Clark, Bryan

clarkFebruary 22, 2009

Bob Brundage – Well, hi again, this is Bob Brundage. And today is February the 22nd, 2009 and today we’re having the pleasure of talking with a gentleman up in … up near Vancouver, Canada in the little town of Burnaby, British Columbia. So, his name is Bryan Clark and I’m especially anxious to talk with him because of his association with the Pacific Northwest Teen Square Dance Festival. So Bryan, nice to talk with you and tell us a little bit about where you were born and brought up and a little bit about your background.

Bryan Clark – Well, I was born on a, on a local Indian Reservation called Sechelt, back in 1970.  I was … I guess at about 14 months old I was quickly adopted … I won’t say adopted, I was placed into a foster home here in Burnaby where I pretty much lived most of my life up through my twenty’s.  When I was about 7 years old my parents … my foster parents at the time were able to adopt me and I ended up being an actual Clark. When I grew up I didn’t actually know my original first name …my original last name so, as far as I knew I was always a Clark, but unfortunately, officially it wasn’t until I was seven years old. My parents are sort of … my father is Scottish/Ukrainian decent and my mother is German/Spanish and it was kind of a regular upbringing here in Canada. We played with things and did lots of different activities. My parents put me into Soccer and Martial Arts and basically around 1980 …actually I think it was in 1979 my parents actually joined square dancing and enjoyed it so much they found out that there was a local teen square dance club and they ended up pushing me into the local teen square dance club at age ten. At that point I went in kicking and screaming because, you know, at ten years old you don’t really like girls too much and it was a little difficult to … having to, you know, go to the square dance every week. But, I think it was the perfect age because you got to spend ages ten and eleven dealing with … learning how to square dance and then when you get to age twelve you realize, hey, there’s a girl to boy ratio here of about three to one. So that you realize that there is a place that you can go to that you can be wanted. So I kind of enjoyed, kind of enjoyed that as a teenager growing up. I competed at the teen festival through, you know, from 1980 all the way through 1990. After 1990 I was too old to compete so I had to spend two years as a spectator of the teen festival because they have a rule about who can judge at the festival. You have to be two years away from any association with any of the local teen clubs. And then from then on I was a judge and I have been a judge all the way up until the present date.. There’s going to be a new teen festival this coming this May, May 1st and 2nd are the dates and it’s being held in Kent, Washington and I will be a judge there as well.

BB – Well, that’s great. So, getting back to your own self a little bit, did you come from a musical family?

BC – Oh, my parents weren’t really that musical although, when I was a kid my parents did buy a piano for us and I did have to go to the piano lessons of which I didn’t do reasonably well at, mainly because I didn’t have any patience for reading the music, but I was able to play by ear so whatever the music teacher put down in front of me she would do a demo for me and then I would be able to play it for her exactly the way that she played it and then practice it and play it the next week. She thought that I was reading the notes when in actual fact I was playing by ear.

BB – Laughs. Well that’s …

BC – And then I didn’t really get into music that much, you know, when I was at the teen club. When I was around 12 years old the caller for the club who was Ray Brendzy at the time, they wanted me to start calling but I was, way to … I’m going to say, too chicken to get up on the stage in front of these people and call so there was no way I was going to do that. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I actually did my first calling … started calling.

BB – I see, are you still playing piano today?

BC – I don’t have one in my house but I still am capable.

BB – Well, you know some of our best callers have been piano players. Bruce Johnson comes to mind. He had an organ and a piano back-to-back in his house. Well, that’s great. Then I guess your original square dance class was your introduction to square dancing. What about mentors. Who were some of the callers that you’ve looked up to and helped you along?

BC – Well as far a caller training goes, I’ve worked with some of the best callers out there and I’ll start with the caller who started training me who was Ray Brendzy from the Western Wranglers Teen Square Dance Club that I belonged to. He was the caller/coach for the club.   Very quickly when I started …I guess, once I started calling … I guess after my first year of calling at the teen festival, I guess he saw enough potential in me that he had me become his understudy caller at his Advanced group and I started calling at his Advanced group in my second year of calling.  So, in essence I was calling Advanced before I was really calling good Mainstream. You know, the teen festival calling isn’t necessarily what I consider to be regular calling. You know, the kids get up there and you have to do a memorized patter or you do a memorized singing call and it’s not necessarily the same give and take interactive activity  as it is when you’re doing a live paid calling. It’s a little bit of a different thing at the teen festival, mainly because you’re trying to do something that’s reasonably polished as apposed to just doing something off the top of your head. So yes, I worked for Ray Brendzy for many years here in the local Vancouver area as sort of an understudy caller for him. During that time, I guess in 1986 or ‘87 I think. Dave Stevens from the California area moved up to Seattle and he was a very well known Challenge caller at the time. He moved into the Seattle area and the Challenge dancers in Vancouver decided to bring him up to Vancouver every Friday night and he started one of his groups that he refers to as the Biorhythms. What they did was they had Ray Brendzy  become his understudy caller and then I was Ray’s understudy so I was sort of once removed from Dave Stevens and then ended up working directly with Dave Stevens for quite a while, while he was up here in Vancouver. That was quite an enriching experience because, after the dances Dave and I would go to a local 24 hour restaurant and, you know, sit down with the coffee creamers on the table and figure out some really weird asymmetric choreography and it was definitely a fun part of my caller training. So Dave Stevens was definitely a very large influence in my life. Fortunately I chose not to …not to have the same drug habits that he has.

BB – OK. How about caller’s schools?

BC – The local caller’s association did a callers school and I went to it quite a long time ago. I would say it would be maybe in I guess late 80’s, maybe 1988 and it had some of the … I guess three of the local callers ran the program and they did a reasonably good job of covering the different aspects of calling and somewhere in my big pile of stuff I have a certificate from that caller’s school  and the completion but, of course, none of the callers who were training it were Callerlab accredited. They were just, you know, local callers in our association. That was pretty much all the actual caller training that I had other than just experience. One of the things that was recommended to me by Dave Stevens, and it was probably the best recommendation ever, was for me to go out and dance to as many callers as possible. He hooked me up with a person, actually a tape leader from the Seattle area named Raliegh Weiland and Raliegh was sort of a major tape leader in the Seattle area. He used to bring in national level Challenge callers every third weekend of the month in Seattle. So, I used to go down there and dance to all these callers and stay at his house and so I would stay at the same house where the caller who was calling the weekend was. They had callers like Lee Kopman and Dave Stevens and Dave Wilson and Dave Lightly and John Marshall and Steve Kopman. So, they had a bunch of these different callers who I got to spend a lot of time picking their brain while staying at the same house where they were staying at.

BB – Right. Yeah, well …

BC – That was a very enriching experience and I’m still very good friends with Raliegh and Joann to this day. I even have a key to their house. So it’s definitely a good relationship that we have.

BB – Ok. You mentioned … what’s the name of your callers association?

BC – It’s the Vancouver and District Caller/Teacher’s Association.

BB – Oh yes. Now, what about festivals you’ve been to outside of the teen festival I’m talking about?

BC – Well, in 1985 there was a local BC Festival that was held here and I attended that as a dancer way back in … when and that was probably my first festival that I had ever been to. In 1990 Vancouver had the Canadian National Square Dance Convention and at that point I decided to go to it and sign up as a caller but, because of a personality conflict that I had with the caller who was programming the event, I only got like two spots on the entire program for the weekend and was a little disillusioned with the whole concept of calling at a national convention. It wasn’t until 2004 that I went to the Canadian National in Calgary where I was pretty much an unknown from up of town and I was programmed reasonably well with a lot of different spots. Also I was calling a lot more and had a lot more experience under my belt which is another reason for getting more spots on the program. I was also calling up through C2 at that point so they had me …I did an Intro to C2 at that particular convention and I got to meet Ken Ritucci from the states and again an accredited Callerlab Coach and quite a … is a reasonably good friend of mine now and he convinced me it would be a good idea for me to come down to American Nationals. So I have been going to the American Nationals now for the past two years and so I went to Charlotte two years ago and last year I went to Wichita and this year I’m set to go to Long Beach, California.

BB – Great. Great. When you talk to Ken give him my best. We were, we were friendly back when I lived back in New England.

BC – He a great guy.

BB – He sure is. Are you … do you belong to Callerlab?

BC – I am not a member of Callerlab. One of the things that I’ve realized throughout my calling career is that I have an amazing ability to … let’s just say piss off other callers really easily with my mouth  (laughs) and I figure that there was a while there when I wasn’t a member of our local association just for that reason. Mainly the meetings I would go to I would just get myself in trouble by opening my mouth and I figured that it wasn’t a good idea for me to do that at the international level with Callerlab, so I chose not to be a member. However, I do have a lot of high profile friends who continually try to convince me to become a member of Callerlab, Tim Crawford for instance who is the current Chairman of the Board of Governors and fellow Canadian and says, “Hey, we need more Canadians at Callerlab”. Billy Harrison Is still trying to … I think while I was in Charlotte he mentioned it to me on about ten different occasions “You should join Callerlab”. Fortunately he didn’t hand me a form to fill out and stand there and watch me fill it out so that was good.

BB – Well, I hope you do some day because I think you’ll benefit from it.

BC – Well, I’ve been participating … from afar. Clark Baker is busy rewriting the definitions for the Mainstream program and for the Plus program and he has, you know, a group of callers that he asks their opinion of and I’m on that list of callers.  At one point in time one of the callers had asked him, “you know, why is Bryan Clark on this program when he’s not even a member of Callerlab” and Clark’s answer was that he was more interested in getting a good opinion than he was whether or not you were a member, which I thought was a great answer because that allows me to be involved with out actually being a member.

BB – Yes. Right. As I say, consider it some time in the future. You’re still young and in the prime of your career so you can still consider it sometime in the future.

BC – Oh yeah.

BB – Have you done any recordings?

BC – No, I haven’t although I think it was Bob Elling from California was asking me if I would do some for his label or the many labels which he manages and I don’t have those kind of aspirations as a caller and never really think of myself as a commercial caller.

BB – Yes. Well that’s OK.

BC – Up until, up until only recently I’ve been pretty much just been a fill-in caller but when I say fill-in caller I get to fill in for some of the really unique events. Like, I got a phone call from Dave Wilson and he said, back in 2000, and he said, “Bryan, would you like to call in Sweden?“ and I said, “ Sure, when?” and he said, “this weekend” and I said, “Oh, great. What am I doing?” and he said, “It’s the Erikson Festival and it’s pretty much the largest festival in Sweden and they need a caller who is capable of calling up through C2 and we need you to get on a plane now”. And I said, “OK “. I was … fortunately I was working for the City of Vancouver and at that particular moment in time we were on strike so I had all the time in the world to hop on a plane. So I did and I went and called the largest festival in Sweden which was a pretty unique affair. Most of that has to due to the fact that I was readily available but I’ve filled in for, you know, Johnny Preston in Seattle when he ended up with a double booking. I’ve filled in for callers like Frankie Lane, so, you know, I’ve shown up at dances where there are a large floor of dancers expecting somebody really famous and then they get me. So, I have to put on a show that they’re going to be able to deal with. I ended up filling in for Bronc Wise in California because I worked with Bronc in Germany doing an A!/A2 teach in five days in Germany and so we got to know each other fairly well so when there was an occasion where he couldn’t make it,  a dance, he gave me a call and I ended up doing a weekend out of it. So, I do get sort of high profile fill-in gigs every now and then. That’s where I’ve gotten most of my calling experience.

BB – Right. Right. I assume your wife is supportive to you and all your activities.

BC – Yes. Yes. She … I actually met my wife through square dancing. She was dancing at a competing club in a town that is about I guess 40 minutes east from here called Abbotsford. They had a small teen club and I ended up competing my last year with that teen club and I left the club that I was dancing with here in Burnaby and went on to Abbotsford and competed in 1990, and so she ended up being my wife and still is. We’ve got two kids and we’re doing fairly well and I actually live three blocks away from the Western Wranglers Square Dance Club that I used to start at. Unfortunately, because I’m a judge, I can’t be involved with them so I have to leave them alone (Laughs)

BB – Do you have any other local clubs that you’re calling for like …?

BC – No, I don’t call for any local clubs. I do mostly fill-in stuff for the local callers, but I do … the local Challenge dancers ask me to come in to do the occasional Sunday afternoon C1 or if Ray Brendzy is dark on a Friday night at his club the dancers contact me and I do an A2 session at this woman’s house. She has room for two squares in her garage and what we do is sort of a take-no-prisoners A2 dance on those evenings. One of the things I’m sort of known for in this area is my sort of take-no-prisoners attitude towards calling. You know, nothing is considered to be too challenging and part of it has to do with the fact that I come from the teen festival and, you know, when you grow up in competitive square dancing you don’t exactly know what vanilla is and when these callers say, “Oh, here’s the standard formation for this” you go, “well, this is a standard formation. You can do the call from any of these formations but what makes this one standard?” You know, we didn’t quite know that growing up in the teen competition because we were expected to know all of the formations. So, it was a really good fit when I started calling Advanced because the dancers were expected to know all the calls by definition and be able to dance the weird formations. So, it was easier to call at Advanced and Challenge than it was to call at Mainstream. I have since, you know, gotten a hold of that urge to be difficult and I’m able to successfully call Mainstream and Plus nowadays without getting the dancers very angry. But, in the old days I would call some really weird material that was way over the heads of the people on the floor. Nobody could get it and then I ended up getting a bad reputation from that. So, it’s interesting. I’m actually more famous away from home than I am at home,

BB – (Laughs) Right. Well, that’s a pretty good picture of your career and your background so let’s talk a little bit about the teen festival.


BB – I see it started in 1950 …

BC – Yes, back in May of 1950. So yes, it was basically a local group called Teen Town (that) got together and said, “We want to put together a square dance competition” which was pretty much unheard of anywhere. They got kids together to do this festival and I think they only got about 100 people at it so it wasn’t very large, but they started that process and for years it was called Teen Town and it wasn’t …I don’t know exactly when they switched it to the Pacific Northwest Teen Square Dance Festival, but the Teen Town organization disappeared and then they ended up calling it the Pacific Northwest Teen Square Dance Festival. So, that’s basically what it’s been called since I started dancing it and I started back in 1980. Through the ‘80’s was probably just like square dancing. The 80’s was probably the biggest time for the Teen Square Dance Festival.  I recall … and I only recall this because I was there. I sort of remember the numbers, but in 1982 there were 1400 competitors.

BB – Is that right?

BC – Yeah, they had 1400 kids at the competition. It was held at the Burnaby North High School here in Burnaby and the gymnasium that the had there was actually rather large so it was able to house that entire group. The competition would start at 7:00 in the morning and we would run until about 1:30 in the morning the next day while we were giving out awards. There were so many squares that had to go through and compete that it just took so long. You know, nowadays they only have about 5 or 600 competitors which is …it’s  OK but it seems, it seems like there’s quite a bit less dancers on the floor. You know, in the morning they do a Grand March and with the Grand March in the morning, you know, in 1982 the entire gymnasium floor filled with teen competitors. Now you get maybe a quarter of the floor that’s filled with teen competitors and the rest are all sort of supporting adults that are hanging around with them so it doesn’t quite fill the floor like it used to. But, they still have the same kind of energy and it still has the same feeling to it. You know every year that I go, you know, I’m there as the judge now but, you know, you do get to see the kids have the same kind of adrenalin that our group used to have way back when. You still get to see the occasional the Little League Parent moment where one of the parents will be dressing down their kid as to why they couldn’t do a Do Sa Do that way or whatever. It’s kind of surreal but on the other hand it’s kind of funny. But yea, it’s one of the most interesting events I’ve ever been to and I feel proud to be involved with.

BB – Well, tell us a little bit about ….I think you have three age groups?

BC – Yes. Well, not three really three … there’s sort of three age groups. There’s your Pre-teens and then your teens and then they have different categories within all the groups. The Pre-teens are just exactly what it sounds like. It’s, you know, 8 to 12 year olds. Everything, anything under 13 and they can be as experienced as some of the older dancers or not as experienced, because if a dancer started at 8 years old and you know, he’s 12 he’s got 4 years under his belt has, so that kid could easily dance circles around an 18 year old kid who only has one year experience. So, you know, the Pre-teens, they’re usually pretty good dancers. The downside to the Pre-teens is because they’re so young they don’t necessarily understand fully the, the aspects of competition. So, we have to treat them a little lighter than we would be with the older kids. But as soon as they get, to you know, 13 through 19 then anything goes pretty much and through those levels, you know, you’ve got Junior, Intermediate and Senior and it’s expected that, if you win one of the levels that you then, the next year, have to compete at the next level. If you choose to compete (at) the next level on your own that’s totally up to you, there’s no … you can’t be forced into a particular category unless you’ve won the previous year. So, if you are, you know, if you are in the Junior category and you won that year, the next year you have to become Intermediate but if you’re Junior, you have to stay Junior … I think the Junior has a limit of two years. They want the Junior category to be able to only compete with kids that have the same skill set. If you have over 2 years of experience in the Junior level they want you dancing Intermediate because, at the Intermediate level it’s full on Mainstream with about 5 Plus calls. It’s supposed to be a little bit more difficult for the kids to dance and the mystery levels are a lot more intricate at the Intermediate category level. Then the Seniors are at full on Plus. They will do the entire Plus list and there are no limitations to any of the starting formations that they have whereas, at the other levels there are usually specific written down starting formations like at the Pre-teen level you can only do a courtesy turn with a standard couple – boy turning girl but at the Senior category you could do a Half Sashay, Right and Left Through and expect the girl to turn the boy and stuff like that. So, you know, the Senior category is designed to be, you know, the hardest possible Plus category you could imagine and mostly that’s for the mystery tapes. The singing calls that they try to put forth, mostly they’re doing that to … to look good so there’s part of the competition that’s designed around looking good and then there’s the part of the competition that’s designed around dancing well. If you are the best dancers you will excel in the mystery category but if you’re not the best dancers you might want to concentrate on practicing your displays so that you can look the best and win a trophy for that. So, there’s a bunch of different aspects but usually the squares who dance the best in the mystery tend to also take the display prize as well because, not only do they dance well but they also look good and they kind of do the best on the floor.

BB – Right. I see that you also have 5 different general categories. Square dancing, Square Dance Calling, Round Dancing and Round Dance Cueing and Exhibition. So, how does that break down?

BC – Well, the calling category is interesting. It sort of works for the same levels as the Square Dancing category so you have your Pre-teens. You also have what are known as Novice Callers so they’re the ones who visit the first year that they call in the competition. The Novice Callers only have to do one singing call and they get judged on that one singing call alone and, as I mentioned earlier, the singing calls tend to be memorized. They’re not doing stuff off the cuff. They’ve done this call so many times that they could do it in their sleep and usually they make the square that they’re calling to sick of that particular call and for the rest of their lives. (laughs) So they’re responsible for … the novices have to do one singing call. The pre-teen callers have to do a singing call and a patter call. Then the Junior level has to do the same thing. They have to do a singing call and a patter call. The patter call is done in a separate hall. They have a separate hall just for patter  judging and we have,  you know, patter judges, which is … specifically the location where I tend to judge … is in the patter hall but the patter …the callers will get up and do …they can only run through the record once. They are not allowed to do a re-set on the record. They have to call for a minimum of three minutes and then they just have to call. So, you know, we judge them based on their knowledge of calls and their timing, their presentation and, you know, paying attention to the dancers and that kind of fun stuff. It’s fairly straight forward and, you know, you judge … you judge them in a mark of out of ten for each of the items and then those items are weighted slightly differently within the scoring program. Then the marks get pushed through. But for the Intermediate callers, they have to do two singing calls and a patter call so they do a singing call in the morning for the display round and then in the morning they do a patter in the patter hall and then in the afternoon in between the mystery rounds the Intermediate and the Senior callers will get up and do the second round singing calls. The Senior callers are then responsible for doing 2 singing calls and 2 patter calls and so their second round in the afternoon they do a full tip. They do a patter and a singing call but they’ve been given only …probably I guess in the last 2 or 3 years there’s a new part of this category  where they are given two mystery calls. So two calls off of the Mainstream list that they are required to put into their patter and they do that about one hour before they actually get up to call. So, they have to incorporate two random calls into their patter. It’s kind of an interesting way of checking to see if the kids  actually are capable of doing that or sight calling because, for the most part, as I said before, the patter calls tend to be memorized. I remember back in 1990 when I competed, I sight called my entire patter in both halls. Both in the patter hall and in the main hall. I didn’t have anything pre-prepared. I just called off the top of my head and that seemed to work reasonably well for me because I ended up getting the Championship that year, in 1990. But the other kids, you know, I can sort of see it nowadays. There have only been a couple of the callers who are doing stuff off the top of their head. Most of them are just doing memorized stuff that they’ve done for months.

BB – What about the round dancing?

BC – So the round dancing … this is a little bit more difficult because I rarely have anything to do with the round dancing.. They have different round dance levels and I can’t remember the categories. There’s like Teen Basic A, Teen Basic B. There’s Intermediate and then Advanced round dancing. The Advanced round dancing again is the top level. They’re usually doing either Phase 4 or Phase 5 rounds.

BB – I see and …

BC – They …the levels basically follow the Phase level so, if you’re a Teen Basic A or B you’re doing a Phase 2 and then if you’re an Intermediate you’re doing a Phase 3, and the Advanced levels are doing Phase 4 or 5s. So, they get round dances that are choreographed by, I guess … by the people who choreograph the round dances, and they use them for the round dancers. What they have to do, they have to dance them un-cued in front of judges so they memorize the whole dance and dance it un-cued. So, to me it seems that the round dancing is slightly more difficult than the square dancing because at least with the square dancing you’re being told what to do and it’s designed around being difficult but in the round dance hall they’re actually dancing the rounds without cues and trying to make it look as clean and crisp as they possibly can. So they do that but, they also have a mystery portion to it which … oh, what do they call that? …oh, they call that “hash”. So they do round dance “hash” where the chief judge for the round dancing will get somebody to put together a tape for them that is kind of a mystery to the kids and could be anything but it’s within their level. So, if they’re Teen Basic A or B the round dance hash is going to be a two step or a waltz or something. When they get into the Intermediate category it’s going to be a Cha Cha or something in the Phase 3 area and then the Advanced level is going to be a hash that’s designed around, you know, Phase 4 or 5 round dancing. Again, it’s designed around being reasonably difficult and the kids have to react on their feet to the cues being done by the cuer that’s cueing to them. It’s all done on tape so it can be replicated for all the members in the category. Usually they have 2 couples dancing on the floor at a time so that they can get them all through. If they did one at a time it would take them a really long time and they would listen to the tapes way too often. Then they also have a cueing category where the cuers will get up and cue for round dancers on the floor and they’re being judged just like the callers based on their timing and their clarity and, you know, their ability to enunciate  and stuff like that. The round dance cueing is done in the patter hall where they do the patter judging  but they do it sort of …they don’t do it like square dance tips where there’s two callers and a round dance. They do a bunch of callers and then they do a bunch of cuers and then they do a bunch of callers. So, it’s reasonably separated because you have to move the judges in and out.  What it does, it gives the judges a little bit of a break

BB – The Exhibition category …?

BC – The Exhibition is designed around the entire club getting together and putting on some sort of a presentation very similar to the exhibitions that you see  at the American National. Years ago when we … I used to be at the Western Wranglers and we were working under Ray Brendzy. He was working with Dave Stevens who used to have a group that used to do presentations at the National Conventions. So, he gave Ray a bunch of ideas and we used to do a bunch of these choreographed routines with our entire club. At the time it was great because we used to have, you know, anywhere from 6 to 9 squares of competing dancers so we had a lot of kids on the floor and it was easy to, you know, fill the entire floor with people, whereas, nowadays when, you know, the clubs only have maybe two squares of dancers, it’s a little harder for them to put together an intricate exhibition. What they’ve done is they’ve extended the rules for the exhibition to allow anybody and I think the …in the rule book the prerequisite for the exhibition says that the only prerequisite you have to have is that you are alive. And that’s what it says in the rule book so, (kids background chatter) you’re not allowed to have any …they’re not allowed to have any …what is it…I’ve lost my train of thought.

BB – OK. I can hear …

BC – They came in the room and made some noise.

BB – Yeah, I can hear the kids in the background. You know, this might be a good place to stop. I see we’re almost to the end of this tape. Let me take a break for a second and turn the tape over and so, just hold on.


(End of Side A)

BB – OK, we took a minute to turn the tape over and we were just talking about the Teen Festival up in the Pacific Northwest around the Vancouver area and I noticed that you finally got some competitors into the competition in 1954 but it was not until 1975 that you actually shifted the festival into the United States. So, we’re continuing along with your description of all the things that take place at the Teen Festival. It certainly sounds like a very, very busy …

BC – It is a very busy day. Actually it’s a very busy weekend because on the Friday beforehand there’s a dance. It’s just an open dance and it’s prior to the festival. All the kids are showing up and people are driving their RVs in and parking in the parking lot of the school where the event is located and basically, the Friday night is just a fun dance where all the kids and the parents they all get together and they fill the dance floor. The competing teens will get up onto the main stage and do a singing call just to get the experience on the main floor, you know, for calling to the entire hall, you know, in order to get their nerves out. But it’s basically just a wide open Mainstream dance. It’s a great deal of fun. But then, you know, at 10:00 o’clock the dance ends.  The next morning at 7:00 o’clock everyone has to be there for the Grand March and the opening ceremonies which, you know, they sing the national anthems. They have both the American and Canadian National Anthems sung by one of the teen dancers or one of the teen dancers from each of the countries and then competing starts. So, in the mornings they have what is called the display categories which is basically three positions danced across the floor and they’re all singing calls and when the squares are in the center position, that’s when their caller gets up and sings for them. When I say their caller, they actually have a teen caller who is being judged who is calling for that square. So the judges are not only judging the dancers that are dancing and how well they dance and whether they’re enjoying it you know, and whether they’re in sync with each other and that kind of stuff but they’re also judging callers as a result of calling … judges who are sitting there watching the caller only and judging them as well. So, it’s reasonably complex what’s going on although, the squares, you know, the kids just move from one position to the other and all they’re doing is dancing three singing calls which doesn’t seem too hard but the two singing calls on either side could be any singing call and the other kids, they don’t know what singing calls they are. So, it’s their job to try to make it look as nice as they can but it’s also something that they haven’t heard before so it might trick them or it might not. Also, if the kid who’s calling, if you can’t hear them or if they’ve called the wrong thing or whatever, you know, it’s all about reaction. You know, if they dance the correct call and when the caller has called the incorrect call that means that they are not reacting and therefore they will lose points. So, it gets a little complex about, you know, who’s done what.

BB – (laughts) You must have a tremendous amount of judges.

BC – We have a lot of volunteers but, let’s see, in the main hall there’s 2  judges judging each square so that would be six judges plus three calling judges across the floor. So that’s what’s happening in that particular hall. In the round dance hall they might have about maybe 10 round dance judges and they’re pulled from the local round dance scene whether it be the Washington State area or even the Vancouver area. They’ll get some of the best dancers that they can find to come and be judges and, you know, they’ll ask them politely. If the judges have had a good time doing it they’ll come back and do it. In the patter hall there’s four judges that are judging … three that are actually judging the calling and one that is actually timing the competitor to make sure they make that three minutes. Then, in the afternoon they do the mystery‘s. The mystery’s are interesting because they usually have …they could have either three squares or four squares on the floor at a time. Sometimes, sometimes there’s a category where they have four squares so rather than having one set of three squares and then do one set with one square, they’ll bring all four squares on the floor at the same time to do the mystery call. Then we have to have five timing judges standing around the square timing them with stop watches. So that’s when you have to have a lot of judges. So, in the morning it’s not too bad because the people who are judges in the morning you know, they get to sit and watch the dancers and it’s not too bad. But in the afternoon the timing judges are standing around the square for the entire, you know, 12 minutes while the mystery’s are being danced.

BB – I think you should describe the timing process. It’s a little bit different than I had heard of before.

BC – OK. Well, this is how it works. We have so during the mystery (there) is a tape that is created by a caller who is asked to create the tapes. This particular caller is given the list that the kids have to abide by and the different rules that they have. They put together a tape that is designed to be difficult for these kids. The reason why we do a tape instead of doing it live is because we may have more than one round of dancers going through.  Also, with a live caller, a caller would tend to sight call on one square and that would be unfair whereas, if you have a tape the tape is played the same for everybody and it’s fair for everybody. Also, since it’s been pre-taped the judges can pre-dance the tape to make sure … to make sure that it all works and make sure that the choreography is fair for the kids. You know, I’ve bee to a lot of judging sessions where we actually pull choreography out of a tape because it’s too questionable and we figure the … you know, the callers for the clubs are going to put in a grievance and say that that wasn’t fair for the kids. On one hand, yes, it’s not fair for the kids but on the other hand it’s not fair for all of the kids at the same time. So I don’t know why they would put in a grievance. But anyway, the mystery tapes are designed to harm the dancers or challenge them. So what we do as timing judges, we’re responsible to stand around the square with stop watches and while the dancers are dancing the calls that are being called they don’t have to be 100% correct they just have to be dancing what is being called. As long as they’re dancing what is being called the stop watch is on. If they’re not dancing what’s being called the stopwatch is off.  So, if you see something like, you know, a Touch a Quarter, Scootback and you’re watching them and they haven’t done the Touch a Quarter, the watch goes off. And usually, if they haven’t done the Touch a Quarter they can’t do the Scootback. Then, usually the watch is off for a little while until they can get back into (the) groove again. But one of the parts of the mystery call that is most interesting at the teen level is, it’s not just that they breakdown, it’s that the kids can usually get back into formation and start dancing again without waiting for being in a squared set. So, if they hear a Ferris Wheel or if they hear a Swing Thru, you know they’ll throw themselves into Ocean Waves and do the next call because the know that the watch is going to go back on as long as they’re dancing what is being called. So, as I say, they don’t have to necessarily be chorographically right, they just have to be dancing what is being called. It’s a whole lot easier for the mystery timers to be able to judge that because if, you know, we had to keep track of you know well, you know, the number three and four dancers are swapped with each other so, I guess they were wrong the entire time so let’s turn the watches off. That’s just a little too hard for the judges to, you know, deal with or comprehend. So, we have just simple rules and the rules are, if they’re dancing what’s being called, the watch is on and if they’re not dancing what’s being called the watch if off. So, it seems to work out fairly well and because we have five judges,  what they do is, they’ll take the top time and the bottom time and throw it out and take an average of the other three times …


BC …so that is almost Olympic in stature with the way they do the judging for that. It’s truly about how well they dance the mystery. I’ve been a timing judge a couple years where we’ve seen kids dance the entire mystery straight through without one mistake. That’s amazing because, you watch some of the other squares and they’ve made, you know, 5, 6 or 7 mistakes and, you know, their times are way low and they’ve been given the exact same material in the same category. So, it is, you know, it does sort of level the playing field a bit. You can see who is clearly the more accomplished dancer and is able to dance the harder material. That’s really what that portion of the competition is about.

BB – OK. Well, you’ve certainly given us a comprehensive look at the festival. Tell me, how many of these people over the years that you can think of, have continued like yourself … who continue to be a caller?

BC – OK. In the Vancouver area we have Ray Brendzy who is one of out local callers who, funny enough is actually back calling for the Western Wranglers Teen Square Dance Club now because his children are actually the age to dance so they’re dancing in his club and he’s calling for them. There’s a caller locally here by the name of Brent Mawdsley who is, without a doubt, is probably the best, I (was) going to say the best local club caller that we have here in Vancouver. You know, he’s an entertainer and a singer and, you know, he’s a past champion from the teen festival and he’s got to be, you know, one of the best callers locally. One of the older callers who actually competed that first year in 1950 – his name is Al Barry and he was the first champion at the teen festival and he’s still here in Vancouver calling. There’s another caller by the name of Brian Murdoch who is a very famous local caller and has done fairly well over the years calling and he competed in the teen festival as well. Another caller by the name of Ron Booiman who is very successful here locally but also has a sort of a square dance travel tours group where he takes square dancers around the world and does travel touring with them. In the Seattle area we’ve got Mike DeSisto who has been staff caller at the Gay National Convention for years because he is without a doubt one of the best entertaining callers in North America. He just … he is just a bundle full of energy and he’s able to get a whole floor, you know, floating four feet off the ground while they’re dancing so he’s definitely a fun guy to have around. There is …what is it … just trying to think of their names … Dave and Bonnie Harry who are local callers in the Seattle area. They …he’s famous for, for he and his wife do live music at their own square dances and he was a competitor many years ago with his brother as well. There is Steve Nosak who was also a teen dancer years ago who also did the mysteries back in 1997 and …

BB – Didn’t I see the Kappenman?

BC – Pardon?

BB – Kappenman?

BC – Oh, Brett Kappenman. Yes and his father Kappie Kappenman,

BB – Yeah, I know him.

BC – Yeah, Brett is one of my peers. He’s a quite accomplished caller in the area and he’s, you know, he’s actually calling for one of the teen groups right now.

BB – Yes, I’ve known …

BC – I see him every year and yep, we’ve got a good relationship. I talk to him every now and then and I also talk to Kappie. Kappie’s also on the SD Caller’s list and he also comments on some of the things that I say.

BB – Tell me, I think this applies to yourself actually, so there have been some marriages involved in this, right?

BC – Oh yes, quite a few. There’s, yeah … I’m probably going to see a lot of these people in March because we’re going to go to …there’s a reunion for the Seattle area clubs.

BB – I just noticed…I was going to ask you about that. Go ahead.

BC – So, I’ll be going to that. Luckily I was invited to that because I, you know, because I’m still involved in judging. Some of the people who are invited to it sent me an invite as well, which I thought was nice. But, unfortunately it is really just for the Seattle clubs. There is I think …I think there’s probability going to be about 300 people attending that and most of them are all ex-teen square dancers and most of them are married to each other. So, they didn’t marry outside the square dance world. They married their best friend or their partner through square dancing. So that was pretty cool.

BB – That’s great.

BC – However, a lot of them are probably not square dancing any more and I can understand that. We’ve had a lot of …especially in the Seattle area, a lot of the kids who competed …they left high school and went right onto the military and when they did that (door bell rings) they kind of dropped their opportunity …can you hold on a second, my door bell just rang. (folks talking in background). I’m back. Yeah, so they went off into the military and then were not able to get back into the square dancing world, you know, unfortunately either because of careers in the military  or, or they might have married someone outside of square dancing and is no longer interested in …or that person is old and is not interested in taking up square dancing at all. So, it is…it is kind of weird or else it’s, you know, it’s children and careers and that kind of stuff that stops people from square dancing.

BB – I have a couple of other things I’d like your impression on ….what’s your take on the ABC program?

BC – The ABC program?

BB – Yes.

BC – I think nothing but good can come from that. You know, I don’t know an amazing amount about it, but I have spent a little time talking to Nasser about it. You know anything that’s going to get people interested in the square dancing activity of any sort I think is a good idea. I had a little conversation with Jerry Story about it and he said that, you know, having two separate trains going in the same direction, doing the same thing, can’t be a bad thing for the activity. You need to, you know, if ABC is going to build up a reputation for square dancing as being a fun, easy activity for people to learn to do, then that would be great. No, I don’t have a problem with ABC.

BB – Good. Where do you think square dancing is going …in general?

BC – I think square dancing is in flux right now. We have a lot of hurdles to overcome. Being a young, younger caller, I’m not going to say I’m young  anymore because, while I’m young relatively I’m not young actually.

BB – Yes, I hear

BC – But being younger and having talked to a lot of people about square dancing I tend to say that, you know, our image is probably the only thing that really stops people from wanting to join the activity. You know, if they don’t walk through the door it’s hard to get them out. My feeling is, if you get them through the door it’s, you know, it’s easy enough to get them hooked. You know, the sociability, the fun, the fact that you can turn your brain off from what you normally do during the day and just have fun with your friends and, you know, do an activity that just takes your day away, is an awesome activity, but unfortunately, we’ve got a big elephant in the room which is the reputation of square dancing which you know, it’s something that your …in the old days it’s something your parents used to do but it’s now something that you grandparents used to do.

BB – OK. Well, I think we’ve pretty much covered everything that I wanted to cover. Unless you can think of something else you’d like to add for this tape which will be put in the Square Dance Foundation of New England’s archive.

BC – Well if you want, I’ve got a listing here of some of the callers who have done mystery calls over the past … well, bunch of years starting in 1984 up through 2005 I think.

BB – Yeah, you can run through them quickly.

BC – Back in 1984, Steve Edlund who is also a local caller here in Vancouver also came from the teen festival and also recorded on Elite Records I think. Anyway, he called back in 1984 with the mystery’s. In 1985 we had Dave Stevens which was the beginning of a series of Challenge callers who started calling the mystery calls. In ’86 we had Jack Hardin who is a Challenge caller from the Seattle area. In ’87 we had Steve Nosak and just a note on the Steve Nosak one, I was actually competing that year and the square that we danced in, we were called the Silver Bullets and we …when dancing to his mystery …in that particular mystery he had the 9 consecutive Slide Thru’s and our square was the only square that actually danced the whole thing …

BB – There you go.

BC – … and Steve was in the crowd and he stood up and started clapping and the chief judge told him to sit down and shut up because we had to finish the dance. ( both laugh) In 1988 was Mike Sikorsky. 1989 was Dave Lightly. 1990, which was my last year at competing , was Don Moger from Montreal, Canada was the mystery caller that year and in1991 Dave Stevens came back and did the mystery‘s. In ’92 they had Mike DeSisto. ’93 – this was probably the year when the mystery’s were the hardest they ever were. This was Ray Brendzy who did that and that was the reason it was hard because Ray used to call for the teens so he had an idea that the mystery’s needed to be harder, so they were. In ’94 and ‘95 they had Chris Knowles who is a local caller here and also a good friend of mine, one year younger than I am so he’s also within my age range. In ’96 it was Nate Bliss. In ’97 they had Anne Uebelacker. In ’99 Chris Knowles came back and did it again. In ’2000 Brent Kappenman did it and co-incidentally, that year Brent was also the Chief Judge so that was the reason why he did them that that year. 2001 was the year that I was asked to supply the mystery callers and so, in 2001  I got the job at the last minute and so, for the pre-teen mystery, I decided to split it up. I got Anne Uebelacker to do the pre-teen mystery and then I got Grant Ito to do the junior and intermediate mystery’s and for the senior mystery I asked Vic Ceder. So, Vic Ceder steps up to the plate and did a really good senior mystery that year. Then in 2002 I asked Mike Jacobs if he would do it and he was more than willing to help. Then in 2003 Ray Brendzy came back and did it again and I think in 2004 it was Anne Uebelacker and 2005 I asked Tony Oxendine if he would do it. I actually even have the original email that I sent him and basically I asked him if he would be willing to do it and all he replied with was, “Hi Bryan, I’d love to do it. Let me know what you need”. So, Tony was very helpful and instrumental in getting that mystery done that year. And that’s about all the history I have for the mystery callers.


BC – But, yeah, it’s definitely a hard job. It’s unpaid work for the callers that do it. They write the material. They put the tapes together and they send them up to us and, you know other than having their name on the tape, you know they don’t get paid. There’s no, no notoriety for doing it really and most of the kids have no idea who these people are.

BB – Yes, of course. OK. That pretty well covered it Bryan and I appreciate your taking the time to talk to me this afternoon and so why don’t we call this a day and I’ll be talking with you further sometime in the future.

BC – OK. Thank you very much.

BB – OK. Thank you we’ll call this the end of the tape.

(End of Side B – End of Interview with Bryan Clark.)

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