the end of this tape is that you have several awards that should be mentioned and put on the record.  Number one is the Sets In Order Hall Of Fame and are one of those thirty-five.  And you also received the Milestone award from CALLERLAB.  You also received the Yankee Clipper award with is a New England wide award and the New England Hall Of Fame also.  And that’s ah, I want to be sure we have that on tape so that we save it for posterity. Jim I want to really thank you for taking the time.  I’m sorry you had that problem with your back.  I’m sure that’ll clear up in a couple of months or something  

 

JM - Hopefully in a couple of hours -

 

BB - I hope so, right.  

 

JM -  or at most a couple of days.   

 

BB - So, Jim, Thank you very much for your time and effort and your hospitality.  We’ll look forward to seeing you here and there.  We’ll see you out at CALLERLAB if no where else.   

 

JM - I certainly appreciate the program that you are doing here and the fact that somebody is out getting on tape the experience and wisdom of those of us who have been in the activity a long time. 

 

BB - Right    

 

JM - Your own family has been involved as long as any of them I’m sure.  And it’s nice to know that somewhere, at least, these records will exist.  I’ve been concerned as I’ve seen some of the

long time leaders who are no longer available to us, wishing that this project or one like it could get accomplished.  I want to thank you for undertaking to do it making your time and resources available to get it all on tape. 

 

BB - Well good. 

 

JM - I’m pleased to have been a part of it.  

 

BB - Good. Thank you very much Jim.

 

 

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Written By: Bob Brundage
Date Posted: 4/11/2008
Number of Views: 2252

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