Bob Riggs – May 3, 2012
Bob Brundage – Well hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is May the third, 2012 and today I’m talking with Bob Riggs up in Centennial, Colorado. We had an enjoyable session or two at the Callerlab convention in Nashville a month ago so we’re looking forward to some great news about Bob and his activities in the Denver area. I do believe it is the Denver area isn’t it Bob?
Bob Riggs – Yes, it is.
BB – Yeah. Is that where you were born and brought up?
BR – No, I was born and raised outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in a town called, originally, Media and then moved to Westchester and lived in the country up through my high school years.
BB – I’ll be darned. (Laughs) Westchester County, New York you mean?
BR – No, Westchester, Pennsylvania.
BB – Westchester, Penn….OK (laughs)
BR – Chester County. I grew up with five brothers and sisters who today are spread around the world in various occupations and none of them live in that area any more.
BB – I see. So, were you brought up in a musical family of any kind?
BR – Yes, in that my mom and dad were very much into believing that raising kids involved music. It involved theatre. It involved sports. It involved lots of exchanges and all of us learned how to play an instrument or two. I had spent some time on a piano and some rime on a violin, neither of which I was very good at, but it did give me a background…….
BB – Right.
BR – … and gave me a few pieces that I can play, or I should say my fingers can play, still today in spite of the fact that …
BB – Were there any dancers in your family?
BR – At the time, no. Really there was no dancing of any significance. The only dancing I remember in, probably my high school years was, we learned to do some Scottish Country dancing.
BB – Ah ha.
BR – And I actually remember that very fondly. I also remember my great aunt teaching me to waltz in the living room of a school.
BB – There you go. (Laughs) – Well, so how did you get introduced to square dancing?
BR – Well, that was a little bit of a story as well. I came to Colorado in the fall of 1970 to go to Colorado State University.
I attended that there and got a degree in Computer
Science and really had no involvement with dancing because I was spending all my time working and trying to get an education. In the summer of 1974 I graduated and that same summer a sequence of very peculiar events happened. I was living in a house that had a whole gob of guys living in it and one day a lady came by, one of the girls was visiting somebody else and she said, “The Haylofters are dancing on the plaza Friday night. Why don’t you come see it?” ….
BB – I see.
BR – … and, I don’t remember her name, but I was looking for something different at the time and I went over and I sat on the wall at the plaza and I watched that whole night very intently at people having a good time square dancing. I didn’t dance that night but I did promise that I would come back the following week and they made me promise that I would try to dance that following week. That same first night, just as a side note here, a young lady rode up on a bicycle in a square dance dress with a petticoat on with a short haircut, sort of pretty looking and, I didn’t think much of it at the time, but that same night was the first night I saw my wife.
BB – I’ll be darned.
BR – So, as I say it was the same sequence of events. I went back the next week, I danced and that’s thirty-eight years ago.
BB – OK. And so you wound up marrying your lovely wife?
BR – We were married in 1978, four years later. Both of us went off and had relationships with other people and somewhere along the line we discovered we liked each other.
BB – Yeah (laughs) well, that’s good. That’s always a help.
BR – And she was the daughter of a caller….
BB – I see
BR – … a caller in Fort Collins by the name of Ray Boyd who had been calling since the late 40’s and had called for the CSU Aggie Haylofters when they had participated in the competitions in Texas in either 1947 or ’48, somewhere in there. So he was part of that time period when there were actually competitions of the figures in the late ‘40’s. (coughs) Anyway, she knew what she was getting into when she married me.
BB – Ah ha. So, then – so you joined his square dance club, is that it?
BR – Well, we both danced with the Aggie Haylofters which was the college club.
BB – I see.
BR – His club was the Square Dusters and we danced there periodically but we really didn’t join. We were part of the college group.
BB – Yes.
BR – We danced with them until we were married in ’78 and then in ’79 we ended up moving to State College, Pennsylvania for job reasons. And at State College we danced with the Centre Squares which is a long-standing club which was run by Carter and Ruby Ackerman and they’re still at it today. I just had some dialog with them while we were at Callerlab. During that period, the four years we were there, we taught a couple of square dance classes. We taught a round dance class and did a little bit of calling. It was still sort of the formative years where I was trying to figure out what I really wanted to do and was still learning the craft.
BB – I see,
BR – In 1983 we had come to the conclusion that, having had one child, that we wanted to come back to Colorado to raise our kids here and that’s what brought us from Pennsylvania back to Colorado.
BB – Yes. And so, how did you get started at dancing there and calling, and so forth?
BR – Well, we were fairly involved in a variety of activities and originally we went out dancing and one of the places we went dancing was the club in Castle Rock. About that time, the club that had started in 1978 and had a gentleman by the name of Al Runyan, who was their caller. Al was a good local caller but the club wanted to move beyond his skills.
BB – I see.
BR – So, in the summer of 1984 they went on a search for a new club caller, of which I was one of the candidates and, through a process that was a little unusual, in October I actually became the club caller for Sunflower Squares in Castle Rock.
BB – I see. OK.
BR – I started teaching and, in that teaching, I learned a lot – a tremendous amount – about calling and that club is, what I would say, has been the core of my ability to move from being a beginning caller to being an experienced caller.
BB – Right. Well, outside of the men, the people you’ve mentioned, who were any of your other mentors?
BR – Well, when I started calling, which was in 1975, at CSU I was urged on by the members of the club there at the Aggie Haylofters. During the ’75 to ’76 time period I basically called with only the skills that they could provide. In the summer of 1966 I attended the callers school – or 1976 – I attended the callers’ school at the Dance Ranch in Estes Park put on by Frank Lane, Vaughn Parrish and Earl Johnston. And that was a significant turn of events again in my calling career because I went in there as a card reader, pre-choreographed kind of reading whatever choreography I was calling, trying to understand it and came out with a set of skills that they taught in that week that took me about six months before I really understood what they were talking about, and even a couple of years before I would say I mastered most of what they tried to teach me.
BB – I see. OK. Well …
BR – (Coughs) And I will say there were other mentors who were significant in my time. Herb Egender and his first wife, Erna were significant influences on both Allynn and I both in the round dance world and the square dance world, in the early ‘80’s as well.
BB – So, you must have attended several festivals and so forth?
BR – Yes, we’ve attended many state festivals and many nationals. My first national was in Birmingham probably in the late ‘80’s and since then I have attended not every one, but many of them.
BB – So, then you got involved with Callerlab?
BR – In 1984 I became a member of the Denver Area Callers and Cuers Association and, the same year, Herb Egender sponsored me to be a member of Callerlab.
BB – I see. Great. All right so, that kind of solidifies your background a little bit so – I believe the first time I met you was here in Albuquerque at the Lloyd Shaw Dance Archives and I was wondering, had you had any affiliation with the Lloyd Shaw Foundation?
BR – Well, my original affiliation with the Lloyd Shaw Foundation occurred in 1989. Dena Fresh had just been notified that she could no longer go to the altitude of Fraser, Colorado and attend the Rocky Mountain Dance Roundup. And, because she couldn’t go to altitude, she had been long time been the one that had been teaching the rounds at the dance week and so, that year Cal Campbell invited Allynn and I to come up and help them teach the round dance program for the dance week. I told him right off, I said, “I know I have taught round dance classes but I’m pretty much convinced that I’m a square dance caller who cues” and he said, “Well, I still want you. I still want you to come up here because you have the right understanding and the right philosophy which is what we are talking about here”. And so we went and in those days the dance week was directed by Diane Ortner and Don Armstrong was in attendance and Bill Litchman was in attendance and many of those people provided significant influence from that point forward. Allynn and I became directors of the Rocky Mountain Dance Roundup and I don’t remember the year, Diane did it for ten years and we did it for eleven or twelve and we still are the directors of sort of a new today event called the Shaw Folk Rendezvous which we held the last…this year will be the third year.
BB – Right. Well, with Don Armstrong there was that your first introduction to the contra dance area?
BR – Um, I had a little exposure to it because Herb Egender had done a few in some dance … in some areas but as far as the beginning to understand it in all it’s complexity and beauty I think that’s probably where I begin to say we began to know it for what it really is rather than what it’s reputation was.
BB – Right. Right. So, well, getting back to your Denver area there, I understand that you had quite a great dance performance group.
BR – Today I am Co-Directors with Cal and Judy Campbell of the Colorado Dancers. The Colorado Dancers is an older adult group. I shouldn’t say ‘older’, it is an adult group. The dances, I think we currently have about forty dances in our repertoire that we perform, that range from long ways dances from the late sixteen hundreds to contemporary square and contemporary contra dances and include round dances and our latest little thing is a set of performance dances that are focused around five people or five couples and those are some of the formation dances that we perform. We’re trying to tell a history of dance from dances like ‘Hole In The Wall’ from 1695 up though contra dances like ‘Sackett’s Harbor’, ‘Hull’s Victory’, some English Country dancing. We’re doing a piece on Shrewsbury Lasses which is an English dance. So, significant variety of dance showing both it’s diversity and it’s similarities throughout the history.
BB – Yes. Well, do you get a chance to perform very much?
BR – Well, we don’t perform as much as we’d like. We are going to be performing this year at the National Square Dance Convention in Spokane.
BB – Oh, that’s great.
BR – We have performed at both the Colorado State Festival and at national conventions and, periodically at nursing care facilities and senior living communities and other places in the Colorado area.
BB – Yes. Well, I guess you were a little after the Lloyd Shaw Cheyenne Mountain Dancers.
BR – Yes, I am quite a bit after. During the early two thousands I was affiliated with a group called the Rocky Mountain Dancers. At the Rocky Mountain Dancers I was Co-Director with Peggy Pingel of that group and that group was a teenage slash young adult group that attempted in some respects to emulate the dancing of the Cheyenne Mountain Dancers to show what some of it might have looked like.
BB – Well I guess that was the group I was thinking about. Are you affiliated with them now is that it?
BR – Loosely. Peggy … they went dormant for about three years and my understanding is that they have found enough young people that they are back to dancing again.
BB – Oh, that’s great.
BR – So, I have not seen them. I know some of the young people that are involved in it but I have not – I’m too busy at the moment to go and spend that much time with them but probably, sooner or later will.
BB – Yes, Right. Are you familiar with the Silver Spurs from Spokane, Washington?
BR – Yes, Yes I am.
BB – I had the chance to sponsor them probably three or four times back east and they were a group similar to the Lloyd Shaw Cheyenne Mountain Dancers of course. So you probably never got to meet Red Henderson. He was their leader.
BR – No, I did not.
BB – Well, that’s great. I’m glad that type of activity is going on around the country and, I’m sure your making a sizeable contribution to the effort. Well, let’s get down to the meat of this program. I’m interested in the country dance – the Community Dance Program that I saw at Callerlab, so why don’t you give us the scoop on CDP as it’s called.
BR – (Chuckles) Well, it’s now almost fifteen years ago that their was this concept identified of a Community Dance Program which, in today’s terminology, can be thought of as a limited basics program with the addition dancing in a variety of formations to provide entertainment value versus adding more square dance terms. And the Community Dance Program as it was originally put together was twenty-four basics danced in squares, contra lines, Sicilian circles and a variety of other things that you could do to have fun with people. In that time period we had tried a variety of formats from – probably the original one we did which was adopted about fifteen years ago locally here. There was a group that we had done some one-night parties for that had said, “You know, we’d like to do this more regularly” and it was a church group. So we said. “OK if we can use the church. we’ll be happy to meet twice a month and see what we can do” and that went on for – we built a solid program that probably had, at most four squares and, over the course of a three or four year period it began to dwindle and, at the end of about four years, it died a death of lack of attendance but we learned a lot out of it. We learned that what we were trying to do with dances that –
dancing events that could be conducted with both a returning audience that returned either every two weeks, or at least once a month, along with new people coming in every time, was possible as long as you could continuously create a recruiting pattern that would bring the new people in. We also discovered that there were some dance forms that were more suited to the environment than others. And so, we began to see that what you could really present in an evening and what would be considered entertainment by that kind of an audience. (Coughs)
About twelve years ago, Cal Campbell enlisted my assistance and we started putting on the Beginner Dance Party Leaders Seminar before the convention – before the Callerlab Convention. That was an opportunity that was sort of two-fold. One, it gave us a chance to show some of the concepts that we were talking about when we talked about community dance and doing dance programs. But it also gave us the opportunity to enlist the knowledge of others from the organization who were doing like things and that has had a significant impact on the content and form and the evolution of community dancing. As I look at it around the country, various callers are doing different kinds of things and they’re making things work for their arena.
BB – Well, I understand that you have a newsletter for the Community Dance Program don’t you?
BR – Yeah, the part of the … one of the committees of Callerlab is the Committee for Community and Traditional Dance and that committee, along with sponsors of the Beginner Dance Party Leadership Seminar. Today it is that committee that also publishes the Community Dance Journal or the CD Journal and that journal contains all sorts of material and concepts and programming techniques and all sorts of things. That’s usually either a two-pager or a four-pager depending upon how much content we can get that’s published, we hope, four times a year when we can get the content and get appropriate things going.
BB – Right. So, how many subscribers do you have for that?
BR – I’m not quite sure because it is managed through the home office and it is now done electronically and I think it’s about sixty.
BB – OK, Well, at your session in Nashville this year you had a good turnout there of people interested in the program. I thought you must have had at least fifty or so there in attendance at every session didn’t you?
BR – On the …. for the seminar there were twenty-seven registered and then there were partners and then there were some part-time look-ins which we always have. In Las Vegas in 2011 we had forty-five people. So, we’ve had some really great turnouts the last couple if years and I’ve felt very good about the content and the exchange of ideas that is going on.
BB – Right, so this program really was started by Cal Campbell, is that it?
BR – I would say that he is the sort of – that’s where the original list came from … was some work he did and it was focused around some work that Bob Howell and Cal and Ken Kernen did leading up to the publishing of the book that the three of them authored called ‘Dancing For Busy People’. So, the list came first and I think Bob Howell and Cal were sort of the prime motivators of that because Ken was already partially retired. But he did contribute to the overall ideas and the many of the dances that are in the book and I think many of the concepts that make up the Community Dance Program came from those three gentlemen.
BB – Yeah, it’s a great book. There’s no doubt about it. I hope people will pick up a copy sometime if they haven’t seen it. It’s called ‘Dancing For Busy People’. So what’s your estimate of the future of the CDP program. Does it seem to be growing or …
BR – I think that in our world today we need a variety of dance products. I have a community dance program that I do twice a month for a senior living community and it is that form of a limited basic with a variety of formations which is exactly what they need. (Coughs) I have also seen community dance environments where there’s the monthly dance and, the monthly pot luck and dance. That kind of environment occurs around the country periodically. I actually believe that if callers would take the initiative that there would be more of those. I think we – and I’m going to be a little outspoken here -I think callers need to think about the profession we’re in, and the profession we’re in is that of an entertainer and an organizer. I can go out and organize a dance again. I don’t need to wait for a club to do it and a club to hire me to call. I think I need to be out there creating dance opportunities in our world and there’s significant opportunity to go out there and create a dance that people can come to and just have a good time with the fellowship off the people they know or the people they get to know. So overall, I look at the dance spectrum and I see the Community Dance Program as being one of the products of the overall program. Along with the one-night party being sort of the beginning entry level the non repetitive version of it. And then moving to the community dance which is simply that a dance that can be held infrequently with a limited number of basics and with a limited amount of knowledge and then, moving on into the recreational dance world the people who dance frequently.
BB – Right. Well, do you have any predictions for the future of the club style dancing as we see it around the country today will all these different levels all the way up to challenge, and so forth?
BR – I actually see that as long as we provide a diversity in the programs and that we don’t limit ourselves to only one, that we can create a healthy community. The statement I made at Callerlab, during the closing session, I am a very strong proponent of that statement. The statement is: We have to first have enthusiasm, enthusiasm about our activity and the people we affect by our activity? We have to understand that not everyone is going to dance every day. That not everyone is going to dance every week and not everyone is going to dance once a month, that there is groups of people who are going to dance however it fits into their life, and I think if I was to say, if I was trying to say something of wisdom, I would say that every person in the world must find where dance fits in their life. And if I find it fits in my life every day it’s just me. I can’t expect everyone to do that. What that means to me is that there are people out there that need to dance twenty basics. There are people out there that need to dance the recreational program called Mainstream. There are people out there that need to dance Plus. There are people out there that enjoy pushing Plus to full By Definition and there are people who want to dance more terms than that and they proceed onward into the Advanced and Challenge world. The number of people who are in each of these worlds will be different based upon their need for dance in their lives. I don’t call beyond Plus. I don’t have time to do that and Advanced and Challenge and entertain the thousands of people I entertain every year at one-night parties. So, I have chosen to be as good at doing one-night parties as I can and at Community dances and at Mainstream dances and at Plus dances and that’s the level of my ability to contain the skills necessary to deliver each of those programs.
BB – Right. Well, that’s interesting and is certainly a great philosophy Bob and I know you’re good at what you say.
BR – Just as a note there – every place that I hear people talking about the death of square dancing, they have forced square dancing to a certain level of commitment and that’s the only thing available in those areas. So, if I go look and I say, “OK, in XX city their square dancing is dying“ and I look at it and I go, ”OK, all you can dance there is Plus”. Well, of course it’s dying. If you provided some things we have here in Denver – we have a Tuesday night dance that dances just slightly above Basic and they get five to eight squares every week. Well, we have a dance that’s held twice a month that’s at the Dance By Definition level of Plus and they get three or four squares. So, what does that say? It says that they have different people in different halls at different times, all being entertained by this wonderful activity called square dancing.
BB – So – well, that’s very interesting. I’ve been asking a lot of the people I‘ve interviewed – over your career is there anything you wished you had changed in your coming up days and any regrets?
BR – Oh, I would probably, if I was being honest, I would probably say, like most callers, that somewhere between five and ten years I was probably too cocky….
BB – (Laughs)
BR – … because I think every caller that I encounter that’s a new caller sort of exhibits the same set of characteristics and being slightly more humble in discovering how much we don’t know because, no matter how I long I do this, I discover how little I know.
BB – Well, that’s interesting. Now, do you have any other hobbies Bob?
BR – Uh, not particularly. I would have to say I’m a little single-focused here and I’ve actually thought about that when it comes to retirement where is my wood working or my other kind of things. I have done some wood working but not to the point where I would call it a hobby at the moment. When I was young I flew airplanes and called that a hobby (coughs) and flew gliders and so on but, I have been so dedicated to the square dance activity that at the moment I don’t have time for other hobbies.
BB – Right. Right. You’re still working, right?
BR – Yes. I am.
BB – Well, this has been an interesting conversation Bob. Is there anything else you can think of that you’d like to add for the tape?
BR – Well. I would say that one of the things that all of us as callers have to realize is the breath of knowledge of the people we come in contact with. I didn’t mention in the course of the dialog about the Lloyd Shaw Foundation that I have met and spent time with Enid and Lew Cocke, that I have spent time with many other, shall we say, people who either directly participated in the Lloyd
Shaw world or who are children of people who have participated in the Lloyd Shaw world. And the fellowship has had a long reach and part of me wishes that I could better understand what charisma Lloyd Shaw had so that we could figure out a way to spread the knowledge and philosophy that he was trying to spread in today’s world. I don’t seem to be able to understand it well enough or can’t modernize it into the contemporary to figure out how to do some of the things that he was trying to do. But the Lloyd Shaw Foundation has had a significant impact. Both myself and my wife have been on the Board of Directors as well as directors of the camps and both of us are recipients of the Silver Boot award. So, we were honored by that probably ten years ago. It’s a really … a real meaningful award.
BB – Right. Well Bob, I think we’ve kind of wound down here,
Unless you can think of anything else?
BR – I think that’s good enough for this decade,
BB – (Laughs) Well, keep up the good work as they say. So, I think we’ll call this the end of the tape and I’d appreciate it if you would stay on the line after we stop and I’ll see you again at Callerlab hopefully.
BR – Very good. Thank you Bob.
BB – Thank you Bob.
End of tape – End of interview with Bob Riggs