Anna Keenan Dixon – August 20, 2008*
Bob Brundage – Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is August the 20th, 2008. And I’m especially happy to have a chance today to talk today with Anna Dixon up in Reading, Massachusetts. Anna is the President of the Square Dance Foundation of New England and we’re interested in finding out all about the history of the Foundation and what’s going on nowadays, etc. But, before we start, why don’t we find out a little about you personally Anna and let me ask you … tell us a little about where you were brought up and life before square dancing.
Anna Dixon – Wonderful.
BB – Go ahead…
AD – Would you like me to start?
BB – Yep. (both chuckle)
AD – Alright. I think I will start way, way back. I was born on Christmas Eve, 1931. And for all you people who are not too quick on math, that means I’ll be turning seventy-seven this coming December 24th and I’m thrilled to be still going strong and doing as much as I can to make people aware that square dancing, that we love, is such a great thing for people. I was born in North Cambridge, MA, and subsequently did all my schooling there. Then, at high school age I went to St. Anne’s Academy in Marlborough, MA which was a live-in academy with French nuns. So, I was fortunate enough to learn French. Now, at this day and age I really don’t speak it, but I can read it and I can understand it, so that’s a plus when we go square dancing in Canada or any place where people are speaking French. Once out of the Academy, I went to work for a company in Boston. I worked there for a year. Then I met my wonderful husband, Milburn Dixon. The next year after that, I married him and we will be celebrating our fifty-seventh wedding anniversary on September 1st. Unbelievable how fast the time goes.
BB – You’ve got that right.
AD – Besides that, I learned to square dance in Billerica, MA, in the Town Hall. You would go upstairs, and they had this wonderful wooden floor. They had a little mini set-aside area where live musicians would play. And every Wednesday during the summer months the caller and musicians would be there. My parents, John and Lena Keenan, loved to dance. Back then the square dance involved waltzes, fox trots, polkas, schottisches, two-steps. And my parents said to me one summer, I think I was thirteen at the time, “Why don’t you come to the square dance with us”? And I said, “Oh, that sounds like fun”, and off I went. From day one, once I heard the music my toes were tapping. I could hardly wait to get up and dance. They did contras as well as squares. It was just a wonderful experience to be exposed to something like that.
BB – OK. So, you went through square dance lessons, I take it then.
AD – Not until I was thirty-eight. (laughs). The reason for that is, when Mil and I got married in 1951 – a year or two after that we started having our family. We ended up with six children, 4 girls – Marla, Roberta, Amy and Diana; and 2 boys – Jonathan and Gregory. It was at this point we moved… well, we started out in Massachusetts, in Manchester-By-The-Sea, MA. Then we went to New Jersey, and from there we went to Connecticut. Oh, and my experience in CT… our oldest daughter, Marla, was in a school musical, something called On The Moon, now I remember – it was “Cowboy On The Moon”. She needed a cowgirl’s hat. So, I looked around in the telephone book and I found what I think was called the Oak Yoke Shop, or something like that. Do you remember what it was called? And the name of the lady who ran that shop?
BB – Ox Yoke Shop. The lady’s name escapes me at the moment.
AD – Yes, me too. But anyway, I went to that shop which was about maybe twenty minutes from where we lived in Canton, Connecticut. Sure enough, we found this cute little youngster’s cowboy hat. Marla tried it on and looked great in it. I started to look around, as I always do wherever I go. I checked out the whole shop, and I saw these dresses that looked very, very old. So, I’m checking out the price of the dresses, and I cannot remember what they were, but at the time, to me, it was ridiculous that these old looking dresses could cost so much money. (laughs). It was only when we moved back to Massachusetts, here in Reading, that we started to take square dance lessons. That’s when I found out that those horrid looking dresses, that I thought cost so much, actually were Squaw Square Dance dresses. Isn’t it a riot how I thought something that looked so old, was actually being worn by people who square danced? And they looked beautiful in them.
BB – Right. OK. Well, why don’t we get along to the history of the Square Dance Foundation of New England. I know the Foundation was originated by Charlie and Bertha Baldwin.
AD – That’s correct.
BB – Do you remember what…approximately what year that was?
AD – Well, I know that it was incorporated in 1973. But Charlie was talking about it long before that. I would say early 60’s. Because we were taking square dance lessons from Art Nurse in Reading here in 1967. At that time, they had meetings of people in clubs that wanted to go and find out more about the activity. Charlie was at one of those, promoting the idea of preserving square dance history. So, I know that he was talking about that in, like 1967-68. He had been talking to other people before that, but at least we know in 1973 that the papers were incorporated in Massachusetts.
The first Secretary of the SDFNE was Phyllis Casey. And the first Vice President was Ernie (and Ellie) Chase. Ernie died in 2003, but Ellie is still around and she’s very interested in what is happening to the Foundation. The interesting thing about this is, in the thirty-five years – that we will be celebrating in October, on the 24th of 2008, there have been eight Presidents. That’s amazing to think that for 35 years, we’ve only had 8 Presidents.
BB – That’s right.
AD – Now, of that, there have been 7 men, and of course, me, a woman. I was elected in May of 1994. The people who have been involved…just let me run down some names for you. There’s Past Presidents like 2nd Ernie and Ellie Chase, MA, 3rd Dick and Judy Severance, NH, 4th Dave and Marion Norris, MA, 5th Art and Marge Dugas, NH, 6th Bob & Martha Carpenter, and 7th George and Nancy Haile. Others officers who come to mind, like Art and Pat Anthony, RI, Shawn Cuddy, MA, Len and Connie Houle, MA, Roman Rusinowski, MA, Carol Paris, NH, Bob and Barbara Graybill, NH. There are so many people, but some of the past Secretaries were – after Phyllis Casey, it was Vera Smith, then my husband, Mil, was Secretary from 1981 to 1987. The next Secretary was Edie and Leo Mathieu, who were round dance cuers from MA. We had a lot of people from Massachusetts, Kendra Stanley, Bob Butler, and Bill and Carol White were also Secretaries. And of course, Dick and Judy Severance, who were the third President of the Foundation, have stayed involved continually. I mean, they have done Publicity, Recording Secretary, and so many different offices for the Square Dance Foundation of New England. Currently they are Curator/Archives Director. They really deserve, what is it, Five Star General when you have done so much? Well, we have, oh, let’s see, Paul and Pat Channell. Paul is a caller, and his wife, Pat, is a Cuer. And another interesting point in doing research for this 35th anniversary, I have been coming across names of people who have been officers, or who have served on committees, like Bucky and Doris Donaher. There have been twenty-six callers and ten cuers. I think it is amazing that so many people have supported Charlie Baldwin’s vision – of preserving, promoting, and perpetuating square dance. And, our membership right now runs around 700, and we’re trying to increase it. So, anyone listening to, or reading this interview, if you would like to help preserve square dance history, by all means, look on the other part of the SDFNE web site, click on and download a membership application and send it in, because we would love to have your support. It’s been a tremendous activity. We’ve been on the promotion level trying to develop educational/instructional material. For the past two years, we have been trying to get educational material together to approach the school system in New Hampshire, to see if their grammar school children would be able to make an “off-the-school grounds” trip to the Waumbec Mill where we are located. We sub-lease from caller, Norm Poisson, who started various levels of square dancing there. We would use part of his dance area, so that after the children are given a fifteen/twenty minute tour of the SDFNE’s Charlie and Bertha Baldwin Library and Museum, they would go into the Mill-A-Round Dance Center and be given a short square dance “teach” by a volunteer square dance caller, who would make it a point to be there that day, at that time.
BB – Yeah, that’s great.
AD – So that is really where we are headed. And of course, we have … oh, all kinds of information that we can send out to clubs that want to start classes, or they want ideas on how to continue to keep the people who have already graduated from classes. Of course, the best thing with that promotion is the web site that we have (http://www.sdfne.org). At one point, Al Rouff started our computer system there for us. Paul Channell was another one who cataloged over 35,000 records for us. And right now, Johnny Wedge is the Computer Operations person. He takes care of updating it, and getting material from us to find out what he should be putting on there. So, we’re really excited that we are now into the twenty-first century with the help of Johnny, and Jim Mayo. I should also mention Jim in there as well, because he has been a terrific liaison between the Foundation and the University of New Hampshire in Durham, New Hampshire.
BB – Yes. OK. Well, going back a little bit, I think your first ambitious move was into a barn out in Weymouth. Do you remember about when that was?
AD – OK. 1983. In 1983, the South Weymouth, MA property was purchased by the SDFNE. And it was a marvelous, marvelous purchase. It had… it was known as Kramer’s Hayloft. And it was run by a man, I don’t know whether Sam Kramer actually square danced or not, but he turned his barn into 2 dance halls, one downstairs and one upstairs. The reason he did this is that it actually was a working farm, and he had trucks that delivered eggs, milk and cream, you know, to the whole surrounding area. He also built a little creamery where he could serve ice cream and food, where people, you know, if they were square dancing could go to his little restaurant that was right there. But the reason he had to stop his business was that the Naval Air Station bought land right behind his property. And with the airplanes flying in and out, the cows were frightened by the noise, and they stopped giving milk. So that was the end of his business. But anyway, that’s when he turned it into square dancing, and all kinds of clubs down there south of Boston helped him to clear out the area where the cow stalls had been. They made that area into the downstairs dance hall. Of course, the loft was filled with hay. Everything was removed, and that was made into the upstairs dance area. The whole property consisted of five acres of land. The two square dance halls also had round dancing, traditional, and folk dancing in them. The other buildings on the property were, a two-family house, the creamery which was turned into an apartment for the SDFNE Property Manager, who was Ernie Weidner back them. He was the second one. The first Property Manager was Bruce and Mae Nye from Vermont. The last Property Manager was Bob and Carol Butler.
BB – So, when did you move to Manchester?
AD – 1997. We had to sell the property because we did not have the financial support to keep up with the deteriorating facility. The barn’s foundation was giving way and it needed a new roof. We still had the chicken coop which we had turned into a meeting room. We had a terrible storm one time before 1997, I think if was in 1995, when the wind blew down the silo that was attached to the barn, and you name it. There was no insulation to the barn, and when the clubs were using it in the winter, all the heat was going right out the door. Of course, then you have the idea of – Oh, we have to make sure nobody slips and falls – so we had to hire someone to do the snowplowing. The property managers also did a lot of hand shoveling as well. But, it turned out the finances were not there. As much as we hated to give in, we had to sell it. Then we moved to Manchester, New Hampshire. We put things in storage for maybe 3 or 4 months. Then Norm Poisson contacted us and said, “Would you like to share some of the space in my Mill-A-Round Dance Center”? And we said, “Oh, that would be great”. So everybody took everything out of storage and moved it into a space of about 2500 square feet and developed it into a library and museum for dancers and the public to come and see. And I tell you, Dick Severance, Art Dugas, and all their volunteer workers up there in NH did carpentry like you would not believe. It is just a beautiful treasure of a museum…of a museum and library now. And we invite anyone who ever listens or reads this interview to come and visit. It is absolutely priceless.
BB – Right. OK. Well, you’ve given me a pretty good idea of the physical setup. Do you have all these records stored right there in Manchester?
AD – Yes, we do. We have over 35,000 records, so we keep some in the actual library and the others are in what we call the administration area. We also keep our surplus books there. Right now, some of our surplus books are being delivered to the Milne Special Collections housed in the University of New Hampshire Library in Durham. They are pleased to have them donated, because up to this point, they only had traditional material from Ralph Page, Ted Sannella, and other people who are very prominent in the traditional square dance movement. They had no idea there was a modern western square dance that was going on. So, we are educating them as to what is happening in our area, and of course, they had no idea about round dancing. So, Jim Mayo looked on their web site (http://www.izaak.unh.edu) and found out that the SDFNE had 850 books that UNH did not have. People can also go on their web site and find out which books the Square Dance Foundation of New England has given them, because they are giving credit to us.
BB – Ah, good.
AD – So, little by little, we are getting them up there, and it’s exciting because just this month, Roland Goodbody, Manuscripts Curator, UNH Library, and Dale Valena, Curator, University Museum, came to visit. They were so impressed by everything they saw. And they could not believe how well organized we are. We were told that our state of the art records and digital project are way ahead of most historical museums and professionally staffed institutions. So we are proud and happy that we have passed inspection, more than once, when people who are not square dancers have come to visit.
BB – Right. Right. Well, that’s very interesting. I know the Foundation also is helped along by a lot of committee work.
AD – Yes, I’m glad you brought that up, because that was going to be my next mention here. Over the years, there have been ninety-six people who have served on the Board of Directors. And it would take more than an hour to go through everybody’s name, but I can tell you, everyone has been a willing volunteer. Even our current volunteer webmaster, Patty Greene, still does this for us even though she now lives in North Carolina. This year, these people are SDFNE Officers: Sheila (Ken) Moody, Vice President, Dorothy Gulliford, Recording Secretary, France (Al) Rouff, Treasurer, Bill (Angie) Sutherland, Clerk.
We have Memorials, where people can donate any amount if they want to have their loved ones remembered in a book which is kept in the Library. The Memorials and Tributes Chairman is Doug Ross and Kathryn Charron. As I mentioned before, Dick & Judy Severance are the Archives Director. Oh, we have a really neat Museum Gift Shop. We have a new Chairperson for that. Her name is Bernadette Bennett. She has designed a special Tee (T-Shirt) that we are going to sell for our 35th Anniversary. And, guess what Bob?
BB – What’s that?
AD – Your name is going to be on it. (laughs).
BB – Oh.
AD – And so are a lot of other peoples’ names. You know, like members, their names are all going to be on this tee. It is going to be such a fun tee for people to wear. Of course, a couple of times a year, Mil and I get to write the “Foundation News”. We try to include pictures so that people will know that the SDFNE is promoting and perpetuating square dance by having square and round dancing on all the six New England… no, I can’t say all six – because at present only four of the New England States invite us to perform an Interactive Square Dance on their “State Day at The Big E” in West Springfield, MA. We provide volunteer callers, cuers, and dancers, who have to be from the particular State. (Talking about The Eastern States Exposition. Ed.) It is a fun, fun thing, and we’ve done that since 1996. But anyway, back to other people. Publicity Chairman is Peg & Doc Tirrell, Membership is France Rouff. Research Membership is Doc Tirrell. He tries to find all the people who have moved and didn’t let us know that they were going. The Hall of Fame has a new chairman this year. It’s Darrell and June Sprague, and before that it was Bob & Barbara Graybill, and before them it was Carol Paris. So, we’ve had all good people that have led the Hall of Fame and Local Legend Award Committees. The Trail-Out Dance Chairman for years and years has been Art and Pat Anthony, and of course, our Annual Raffle had Art and Marge Dugas as Chairman and has now been taken over by Al and France Rouff. Then we have a monthly fund-raiser which is called the 20/50 Club Raffle. Jean Stahl is in charge of that. And you have a chance to win not only in the month your name could be drawn, but even if you win that month they put your name back in and you can win again for the rest of the year. At the Annual Meeting, they divide the remainder. So, it’s really a great fund-raiser and lots of enjoyment for people. As I mentioned before, Johnny Wedge, Computer Operations. And then people who are Library Associates like Art and Marge Dugas who work on tasks at the museum, Tammy Dorris, who catalogs all the books that have been donated, Paul Channell, Special Projects, who now works on listing names of all known callers and cuers. He is making up a database of anyone who has ever done this. So, right now he has quite a few names of people of interest. And then, of course, yourself as our Historian doing these interviews which are so interesting of everybody. Milton Frazier, SDFNE Reporter covering Rhode Island. And he is 95 years old, and does his news gathering by telephone, the same as you and I are doing. So, it’s great to have him. Of course, Jim Mayo from NH wears many hats, Walt Bull, a newer caller from ME is selling things for us on eBay. Like if we have something that we feel is important, that’s surplus to us, he will put it on eBay to see if anyone is interested. And Paul Cote, another caller who is doing a lot of digital photography for us. For example, Paul took 680 pictures of the 45 display panel that Dick Severance put together that gives the whole history of square dance. These pictures will be used in a power-point presentation, or can be used when we go to a convention on a computer screen which will change pictures continually. So, we’re really excited with all the different things that are going on. One day, after a Tri-State Callers meeting, the callers volunteered to take down framed pictures that are on the walls of the museum so that they could be scanned and put on the computer, then put them back up on the wall. They spent 3 or 4 hours doing this. We are so grateful to all of these people who want to preserve the activity that we all love so much.
BB – Right. Well, that’s certainly an ambitious program. I know one of your major functions is the annual square dance festival… New England Festival.
AD – Oh yes, the convention.
BB – Yeah, the convention. Can you tell us a little bit more about that? I know you’ve moved around from place to place, usually going what, two years in a row?
AD – Yes, it’s normally two year in a particular place, and the only exception to that was the 1991 convention that Len & Connie Houle were Chairman of in Springfield, MA. It was held for only one year. This past year, we celebrated the 50th New England Square and Round Dance Convention. And that was a big celebration at the Sturbridge Host Hotel in Sturbridge, MA. They asked the Foundation if they could borrow our vintage costumes for this, because they wanted to depict the costumes from all previous conventions that had committee costumes. Of course, that started in 1977 with the NESRDC in Danvers, MA, and it went all the way up to the present. So, I had 52 costumes including the costumes from the current convention. It was a glorious fashion show. And we do have a DVD of it. I think somebody was saying they were going to make a CD as well, so that we could use both as a fund-raiser. If anyone was interested in seeing these costumes, this would be a good way to do it. The education part of the convention – they asked the Foundation if they would do something. So, Dick Severance came up with the idea of creating square dance history panels. It took him two years of research to put them together, and they are absolutely fantastic. Really great. So, the 50th was a great celebration with everything going on. The committee costume they wore was the traditional dress, or else you could wear the prairie look. But they all (were) made of the same turquoise and gold fabric. It was really very colorful and very unique. Sandi and Jay Silva were the Chairmen of the convention, and they did a really great job.
BB – Right. So, I know you also publish the New England Directory every year.
AD – No, we don’t.
BB – Well, you must…who does then?
AD – Ed Juaire.
BB – Oh, Ed Juaire does that.
AD – He puts it on the Internet. Like, the directory is put out every year by CO-OP so that all organizations, like EDSARDA, NECCA, NECORTA, CO-OP and the SDFNE, put their information in it. Ed Juaire has been putting this on the Internet, and it can be downloaded and printed out by the reader. Now this year, they are…CO-OP is dedicating the cover to the Square Dance Foundation of New England in honor of their 35 years of preserving square dance history. So, please go on the Internet to Ed Juaire’s web site (http://www.squaredance.ws/) and see what it looks like.
BB – Yeah. Well, I get his monthly newsletter and I forgot… I knew that you had a big part in that directory anyway.
AD – Oh, no, we don’t have a big part. We have a page, and all I have to do is make sure I get it to Ed Juaire on time. So, I print it on this end on my computer, and I email it to him. Then if anything needs correcting, now because it is on the Internet, all we have to do is call him up and say, “Oh, I am so sorry, but we had a change in this particular position. Could you please insert this new name?”, which he is very happy to do. Now, last year, CO-OP had, oh, I forget how many hundreds printed out, because so many of the callers and the dancers, you know, like the club leaders, they want to have that directory in their hand to bring with them to places. So, if someone comes up to them and says, “Oh, I just saw your demonstration and I live in such and such. Is there a square dance club near me”? Then you just take your little, you know, CO-OP Directory handout, and you either give it to them or else you look it up and you tell them. So, it really is a bonus to be able to have it in your hand, as well as people being able to go on the Internet to find someone.
BB – Right. Well, it’s funny, I didn’t realize that aspect of it. You know, I’ve already interviewed Ed Juaire back a few months ago, and that’s available on your website. So, of course, another big project you have is called the Oral History Project, sponsored pretty much by Bob Brundage.
AD – Ah! We are so fortunate to have you, Bob Brundage, interviewing all of these different people and I really feel that, of all of the people, I should be the least one to be interviewed here because they all have done such a tremendous amount and my little part, even though it’s valuable, really doesn’t even come close to what other people have been doing. But we enjoy every single one of those, and right now, I believe that people can go on the Internet, get to your interviews and click a certain place, and they’ll be able to listen to not only your voice asking the questions, but the person who is interviewed, listen to their voice as well. Isn’t that amazing!
BB – Yep. It really is. One very important one I just finished transcribing is Tim Marriner who is the one that just retired as Chairman of Callerlab, and that was really a very, very interesting conversation.
AD – Tim Marriner is a favorite of mine because he is…he and his wife are both Life Members of the SDFNE. And also, John Marshall is a member of the SDFNE who is… isn’t he the current Callerlab Chairman?
BB – I think so, yes.
AD – Yes. So thanks to you, we really have all of the leaders who are making things possible for society by what they’re doing to promote square dance. And, of course, every time I say square dance I want people to realize that this also includes round dancing and line dancing which used to be a big part of the square dance program way back, I think in the 70’s, but it’s not really there anymore. It’s down to square dance/round dance. But the round dance people are doing a tremendous job with all the different things that they are teaching. But primarily, none of this information would be out there for people, if it were not for you, Bob. And the Square Dance Foundation thanks you a million times for doing all of this wonderful work.
BB – Well, thank you very much. Of course, I’ve also have been introducing some people in the traditional/contra field trying to get that aspect included as well as the modern western people.
- Well, we’re almost at the end of this side of the tape Anna, so, if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a minute to turn the tape over, so just hold on.
AD – Very good.
(END OF SIDE ‘A’)
BB – OK. We’ve turned the tape over and (are) ready to go again with Anna Dixon up in Reading, Massachusetts, the President of the Square Dance Foundation of New England, and we’ve been enjoying a really nice conversation about the history of the Foundation and all its current aspects. So, one important question that I’ve been asking all the callers that I’ve interviewed, where do you think square dancing is going? I might shave that a little bit and ask you, what do you anticipate for the future of the Square Dance Foundation of New England?
AD – That is a good question. Right now we know that we are in a good place in the Waumbec Mill in Manchester, NH. If all goes well, we’ll be there for awhile. If that doesn’t happen, we’re already in the process of planning what our next step should be. And, of course, things are not definite because of a lot of different questions that have to be asked. I really cannot answer that. But no matter what happens, there is the possibility of giving vital items – books, magazines, any maybe music records to the University of New Hampshire in Durham who at this time is receptive to this idea.
BB – That’s good.
AD – We’re not thinking of that right now. That would be something like way, way, way, way down the line. So, what we want to do is be in a place where people can come and visit, and then, seeing what a great job is being done, they will want to support our activity by either becoming a member or by donating money. We accept all types of money, so if you know anybody out there who has a lot of excess money and they’d like to leave their name for posterity, we would love to have them contact us.
BB – OK. Should we call Bill Gates?
AD – (laughs). Well, we have. Dick Severance wrote to him asking if he would like to support the historical nature of square dance. And they wrote back and said, “Sorry, but we only give to medical projects”. Dick has written many grant proposals, to many people, and even personal letters to people. And the response is always the same. Because we’re not like a disaster type of event, the money is not there. And I think that the public does not realize that square dance plays such a social part in the history of our country, and it’s up to us to bring this knowledge to them. Then they won’t be thinking of it as a “hee-haw” type of thing like they see on TV, or sometimes in the movies it’s portrayed as, you know, it’s just jumping and hopping and all this kind of stuff. Until people realize that this is a history of our country, I’m afraid we’re going to be thought of in that manner. Oh, when we open our library for visitors it changes peoples’ minds. (both laugh)
BB – Well, is the Foundation getting any younger blood in their committees?
AD – Yes. As a matter of fact, Bernadette Bennett who just came on the Board is young. Tammy Dorris is real young, and she came to us right out of college. She’s a young person and gung-ho, knows everything about the computer and just does a fabulous job. And then, France and Al Rouff are both young. Darrell Sprague is young. We’re getting young people on our committees, and there are others out there who are in their early fifties that would like to help, but they still have families growing up or are in college, and, you know, you have to go to all the activities that are going on. So that we just keep looking for people who are passionate about this activity and want to see it continue, because square dancing is never going away. Life is a circle. So, it has its ups and its downs but it goes round and around and it stays. As a matter of fact, talking about another aspect, just last night on TV they had a program that showed that vinyl records, you know, the real large ones?
BB – Yes –
AD – They’re now popular again. And they sold like 85 million of them last year, and this year they expect to go over that figure. I forget how many million more. Remember at one point everybody thought records were going to go away, and they thought for sure those big ones, that their life was gone. But now it’s being revived. So see, it’s just like anything. Things go down, and then somebody finds it and it comes back up. That’s why it’s so important to have the library and museum so that when young people come in and see this, it may spark some imagination in them like “Hey, we can do this”. Hope is eternal. You cannot say that things are going down the tube, because they’re not. They are at a level where they were back when square dancing started. At one point, like, can you remember how many squares you called to when you first started to call? When did you start to call?
BB – Oh, I started in 1933.
AD – OK. That’s the year I want. How many squares did you have?
BB – Well, I called a regular Saturday night dance, but the hall would only hold five squares.
AD – Absolutely. Now that’s what I’m talking about. All the research that I have been doing, you read the words that people have written, and they said, “We had 3 squares at the dance, or, we had 2 squares in the basement of our house”. In other words, they weren’t thinking of how it was going to multiply in the 1970’s or 1980’s like it did. And now of course, that circle has gone round and people are back down to the three squares, the five squares, and they’re horrified. I think you should learn from the past, but don’t live in it. You should always say, “OK, that’s what it was then. What can I take from that to make things better in my life today and for square dancing today? I hate it when reporters interview people and those people keep harking back to how it was. And they say, “Oh, today we only have like 8 squares”. That is the most damaging thing anyone can do for the square dance activity. They should be optimistic about whatever squares they have, and not be harking back to what it used to be.
BB – Right. Well, what an interesting concept. I had never thought about it that way but what you’re saying is ‘what goes around comes around’.
AD – Absolutely.
BB – OK. Well, where do you think square dancing might be going in the future? We all know that the attendance at various clubs, and some clubs are folding up, etc. You think…do you have any idea what the trend might be?
AD – Well, all of this is a guesstimate. (laughs). I don’t think that it has to bottom out before it gains strength again. I believe that we have the Internet now, so that we’re not like the underground where people do not know we exist. And many callers are getting calls from people who are non-square dancers who see this on the Internet. And then when they go and do a fun dance wherever they are asked to do it, those people get very enthusiastic about the idea. Some of them continue on to join a club, if there is something in their vicinity. Others just have a very good memory of the evening. So that, I think when the younger people don’t have to be going to all of the games that their children are in, and they find out that they’re just the two of them, they’ll be looking around for something to do. I really think it is going to spring back, but how long it is going to take I don’t know.
BB – Well, that’s a good way of looking at it that’s for sure. Well, do you think of anything that I haven’t covered as yet? I’ve got one page here of notes that I ask callers, which is all about calling, etc. which doesn’t affect you.
AD – OK. I can mention something about our vintage clothing collection.
BB – Oh, yes.
AD – We have the most extensive clothing collection anywhere in the world. I can say that because we have around 800 women’s dresses.
BB – Do you really? Well.
AD – And we have about 200 two-piece women’s separates. And men’s shirts, we have around 400 or 500. And not one item is a duplicate of anything.
BB – (laughs). Is that right?
AD – I’m at the point of trying to downsize because we have no more space. In the library area we have some beautiful mannequins dressed in square dance clothing. At one time, we had them dressed in different convention costumes from the six New England States. Right now, they’re wearing square dance clothes from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. We also have the costumes that Bertha Baldwin, Charlie Baldwin’s wife, made for Charlie and herself to wear at the Bicentennial Ball held in Portland, ME. And also on display is a vintage brocade jacket with a long vest, donated by Len Houle but was sewed by a square dancer. It is real fancy looking. But again, you know, this is showing clothes from long ago. We display new, and we display old. For example, men’s boots decorated with silver or gold. We have pink boots. Can you imagine that? Pink boots! The callers really jazzed up the scene when they called. They made it entertainment as well as fun for the people. I think as long as the callers have the enthusiasm, they’ll see the numbers increase.
BB – Yes.
AD – I’m trying to think what else. Oh, yes. In the library administration area we have a bank of filing cabinets and in those we have folders for every caller who wants to give us information about themselves. They’re also asked if they have made a CD or a record if they would give it to us. And that is kept in their folder so that when anyone comes to the library and says, “We’d like to know about Bob Brundage”, Well, we go to Bob Brundage’s file and we say, “If you want to, you can listen to this record, you can read about this”. And we also have folders that have Proclamations from the six New England States that we have received when it was our anniversary. We have…EDSARDA, NECORTA, NECCA, ACCORD, each have a file cabinet of their own. The Foundation does not go into these cabinets. Each organization takes care of their file cabinet. We have Outreach Programs, one of which is supplying, free of charge, callers or cuers who are members, with records that are no longer being produced. We keep three of each record, which is a museum requirement, but any above that we consider surplus. We do have requests from people who are non-members. For them to receive anything we ask them to become a member and then we can fill their request. We have, oh, a whole cabinet that has sheet music, beautifully illustrated vintage sheet music. Some people ask if we have anything on music, whoever is on duty that day will go and get this and show it to them. So we have treasures of all sorts, banners from all different clubs. We have …did you ever see a skit by The Goofers?
BB – I don’t remember.AD – Well anyway, this is a costume, costumes that were given to us. And it’s a square of dancers, and it’s not really their figure but it is a costume that makes them look shorter than they are, I guess. I don’t know. I have to find the person who donated that, and have them write the history about it. That’s the one thing, the provenance of items is sometimes lacking because when people bring things they do not leave a history of what they’ve left. Other times, they’ll leave it and nobody’s there to take it, so you don’t even know who left it. We have had some wonderful trophies given to us. We have oil paintings. We have one oil painting of Pappy Shaw that was done by Dot Fletcher, a square dance caller from MA. We have a beautiful wall that is filled with Hall of Fame pictures, of which you and your brother Al are up there on that wall. We are proud to have you there. We have another wall that has pictures that have been given to the Foundation of square dance callers, callers with their wives, round dance cuers, dancers, and clubs. They are in frames ranging from 5”x7” to huge oil paintings. The SDFNE does not have money to buy, or to, you know, purchase what we’d really like, so that anything that is given to us we accept gratefully, and we put it where people can see it. We just had someone asking about a caller from Vermont. They asked why his picture wasn’t on the wall. We said, “Well, no one gave us a picture of him”. That was rectified just last week. We received a picture of this caller in the mail. Now, we’ll have to enlarge it to a 5”x7” so that it will match the size of the other pictures. It’s a beautiful wall of photos! Then we have dangles in a glass display case. And they’re all of the different dangles that a person could get if they did a particular activity. And we have another case that has badges. The club and the person’s name is on it. Sometimes they’re travel badges. Then we have a display case that has all men’s items in it. So you have neck scarves of every different fabrication and color. We have belt buckles. We have belts. We have beaded ties that our callers wore, and sometimes dancers did too. We have all kinds of different accessories, for both men and women, for people to look at. They are always blown away at how colorful things are, especially when they are non-square dancers. I have not had one person who has come through those library doors who has not said, “What a marvelous collection. Too bad more people don’t know about this”. So, communication is the word, Bob, and you’re doing a great job by communicating with all of the different people to get their side of the story. And again, thank you, thank you.
BB – Thank you. I appreciate that. You know, a thought just occurred to me… I’ve never been to the archive at the University of New Hampshire. Do you know… can you tell us a little bit about that?
AD – OK. We went… we made a connection with Bill Ross, who is the Head of the UNH Library. He put us in touch with Roland Goodbody, who is Manuscripts Curator of the UNH Library and the Milne Special Collections. Jim Mayo had set up the meeting. And Dick Severance and I went with Jim to meet everyone. The whole area is top notch. It is spacious. It is bright. It is new, just absolutely pristine. They took us back into their work areas. As we were looking at their rows and rows of shelving ,that you can move with a touch of a button, I said, “If our Tammy Dorris could see this, see would be so envious” (laughs) because we just have regular old, you know, bookcase shelves – nothing moves. UNH archives is in a place where they take everything very seriously. It is open to the public. Anybody can go there, ask for what they want, and it’s brought out to them. It has a wonderful place to sit and look at things. Good lighting. The museum wasn’t a huge one, but it was great. They have asked the SDFNE, when they do a museum display on dance, would we provide them with something on square dance. We’re ecstatic about that. Naturally, we said “Yes”. Dale Valena, Curator of the University Museum, loved the square dance costumes she saw when she came to visit us in Manchester, NH. She asked if and when I downsize the clothing collection, would I possibly donate some to the University Museum. I told her, “Definitely”. I also told her, the SDFNE would be keeping the best, but that I would give her the second best. She laughed at that. The archives that UNH is a place where you would want to go, especially if you were doing research. They have everything. They have things on fishing, hunting … all kinds of things. We really were, you know, just focusing in on our area, the dance, and they did have a lot of the traditional. It is all shelved beautifully, and accurately labeled so you can identify it easily. It’s a wonderful place.
BB – Yeah, well I know that the University of New Hampshire started in this area after Ralph Page passed away and it was actually the Ralph Page Archive for a long time and then, after Ted Sannella passed away, it’s now called the Sannella/Page Archive. So, I know they were more into the traditional field. Ted was also connected with the Country Dance Society more than the modern western.
AD – And UNH Library has a lot of Country Dance Society books, too.
BB – Yes, right. Well, I’m happy to get that information and the connection that you’re making with the University of New Hampshire. That’s certainly a wonderful outlet.
AD – And it’s mutually beneficial , because now when people ask about the traditional, they can also say to the people, “Are you interested in modern western as well”? And, if people don’t know anything about it, they might say, “What’s that about”? One of our recent donations has been the bound volumes belonging to Bob Osgood of “Sets In Order” that were donated to the SDFNE by Gail Seastrom of CA. That donation was brought to UNH by Jim Mayo because the SDFNE has a complete set of “Sets In Order”. So, this is the perfect spot for it to be in because we know that the whole of society will be able to see modern western square dance books there. We’re excited about that. It ‘s a wonderful liaison to have in order to make people more aware of what is going on with square dance.
BB – Right. Well, actually I think Anna, we’ve pretty well covered what I wanted to cover and…
AD – Well, I thank you.
BB – Well, I sincerely appreciate your taking time this morning and telling us all about the Square Dance Foundation of New England.
AD – Well, it’s been my pleasure, and I hope I’ve made it easy to understand because I do tend to ramble from one subject to another. (both laugh). This has been great. I’m so happy that people now will be able to realize that there is a square dance library and museum that they can visit whenever they come to Manchester, New Hampshire. But, of course, it’s all by appointment, so they would have to call either Dick Severance or myself. Those telephone numbers are on our website (www.sdfne.org). We hope people will take advantage of looking on our website. Lots of good information.
BB – Right. OK. Well, once again thank you very much for taking the time and I think we’ll call this the end of the tape. I’ll shut the tape off and I’ll…
AD – Thank you very much, Bob.
BB – OK.
AD – Bye, Bye