Allan Brozek – Nov. 22, 1997
Bob Brundage – Well hello again, this Bob Brundage and today is November 22nd, 1997. Today we’re in the …the big city of Oxford, Connecticut talking to Allan Brozek. So, Allan, tell us where you were born and brought up and tell us a little about your family life and so forth before you got into square dancing.
Allan Brozek – Well, I was born in Derby, Connecticut at the Griffin Hospital, November 12, 1932. I lived in Ansonia with my parents for 20 years. Later, when I was in the army my parents moved to Seymour. I got married to Lois in 1966, we lived in Naugatuck for a year, and eventually built a house in Oxford where we still live after 30 years. We have 3 grown children.
BB – Good. OK. So what was your first experience with square dancing?
AB – My first experience with square dancing was in the 1940s. My parents used to like to go to restaurants and places where they had live music, usually on a Saturday nights. One Saturday I went with them to a place called Toot and Come In. I think it was in Southbury. Maybe you’ve heard of that place….
BB – Oh yes, I know where that is.
AB – And they had square dancing there, old time square dancing. That was my first exposure to square dancing. Later, after WW II, I remember seeing in the local newspaper that there were a whole lot of square dances taking place in Grange halls, Masonic temples and other halls. It seemed like every night of the week there was some kind of old time square dance happening.
BB – About what time was this? What year are we talking about roughly?
AB – Probably in the early ‘50s.
BB – Yeah.
AB – My next square dance experience was at college. I enrolled in New Haven State Teachers College in1951. As a freshman, in Phys Ed class, I had to take 3 weeks of square dancing. This was traditional square dancing. The instructor was a woman who was a professor at the college, but as I remember she also belonged to the CT Callers Association. She taught us Forward 6 and Back, Uptown-Downtown, Texas Star, and probably a few others.
BB – Oh yes.
AB – And also a few round dances like Gie Gordons.
BB – Oh yeah, sure.
AB – Remember that one? And, let’s see – the Mexican Waltz, the Rye Waltz, and Road to the Isles, did I mention that one?
BB – Yeah, no.
AB – Yes, Road to the Isles. I really enjoy these dances. This was in late 1951. My next contact with square dancing wouldn’t be until the spring of 1955. That year I got appendicitis and had to go back to the Griffin Hospital to have it taken out. While I was in the hospital I met a nurses’ aid (not Lois) who I started dating. Anyways, this gal liked to go square dancing – old time barn dancing at a place called Willowcrest Ranch. She dragged me along to a couple of these dances. I remember the first night there I didn’t dance at all; it was a rough style of dancing, but the second time there I thought I would give it a try, and pretty soon we were doing all these old traditional dances — Birdie in the Cage, Duck for the Oyster, Push ‘er Away and Watch her Smile, Marching Through Georgia, Waltz Quadrille, and Devil’s Dream. Do you remember Devil’s Dream?
BB – I remember the…. the tune. I don’t remember the figure.
AB – The call went something like, “First gent out to the right, swing that gal and hold her tight. On to the next one on your toes, swing the gal with the whisky nose”
BB – Is that right?
AB – Yeah, that’s how the call went. That was my first real experience in actual square dancing after college. From then on I got more interested in square dancing. A few years later, in a post grad Phys Ed course I took, we had to teach some kind of dance to the rest of the class. Since I had been to some square dances I though I was something of an expert, I chose to teach a square dance to the group. I borrowed a few square dance recordings (78rpm) from the Phys Ed department, but found that they were mostly “western style” – rather fast tempo.
BB – OK.
AB – I did find a few Folk Dancer records and a Folkraft “Lady in the Boat,” which were the right tempo. And from the college library, I took out a book by Dick Kraus, Square Dances of Today and How to Teach and Call Them. From this book I chose Duck for the Oyster to call to the class. And this was probably the first dance I ever called to anyone.
BB – All right.
AB – I graduated from college in 1955 and worked as a substitute teacher for a year. During that time I got to do some dance calling with the kids in some of the schools I was sent to. In 1956 I was drafted into the U. S. Army, and sent to Fort Dix for basic training.
BB – New Jersey
AB – Right, New Jersey, it was New Jersey. And, let’s see, while at Dix I took an audition to get into an army band. I had been a snare drummer with various drums corps in Connecticut. I passed the audition and was told that I would in assigned to the First Army Band. But what really happened was they sent me to the 101st Airborne Division Band down at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. So I became a drummer in that band for the next year and a half or so. While at Fort Campbell, I found a couple of square dances in the area. One was in Clarksville, Tennessee, at the Armory, every Saturday night. Another was in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, every Friday night. (Fort Campbell straddled the TN-KY border) These dances were the old running set, big circle style. I’d go to one of these dances every weekend when I could. In fact, I’d even go to sit in with one of the bands playing drums (Bob chuckles) a couple of times. And once I told them I was a caller I even got to call a few dances. At the Clarksville USO, I started a short-lived Eastern style square dance once a week, using a record player for music and my tape machine, which had a PA output, for music. I was discharged from the army in 1958 and went back to Naugatuck where I had been a substitute teacher and taught there for 35 more years as a regular teacher. For a few years the only calling I did was for school children, sometimes after school. In 1958 I heard about a place called Medlicott’s.
BB – All right. In New Milford
AB – Up in New Milford, in your area. I started going to dances at Medlicott’s pretty regularly and learned all the dances that were being called. The caller there was Vinnie Johnson.
BB – Vinnie Johnson
AB – Vinnie Johnson from Sharon, Connecticut, right. And the band there at that time was the Pioneer Trio: Jimmy Gilpin, Eddie Munson, and Louie Rosato.
BB – Right.
AB – I danced there and copied down all the dances Vinnie would call. These were old time dances, Birdie in the Cage, etc. Around 1960 Vinnie got married and quit calling at Medlicott’s, and since they were looking for a caller I took over the job.
BB – I didn’t realize that.
AB – So, I became an old time square dance caller there, with live music, every Saturday night from 9pm to 1am, for about six months. Got paid $20 for the four hours. During the years after I left the army, I also remained active in drum corps, and in 1959 I won the state snare drumming championship.
BB – There you go.
AB – …and also the Eastern States Individual Snare Drumming Championship. So that was kind of a thrill for me.
BB – I bet. I didn’t realize that. I was…. I was a drummer myself but not of that category.
AB – No kidding? Yeah, it was drum corps style, you know, bands and all that. It was fun, good times as a corps drummer.
BB – So when was your introduction to western style, so called…
AB – OK. Well, I had heard about western style square dancing from a musician friend. This would have been 1955. He told me about the Country Barn in Stepney. The Saturday night dances there were Eastern style, but one night Stan Bristol, the caller for that evening invited me to come to his square dance club in New Haven. It was called the Allemanders.
BB – Right
AB – The Allemanders danced every Wednesday evening at the YMCA in the lounge area. This was my introduction to real western style square dancing (which was quite different from western style today). There were a lot of star figures and Allemande Thars and that sort of thing. And Stan even called contra dances occasionally.
BB – Hand turns.
AB – A lot of hand turns. Right. And I remember one night at one of these dances at the Y, apparently we were making too much noise, and some guy came down from his room upstairs and started giving Stan the caller hell…”cut out the noise. What do you have to be so loud for… etc.” So Stan cut down the music and the dance went on. But that was a pretty funny incident, I thought (chuckles).
BB – I imagine (chuckles).
AB – It was at this club that I got to call a dance for adults. Stan, it seemed, could not be at the dance one week, so the dancers decided to have the dance anyway. It was going to be some sort of amateur night, and I did show up with a record, and when it was my turn, I called Ends Turn In by Ed Gilmore.
BB – Oh yeah.
AB – That was in 1956, and was my first experience calling a western style dance. After the army, there was the Roost. I don’t know if you ever heard of the Roost.
BB – Sure.
AB – You’ve heard of the Roost, sure. Dick Lawton ran it and Frank Minnehan was the resident caller there. I kind of got associated with the Roost, too, and used to do Girl Scout dances and Boy Scout dances for Dick Lawton. I’d get paid $15 for an hour and a half of calling. Not bad back in those days.
BB – You got it. (chuckles)
AB – Yeah, and later I became the club caller for Nutmeg Square Dance Club, who also danced at the Roost. That was like ’61 or ’62. Around this same time, I guess it was 1963, I became club call for Buttons and Bows in Orange. And a bit later, an Oxford couple, Joe and Jean Gardella wanted to form a club in town. So I quit Nutmeg Squares and became caller for Oxbows, where I called for the next 20 years or so, something like that. Eventually I did come back to Nutmeg Squares to be club caller again back in 1986 I think it was. Of course, none of the members of Nutmeg Squares that had danced back in 1961- ’62 were around anymore. Most were dead or somewhere else. So, I’ve been Nutmeg SDC for the past whatever years – 10 years or so.
BB – Buttons and Bows are still operating.
AB –Buttons and Bows are still going yeah. I get to call there maybe three times a year. They have somebody else teaching lessons. They probably don’t even think of me as club caller anymore, you know, because the other guy has been around doing lessons.
BB – Yeah, sure. Who is their club caller now?
AB – They have Steve Zeller now. He’s the club caller, I guess. At least the club teacher anyway.
(tape recorder is turned off and then on again)
AB – OK. One pleasant calling experience I recall was…. I think it was 1964 at the New York World’s Fair. Slim Sterling called me and wanted me to call with him at the New York Pavilion. So, we did that one summer there. We had maybe eight or ten squares dancing. I guess Slim is still around too, isn’t he?
BB – Yes, he is.
AB – You might want to interview him too.
BB – Yeah I’ve tried to get a hold of him but, at the moment, I understand he’s not … his health is not the best.
AB – Oh. And then, as far as the World’s Fair goes, we came back again in 1965, and this time it was going to be at the Connecticut Pavilion. The callers were Dave Hass, Frank Minnehan, Ed Rutty, myself, and maybe a couple of other callers too, but I don’t remember exactly which ones. Were you there?
BB – Well, not calling, no, I went to dance.
AB – Yeah, yeah. Frank Minnehan, he had a lot to do with square dancing in the Waterbury area. He had a little newspaper he published monthly called Square Dance News, and he was the caller for the Roost Promenaders. He started the T-Squares Square Dance Club of Thomaston and one in Washington CT…Kuntry Kuzzins. Another area caller back in those days was John Mead. He had a square dance club in Naugatuck and they sort of moved it up to Woodbury I guess it was, and it became the Woodbury Square Dance Club.
BB – Town and Country.
AB – Yeah, Town and Country.
BB – I called there for a few years when he moved to Alabama.
AB – I guess he is still around, is he or….?
BB – I don’t…I’ve lost track of him.
AB – Yeah. But I remember he used to call contra dances, too, occasionally. I found that very pleasant, because I like contras a lot.
BB – Right. Well, you’ve done a lot of writing about contras too. I see your efforts appearing in Contralab Quarterly every once in awhile and in other places.
AB – Uh huh.
BB – Where did you get your interest in contra dancing, do you remember?
AB – Contra dancing. Well, let’s see. The first contra I ever did was probably with Stan Bristol over at the YMCA in New Haven. And the next time probably was Bob Brundage with the Milford Club.
BB – There you go.
AB – Dancing at that Grassy Hill Lodge in Derby. Remember that place?
BB – Oh sure.
AB – I believe that you did a contra there, at least once.
BB – We danced there in the summer time.
AB – And back in 1955 or 1956, Al Brundage and Ed Gilmore had a New Year’s weekend at the Hotel Green in Danbury. Someone told me that there was a square dance at the hotel. I didn’t know that it was a weekend and that people had paid to come, and all that. I just showed there on a Saturday night. Nobody collected money at the door and I didn’t understand what was going on. So in fact, I had crashed the dance, so to speak. And Al called three contras. I remember one was Chorus Jig, another was Canadian Breakdown, and one was called the Judge’s Jig. And Ed Gilmore, I think he did… he called Haymakers’ Jig using Woodhull’s Blackberry Quadrille recording for a minute or so, and then switched recordings to a more modern recording which had a vibraphone lead.
BB – Didn’t Al do the Fireman’s Dance?
AB – No. That’s the one where you yell Fire, Fire?
BB – He went through a period with that one.
AB – Did he? Yeah, yeah. I had never seen that one done. I had seen it in books though.
BB – OK. So…all right. Well…let’s see. Have you been associated with Callerlab at all?
AB – Yes, I’ve been (an associate) member for probably, let’s see, seven or so years.
BB – OK, but not ACA probably, American Callers…
AB – No, no.
BB – OK. So tell us about some of the…oh, first of all, how about National Conventions you’ve been to.
AB – The only National Convention that I ever went to was the one in Kentucky, which I think was 1957 or ’58. And I was in the army at that time and I was stationed in … as I said down in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. I hitchhiked up to Louisville and crashed the gate. Went through without paying (Bob chuckles). I was just there to see what was going on. I don’t think I did any dancing. I recall most of the halls had live music at that time and the tempos were like 136, very fast. It seemed like the only sensible dancing was being led by Shirley Durham, who was a folk dance instructor and also led contra dancing I believe.
BB – Ah, OK. All right … how about another festival … I know Connecticut has a big festival and of course New England has. Tell us about some of those.
AB – I joined the Connecticut Callers’ and Teachers’ Association sometime around 1960. Frank Minnehan suggested I join. Every year the callers’ association would run a square dance festival. In the early days it used to be held at Lake Compounce in Bristol.
BB – Yeah
AB – In later years, it would be held in various locations around the state. I took part in several of these, in fact, most of them. I was the MC at one that was held in Orange. Again, this is back, I don’t know, in the early ‘60s. I recall John Condy as being one of the callers, and Tony DeCarlo, and I know there were several others, too. I remember seeing John’s picture in the local newspaper with me in a big article that was written.
BB – Yeah, OK. How about one of the New England Conventions there?
AB – The only … let’s see, the only New England Conventions I ever went to were the ones which were held in Waterbury. l took part in them.
BB – Oh yes, right, yeah.
AB –I called Mainstream there and a little bit of Plus. And I took part in the contra dance hall there, along with Dick Leger, Jane Carlson, and several other callers.
BB – Running back a little bit …. something you made a comment about when you were down in Kentucky in the service, running into their running set idea. For the sake of the tape why don’t you tell us a little bit about what…. what the difference between that activity is and square dancing as we know it today.
AB – Well, the two dances, actually three dances I went to down there, they would start off with a big circle. The caller would get them into one big circle. He’d have them circle left, circle to the right, everybody go forward and back and everybody swing your honey baby. That’s what they always called the partner, ‘Honey Baby‘. I recall that. They’d say “couples out for an Oxbow loop.” And every other couple would…. would face the next couple like a Sicilian Circle. And they would circle left or whatever, and they’d maybe do the Oxbow loop, which I don’t recall what it was. Maybe…. maybe one couple going through the other and swinging and then the other couple through and swinging and then circle four. Each figure ended in what they called the do-si-do, which was a series of hand turns… arm turns…. partner left, opposite right like a do-pa-so. And you’d turn your partner by the left and move on to the next one and it was the same pattern over and over. Sometimes they’d do a Lady Around the Lady, sometimes Birdie in the Cage, sometimes Duck for the Oyster, and there was one called Bridle ’ol John. Now, I have no idea what that was, but I did write it down in a little notebook I used to carry with me. Years later, I lent the notebook out to somebody and goodbye notebook. It never came back. The square dance tempos in Kentucky were really fast, like 140bpm. And everybody moved with a kind of a limp. Like a mountaineer ridge runner romp or something or other. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that down south?
BB – Well, they have in the Texas area …. they call it the Abilene lift. And of course I’m surprised you didn’t bump into some clogging down there actually.
AB – Well, sometimes, some of the old timers would break into a clog, you know, when…. when they were waiting.
BB – Yeah. So, getting off the subject for a minute, what are your other hobbies?
AB – My other hobbies right now are simply cutting my grass (Bob chuckles), vacuum cleaning, and cooking for my wife, who is still working. She’s a school teacher. By the way, on that … I met her back in 1965 at an anniversary party for her grandparents. Her step-grandfather, Scotty McConny was a farmer and a square dance caller. He used to call at the Seymour Grange. My wife’s sister, Joan Sweet, was arranging an anniversary party for them, 25th anniversary, I think it was. She wanted to borrow some square dance records so that Scotty could call a few dances. But I guess he figured that he probably could not use records, or he didn’t have the equipment, so she invited me to come to the party and call a few square dances. This is how I met my future wife, Lois. During suppertime, I was seated opposite with her at the same table.
BB – (chuckles) Who are some of the people that influenced you back in early days of calling
AB – Early days of calling? Probably Al Brundage mostly. I always wanted to be like him, and I learned a lot from him by watching and going to his dances. Also Bob Brundage, Jim Murray, and Gordon Berrien. I learned stuff from them. Frank Kaltman, his writings in American Square Dance Magazine, and…. um, I’d drive up to Boston to dance to Ralph Page up at the YW on Tuesday nights. I’d be there with my little notebook and copy dances down. I enjoyed Ralph Page’s calling very much. Sometimes when I got to the Y, Ralph would not be there. Sometimes it would be Ted Sannella. Sometimes it would be Rod Linnell or Abe Kanegson.
BB – Oh yeah. I loved Rod. He was from Peru, Maine.
AB – Peru, Maine, yeah. That’s way up there somewhere.
BB – Yeah. Well, he was the one… he gave me a quadrille he had written and never named and I recorded it several years later and I called it Rod’s Right and Left.
AB – What was that? Heads …
BB/AB (together) – Head ladies chain to the right
AB – Take that lady face to the left, or something like that.
BB – Yeah.
AB – Yeah. I remember trying to call that one time. (Bob chuckles) TRYING, that’s the word!
BB – Well I called … I called it my challenge tip because it would throw … the higher level of club that I called for, the worse it was.
AB – With that right hand …
BB – Well, I was trying to turn that into a hilarious experience and it usually was and it took the edge off from the evening for these people that wanted to be hot shots.
AB – Right.
BB – So, OK. You probably haven’t done any recording that I can remember.
AB – No, I’ve not made any records.
BB – All right. I’ve been asking most everybody …. what do you find appealing about square dancing. What do you think is the major appeal?
AB – Well, I think I like moving to the music, and I like the kind of music that’s used for square and contra dancing. I tend to like traditional music more nowadays rather than modern square dance music… old fiddle tunes like Rickett’s Hornpipe, and Lamplighter’s Hornpipe. I like modern square dance music when it has a little fiddle…. a little subdued fiddle or a banjo in the background. And I like associating with the people and I like being up there on the stage and “bossing” people around.
BB – Of course, you’re a teacher by profession so that had to be a big part of it too.
AB – And the teaching part of it appeals to me too. I do like to teach people and I enjoy seeing them have a good time and if I can be a part of their being happy, that’s fine. It makes me happy, too.
BB – What …. any regrets? Anything you would have changed if you had it to do over again?
AB – I don’t think I would change anything. Maybe… I don’t know, maybe I…. maybe I would have pushed to try to start a more traditional style dance, doing the old dances, contras and mixers. I may still try that someday.
BB – Well, there is…. a lot of people are talking in that area including my brother Al and myself for that matter. But I’m getting to the point where I’m …. I feel I’m a little to old to start a new career, so to speak, but be it as it may. All right, well. The other thing that I’ve asked everybody is, “Where do you think square dancing has been, and where is it now and where do you think it might be going “?
AB – Well, I don’t know where it’s been. As I say my…. my …. the earliest square dancing that I’ve ever seen has been in the movies, some of these old movies. They’ve always showed … they always seem to show Texas Star. That was a very popular dance in the movies. My most enjoyable time was probably in the middle ‘60s to … up to about the middle ‘70s. That’s when we were getting those really big crowds. Down at Buttons and Bows the average crowd was about 28 squares and sometimes even more. And once … I do recall an anniversary dance where we had, I don’t know if it was the 5th anniversary or the 10th. It probably was the 10th. We had the Pioneer Trio playing and I was calling to 55 squares at Mary Tracy School in Orange. So that was really great. I don’t think they ever had that big of a crowd there ever again.
BB – Right. So … well where to you think we’re going?
AB – Where are we going? Well, where we have been going is making things more and more complicated and more and more difficult for beginners to get into the activity. I think we have to go in the other direction. We have to make it easier for beginners to…. to learn. We have to make our lessons shorter, maybe 20 to 30 weeks. We have to make it easier for beginners to be able to join a club. That means that the experienced people have got to allow the level to be dropped so that these beginners can get in and learn. That’s always a problem.
BB – Yeah. Well, many of the people that I’ve been interviewing have pretty much the same feeling. My personal thought is that they probably wouldn’t be able to do that with our present day dancers. A lot of people are saying that if there is going to be any possible resurgent activity it’s probably going to be a whole new ball game, starting all over again at the beginning and never the twain shall meet and that sort of thing.
AB – You’re probably right but…. but what could happen is that callers could start their own clubs and run their clubs the way they want and say, “This is the way it’s going to be”.
BB – Well I…. I think there is a trend in that direction because basically, so many dancers today don’t want the responsibility. They don’t want to be an officer and so forth. I think the trend will be eventually to get…. to get more caller run clubs.
AB – And I guess that’s the way it all started too, back in the ‘50s.
BB – Oh sure, yeah, right.
AB – I don’t know if the Milford club was caller run, was it? How did the Milford club start?
BB – No, actually it started with just a small group of people who agreed to, you know…. of course the first class before the club was formed Fran and I ran entirely. The same with each of the clubs that I’ve formed, the Mad Hatters in Danbury, and clubs that I started up in Massachusetts, the way they all got going was that they start with a brand new bunch of people and after graduation they kind of get together and say oh … and somebody, the most popular guy always becomes president, you know, so … but … many of the same and the most successful dances you find today, I think, are…. are caller run.
AB – Well, maybe that is what has to be done. In the future callers could start a club and they could run it the way they want. They could hold the level of dancing down by using a fewer number of calls, and maybe not getting too complicated.
BB – Well, of course, they’re….Callerlab is trying to consider this 10, 10, 10 idea where you have a class for 10 weeks, and then stop and start another class for 10 weeks and so forth but uh … and there is the old CDP program, the Community Dance Program. We talked to Jerry Helt. He’s very, very successful in that area out in the Cincinnati area.
AB – I’ve seen that video tape of Jerry Helt’s community dance.
BB – Did you? Yeah. That may very well be the eventual trend. I don’t know.
AB – I have a group like that too. I go to a Senior Center on Thursday mornings in Shelton, and we get maybe three or four squares dancing. We do easy square dances, a couple of line dances, and maybe one contra dance every week. The squares are mostly like… oh … Arkansas Traveler figure and Pass Thru Around 1, Down the Middle Pass Thru and that sort of thing. Ends Turn In, we do that one too.
BB – OK.
AB – Nothing more complicated than stars, allemande lefts and Pass Thrus. No Star Thrus, no Allemande Thars.
BB – Well, you’re basically doing the CDP program, really.
AB – Yup. That’s about it.
BB – Texas Star? You’ve still got to do that.
AB – Texas Star, we do that, absolutely. We’ve done Dip and Dive. We’ve done Three Ladies Chain. Let’s see, what were the other ones … Forward Six and Back and we’ve done some of Ted Sannella’s square dances too. There’s one called Ladies Three Quarter Chain, or something like that, where the head couples go forward and back and then head ladies chain 3/4 and the side men turn them and those six go Forward Six and Back, the end ladies chain 3/4, the head men turn ‘em. They all have a new partner to swing and promenade.
BB – Right, beautiful stuff.
(Tape ends abruptly – End of Interview with Allan Brozek)
After the tape shut down we decided we were about finished but I later realized that I had not asked Allan about his square dance movie clip collection. I’ve asked Allan to tell us a little bit about this and here is his reply:
Around 25 years ago I started collecting clips of square dancing, English country, and contra dancing that have appeared in movies and TV shows. I have such things as a clip of Cary Grant doing an Eightsome Reel with Ingrid Bergman in the movie Indiscreet, Les Gotcher calling for Ray Milland and Heddy Lamar in Copper Canyon, and Ken Curtis (Festus) calling in the TV show Gunsmoke. Some other clips I have with square dancing: Destry Rides Again, Welcome Stranger, Summer Stock, Christmas in Connecticut, the 1953 version of War of the Worlds, and others. I’ve been looking for Sheriff of Cimarron with Sunset Carson, but it’s never been on TV in my area. It has a pretty good square dance scene in it. It’s not available at Blockbuster, but I’ll keep looking. I have about an hour’s worth on a VHS tape, plus of few more bits on other tapes waiting to be transferred. My reason for collecting these clips? Same reason that people collect anything, I guess. It’s fun!