Dave Hass – Nov. 9, 1996
Bob Brundage – Oh, hi again, this is Bob Brundage and today we are in Danbury, Connecticut. The date is Nov. 9, 1996, and today we are talking with Dave Hass who dropped off the Interstate long enough to stop. He is on his way to a dance down in Katonah, New York. And Dave comes from up in East Hampton, Connecticut, up in the center of the state, and we stopped by to talk with Dave and find out what’s been going on in your life Dave. Tell us all about it.
Dave Hass – Well, I was born in Meriden, back in 1937. I had two brothers and was pretty active in the church and, as I got older I was in DeMolay and all those other organizations that everybody gets involved in, scouts. And it was …. I was still in high school and we had a summer cottage over in Lake Pocotopaug ?? in East Hampton and one year the next door neighbor, well, he was one house removed, came over and asked me if I could … if I had room so he could have a square dance. His name was J. Bard McNulty, and he was a professor at Trinity College, and actually head of the English department. He had just taken lessons from Al, Al Brundage, to learn how to call and so he wanted to get some experience, and he had two cottages on his property so he had no room at all, and I talked to my parents and they said, “sure why not”. So we had a dance on a Wednesday night in 1951. We had just one, and we had quite … quite a number of kids. We probably had 50 – 60 people in the yard and it went so well that year that the next year we decided to have maybe a couple. So, we did, and it kept getting bigger and the third year we decided we were going to have one every week. And that was the year that I began to get interested in calling because I had danced with Bard for, you know, since ’51, although not that overly frequently. But we got together in the wintertime a couple of times and had a little get together. And so, I started calling that summer and Bard had me practice my patter calling, and of course, back then it was very difficult to get hoedown records so I took a bunch of polka records and I learned how to patter by using polka records….
BB – Ah ha.
DH – …. and I … by that third year, and for the next few years, we were getting really big crowds. I mean we were getting 250 to 300 people in our back yard.
BB – Wow!
DH – I remember soda was a nickel back then, and we had those soda pop … soda cap removers all over the yard on trees. But we, we had a good time and, by that time, a lot of the year round kids, you know, the East Hampton kids, were coming to our dances too, and I think it was in …. ‘50 … ‘56 I got a call from a couple who lived in East Hampton, and they said … oh I got to go back here a minute …
DH – …. Anyway, those kids that started coming to my summer dances they called me up and said … asked if I would come to East Hampton cause I still lived in Meriden then…. if I would come over and do their Friday night thing … they had kind of an open night at the school where any of the kids could do anything they wanted…. within reason. So they asked the people in the school if they could have a room we could square dance in. So, they gave us a library and it was a multi-level room so there wasn’t a lot of room for a whole lot of squares, but we had probably two or three squares and that went very well. The next fall I got a call from a couple and they said they wanted…. they wanted me to come over and teach them what the kids were doing because the kids were having so much fun and I said, “well“ … I said, “I really“, you know … well, I said, “First you need to get a group together”, and she said, “Well, we have 24 couples ready to go”.
BB – (laughs)
DH – And it was all set, and everybody knew that they were going to do it ahead of time. I said, “Well, I’ve never really called for adults”. I said, “ I don’t know if I would be capable of teaching“ and that couple that contacted me said, “Well” … I think it was her father-in-law had taken lessons from Earl Johnston, and they had recorded the lessons. And they said, “Well, we’ll let you borrow the tapes so you could hear how the lessons were going”. So, I got a hold of the tapes, and I would sit in my room every night, and I’d take every word from the tape and put it down on paper, and that was my teaching manual at that point. So, I really learned how to teach adults by using Earl Johnston’s class tapes, ‘cause he was using …
BB – You better look out, you know. Earl’s going to look for royalties on them (chuckles).
DH – (chuckles) Yeah right. He already knows it.
BB – Oh, OK.
DH – So, I started a class and that was my first club. I believe the club was graduated … the first class graduated in 1956 … I can’t remember, it was either ’56 or ’57, and the club lasted about 18 years. We were getting to the point where it was hard to attract crowds because, at that point, there were a whole bunch of new clubs springing up all over, and people got to the point that they really didn’t want to travel. So, as more clubs grew up around us we began to lose our crowds although the club was not in trouble financially. We just decided that it was time to maybe put it to b because we were maybe out in the middle of nowhere at that point. There weren’t, you know, too many highways. I can’t remember the exact year, but anyway, we had a great time and during that time I was asked to start another club in Colchester which was called the C-Twirlers, and I have no idea when that was, but it had to be in the early ‘60s. But, back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s square dancing really began to grow a lot here and when I first started calling it was…. it was pretty much traditional with a little bit of western style thrown in. Then as we went along, it became more and more standardized and the thing I remember back then was the Square Thru was the hottest thing on Main Street and we thought that was pretty good.
And things went along really well, and I got to be fairly popular It got to the point where I was out calling 7 … I mean 13 or 14 nights in a row and then I’d get a night off and then another 15 or 18 in a row and then have a night off and I really didn’t have much time and I wasn’t home with my family. It got to the point where I either had to decide to go full time or back off and stay with my family and watch it grow, and I decided to back off.
BB – I see.
DH – And I’m kinda glad I did now because right after that that gas crunch started and I said to myself, “Boy, am I glad I made the decision I did”. But dancing’s been good to me and I’ve called for several clubs as club caller. I called for a club in Southington, and they … they merged and became the Central Valley Squares and I became their first caller. They danced in Plainville, I believe but, you know, I’ve been around a lot. I started a square dance week up at Papoose Pond, and again, I can’t remember the year, but we ran that for about 25 years. We would get upwards of 30-35 squares that week … it didn’t start that big but it got to that point …
BB – Yeah, sure.
DH – And we always had two or three callers on staff and it really was a fun week. We … when we first started, we danced on a cement floor and everybody was … about Wednesday there would be a haze around … off the floor, you know, the dust and so we finally … they finally decided to expand the barn, and when they did they were going to just, you know, make it bigger and extend out the end. And when they got through, and they broke the wall down, they found out that there was a difference in the level of the floor. The original barn had two sills and the new barn only had one sill so he felt that it was more reasonable and less expensive to put a floating floor in, a wood floor, rather than fill it all in with cement. So that is how we ended up getting that beautiful floor up there.
BB – Good.
DH – And , as I say … and then I started a weekend in East Hill Farm (editors note: called March Wind Ding ) with Ed Rutty. Again, it’s about 25 years ago that we did that …
BB – Is that right? It’s that long?
DH – … and were still going. This will be our 25th anniversary this coming March. As I say, I began to get popular and I was traveling as far west as Ohio, Indiana…. I was going into Maryland … Virginia area. I’ve been to Florida a couple of times. I’ve been to … to Canada three or four times. So, I really began to get around. Then of course, when the gas crunch came, everybody had to change their philosophy about how much they could afford…. where we could afford to go based on what fees we could attract. So, the traveling pattern changed then fairly drastically. We got more dates at home than we used to get away from home and I think that changed the national callers then too, traveling. There wasn’t the number of traveling callers after that that we used to get. We had anywhere from 10 or 12 a year around in the area and that pretty well cut down to maybe one or two or three.
BB – Well, getting back … who were some of the people that had an early influence on you outside of Earl Johnston’s tapes?
DH – Well, Al did because I got to know Al and Stan Burdick. Stan was the director at the Y in Middletown …
BB – Yeah, a lot of people don’t realize that Stan used to live in Connecticut and was a member of the Connecticut Callers Association.
DH – That’s right. And he uh … so we had a lot of dances there. We had the Caller’s dance up there some times. We had dances, and I don’t know why we had them, but there was five or six callers that would come and … one of the dances I remember, Pop Euston used to hold down in Deep River. It was a benefit for something. I can’t remember whether it was, the Girls’ Friendly Society or … it was a group like that. And every year we’d donate our time and go down there and we had pretty good crowds because, you know, all the callers in the area would donate their time. Kip Benson was down there, and Pop Euston, who was …. who was sort of a caller … but he was a minister and he used to call. He had kind of a gruff voice, but he was an excellent teacher.
BB – Right.
DH – And so, one day when I was down there he introduced me as Dave “Hash” Hass and I thought that was kind of different, so I just kept that as my sort of nick name all these years. Of course, everybody calls hash now, but back then I was probably one of the first guys who began to call hash in this area because I had seen Les Gotcher a couple of weekends ,and his…. his patter kind of intrigued me. Back when I first started … actually when I first started calling, a tip was three numbers…. a singing call, a patter call, and then a singing call. But the patter call might as well have been a singing call because they started it and they had an opener, then twice for the heads the same thing, then a middle break, and then twice for the sides the same thing, and then a closer but we did dance those three. Then, as round dancing became a little bit more popular, the dancers said, “Maybe we ought to go to two… two numbers in a tip rather than three”. I think that’s basically when it went from three to two. It’s always traditionally been, you know, a patter followed by a singing call, or, once in a while these days, we do a couple of singing calls maybe the last tip, or whatever.
BB – Right. Well I know you’ve been very active in the Connecticut Callers Association and other New England wide organizations, our conventions and so forth. Tell us a little about that.
DH – I been active both in NECCA as Treasurer and, I think Secretary way back, and I’ve been their President.
BB – For the record that’s the New England Council of Callers Associations.
DH – Then I was Treasurer and President for the Connecticut Callers I don’t know how many times …
BB – I know.
DH – It’s got to be … I have to have served at least 10 or 12 total years on the Board. It’s got to be more than that because I think when I was Corresponding Secretary … I think I was there for 12 years.
BB – (chuckles)
DH – So, it has got to be 20 something years, I guess. I don’t know. It seems like a long time. Well, one of the things I somehow got into was … Jerry Helt came through one time … not Jerry Helt … I can’t think, a short guy, Dave Ta…
BB – Dave Taylor?
DH – No … Yeah, Dave Taylor and he did a Progressive Square and I thought that was pretty good, so I wanted to learn how to do that. So, I went home and I got nine squares of pieces of paper, boy 1 girl 1, you know, or set ‘A’ boy 1, … so I had what … 72 pieces of paper …
BB – (chuckles)
DH – ….and I kept moving these guys to see where they’d go and then finally it struck me, it was just like doing a singing call. As long as I did once with the heads and once with the sides it was like getting your opposite lady. So, I have been … sort of got known in this area as the one to do Progressive Squares with. And generally … oh for a long time, Charlie Baldwin had me do it at the New England conventions … I mean years … and then they changed the format and, of course, Charlie sort of backed out of it and so I didn’t do it for a long time, and now they’re starting to ask me to do it. Well, the last five years they have. But I always do it at the Connecticut Festival and I try to do it when I get a good crowd at the dances. But those crowds right now … are not to the point where, generally, you can do it because most of the clubs get anywhere from three to maybe ten squares and if the hall fits and we have nine squares I generally try to do it.
BB – Right. Well then somewhere along the line you started including Exploding Squares.
DH – Oh yeah. I did that almost right away once I realized Progressive Squares were so simple. Then I started to combine one with the other. I think Dave did that same thing … he may not have … but somewhere I got the idea of the Exploding Squares and I do that. So, I do a combination of both when I usually … when I say I do Progressive Squares I usually do a part of an Exploding Square routine and Progressive Squares.
BB – I think Ed Gilmore was the one that came out with Exploding squares first, that I know of.
DH – It could have been.
BB – I remember Jerry Helt did come, and he did a workshop at Connecticut College on Progressive Squares.
DH – That could be where it is. Somehow I seemed to think it was Dave Taylor but it could have been Jerry Helt because I admire both of those guys.
BB – Yeah right. Well how about the New England Convention?
DH – I’ve been in almost every one of them. I missed the first few because I really wasn’t that active in the New England area. I was active in the state and I can’t remember all the guys who used to be in the Association. I remember Earl and Al were in the Association and Bob Brundage and myself and Al Brozek, and Stan Burdick of course….
BB –Jim Murray.
DH –…. Jim Murray. There is so many of the guys and I just forget, we used to … I remember dancing at the Roost over in Waterbury. We’d have some of our Caller’s dances there, you know, like a convention, but back then it was really small, because nobody was doing anything. Then the Association started to say, “Lets go to where the dancers were”, so we would have like six locations all over the state, but all on the same day, and each caller would be assigned to a hall somewhere. We’d all go call but we never made much money because everything was so expensive. You know, you’d have to pay all the halls and all the everything else, the policemen and everything, so it ended up not too profitable.
BB – A good idea but it didn’t work.
DH – Well I … I may have been the one that was instrumental in getting it all together because … and I don’t remember who the Chairman of the Convention was that year, but I … oh I know what it was. The dancers were running one of their own, and we were running our own, and the round dancers were doing their own, and I said, “Why don’t we all get together and just do one”. So, it took about two years to get that put together but we finally did and we had some really big and fun conventions.
BB – Right.
DH – That’s one of the things I sort of forget that I did, but I did do it. Of course, the dancer got the credit for it because he was the one that finally came up with the Chairman and everybody else.
BB – Well. Then you’ve been affiliated with Callerlab since its early days.
DH – Yup, I think ’75. I didn’t go the first two years, I wasn’t invited. I don’t know why, but it’s just one of those things. I probably wasn’t at that point … I probably wasn’t … I was well known here in the northeast, but I have a feeling that maybe across the country a lot of guys didn’t know who I was, because I really was a local caller rather than a national traveling caller.
BB – Well, we all were at one time or another. Well, what about any other big festivals that you were proud to be associated with?
DH – I’ve called at a lot of festivals. A lot of … a lot of them over in New York State. I did quite a few of those. I was the first caller for the Flaming Leaves Festival which is up in Lake Placid, New York and I think the first year we only had … oh I don’t remember … I think like maybe six or eight hundred people, but they danced on a cement floor, which was just the rink. They gave me a plaque, you know, and I … well I would still have it except all my trophies and plaques and everything was burned up in a fire …
BB – Oh dear.
DH – … because I had this little barn at my house and we used to have workshops there and some classes there, and I used to have … now one thing I should say is, I started a group called Experimental Squares and back then there were no lists but there were a lot of note services coming out with the new calls and we would … I would get three or four note services but, of course, none of them would have the same calls in them so we would have many to pick from. We danced twice a month and we called the experimental squares. We would sort of review all the calls and the ones that kind of looked good we kinda … started to use in the area and some of the people who are still around who danced there with me say that, if it wasn’t for me, they wouldn’t be dancing Advanced today or Challenge. And a lot of the stuff we did back then, which is sort of routine, is now Challenge material. But you know, they came and went and some we kept and some actually became part of the list that we have today. But it was fun experimenting and the dancers were all pretty good dancers and they had a good sense of whether something would go or not along with my own opinion….. but we usually agreed. If I looked at it and I didn’t particularly care about it but I showed it … I showed ‘em everything. They would tend to agree with my thoughts, in general, but once in a while, I would be surprised. They’d say, “Oh, that’s really good”, you know. And from looking at it I would say, “I don’t know that that’s good”. Anyway, that was a fun thing and we had that going, oh, probably ten or fifteen years anyway. But that was all before lists. Then, when the lists came out that…. that sort of faded away. There was just … there were other things for people to do at that point.
BB – OK. You’re not associated with ACA?
DH – Yes I am.
BB – Oh, you are.
DH – I’m … I belong to Callerlab and ACA.
BB – OK. Good.
DH – And I joined ACA mainly because I thought they had some pretty good ideas about, you know, where we were going today, and I kind of get little upset with Callerlab once in awhile when I think about them sort of not being willing to at least talk of the situation and sit together with the ACA, you know. Because I think we all have to agree, whether it’s Callerlab or ACA I think at the end, we can’t have two different programs. But, I think today, the programs are not doing what they originally set out to do. I think … I’m sure they changed or fixed the problem back when we were just getting … just a whole lots of calls, you know. And it served the purpose for awhile, but then when the lists became popular, it sort of split the dancers up, and, you know, in the beginning everybody kinda danced together but as the lists became sort of standard stuff, a lot of your Mainstream dancers, or what was then Mainstream, moved into the Plus and, of course, then up to Advanced. So, we don’t have really dances where all the dancers dance together anymore and I think it might be time to step back and look and see if maybe a one level program … of course you are not going to eliminate Advanced or Challenge, but I think the people who are dancing a marginal Plus could very easily dance Mainstream and not miss anything. I had a … well, I read Jerry Story’s philosophy on his one level system, and I pretty much agree with him except that, I think in order to please more of the dancers, that we should probably drop some of the Mainstream and some of the Plus and come out with a single level. The reason I say that is because, you know, we’ve been changing these lists as we go along so why not change them again. I mean, there’s nothing … there’s nothing magic about Mainstream, per se, and talking about Mainstream, I think the name Mainstream is what killed the whole program because we’re all sort of competitive, you know, and everybody doesn’t want to do just what everybody else does. They just kind of want to get a little better. The name sort of, you know, did that. I almost am sorry we didn’t keep the name Square Dancing or Club Level and then call it Plus and Advanced. But the general consensus was that you ought to call it Mainstream because that is where everybody is. But once you did tha,t then everybody didn’t want to be in it.
BB – Right.
DH – But I would like to see everybody back together and I think the clubs would grow again. I really do.
BB – With some of the other fellows I’ve interviewed, some of the comments …. like the Japanese people for example….. the people that are into challenge still support the Mainstream dancers.
DH – That doesn’t happen here in the east.
BB – No.
DH – The people, the advanced people, will support clubs pretty well … it’s not one hundred percent, but I remember when I had that Experimental Squares group, I … my rule was they had to be very active in their club or they couldn’t come and, of course, they supported their clubs, obviously. And I’ve done that with some of the A1 groups that I’ve had. I said, “I won’t teach it unless you’re … you know, you belong to and support, you know“ … at that point it would be a Mainstream club or a Plus club. But I have not done a lot with A1 and, you know, it’s ok, but when it gets up into A2, I don’t know. I just sort of thinks it’s not as fun as just dance … just to dance and have fun and dance to the music.
BB – What about other hobbies? You don’t have any time for any other ….
DH – I don’t really have any … I used to collect match book covers when I was a kid and, of course, once I started to call I pretty much stopped doing almost every hobby. I really don’t have any hobbies except square dancing. I never played golf, and I never was much into sports even at school. I used to play a little baseball, and I’ve played…. I played some soccer. But my interests were more, you know… when I saw what square dancing was, and I got the bug to call, that took all my time up. Even in the winter time, even though I was still in school, I would spend more time practicing patter and making notes from Earl’s tapes than I would do studying. I mean I graduated, and I graduated ok, and I did go to college, but I didn’t finish college because my dad had been brought into the insurance business by my grandfather on my mother’s side, and then my grandfather brought him in, and then my father decided that he would bring me in, so I was starting to study electrical engineering at what was then Hillyer College and it is now, it’s the University of Hartford, and I decided why take this if I am going to work. so I changed, and I took a few business courses and I think I’m a Junior, yeah, I think I’m a Junior but I don’t think I will ever get my degree. I never bothered with an Associate Degree but. Again, I could have done that I guess.
BB – This leads us into your other vocation. You’re now in the insurance business.
DH – I have been since 1959 or 60 I guess, but I’ve been calling longer than I’ve been in insurance.
BB – Is that right?
DH – Yup. I think I was 15 or 16 when I started to call. And I remember when I first started to call it was difficult because there weren’t a whole lot of clubs in the area. Al Brundage had one, and then there was the Glastonbury Club, and I think the Middletown Club was in existence but I was the youngest caller out there. and whenever I would suggest anything or whatever, they’d say, “Don’t tell us what to do. We’re old enough to be your parents”.
BB – (chuckles)
DH – So, I had a difficulty in becoming a leader because of that. But, I think they realized after a while that I was, you know, involved in the Association and I sort of knew what was going on and what the trends were. So they began to listen to me and once that happened, everything went along pretty smoothly. But I can remember, … when I was doing those kids at school I … I decided that I would charge them 25 cents a head, and that was my pay, to come from Meriden to East Hampton and back. But I can also remember back then when I used to call at DeMolay for a square dance or another group, I would charge then a whole $15, and that was a lot of money back then.
BB – Sure.
DH – And so … but … you know … I’ve been through a lot of phases of square dancing, and I really think now, because of our society … because of the way we live and our demands on both the husband and the wife … we need to have something that’s more relaxing and more fun than it is to make it challenging. I mean, I can see a dancer after they have danced a few years might want to go further, but back then we tried to satisfy every dancer and we’ve tried to incorporate, I don’t want to say all levels, but before levels we tried to … you know …. but one of the things back then too that I remember is that if I’d called at club A they would know that that’s kind of a relaxed dance and they could all come to that and dance without any struggle, but if I called at Club B, that that was going to be a little more tough … tougher, you know, more … maybe more figures used during that dance because … I don’t know why, it was just the club itself I guess. The ability of not only myself but other callers to call different kinds of dances depending on the crowd they drew. We didn’t ever call it level but people would say let’s go to so-and-so tonight because that’s going to be a good dance. Or, let’s go here because it’s a fun dance but it’s really what we call probably a dance between Basic and Mainstream. But everybody went for a different reason back then and, as I say, Callerlab, I think, really got together when … when the … when … the callers just had an influx of new calls every time … and of course every traveling caller … and that’s where they came from is the traveling callers. Each guy would have his own separate gimmick or whatever and the dancers would go and then they’d come back and say, “Hey ,we want to do that” and so we’d teach them. But… but you know … those days are gone and we, as I say, have to look back now to maybe regrouping and come up with a list that everybody can live with. And see if we can’t bring it down to a moderate number of lessons. I remember when I started. When I first started calling I think it was eight lessons, and maybe 10. Then it got to 12 and 14 and then 16 and then the real problems started and more and more and more classes.
BB – Right, right. … Have you ever been involved in round dancing at all?
DH – Well back when I first started I used to teach the rounds. Of course there was the Teton Mountain Stomp, and Texas Wagoner, I can’t remember all the names because it’s 40, what, 40, 42, years ago. And so, … but the callers always used to do rounds, but not, you know, two every tip. They’d decide that they wanted to do something and get everybody up and teach it to everybody and we’d do it. And then the round dance cuers started up and you know, I decided, because I was so busy calling square dances that I really didn’t want to carry rounds, so I stopped carrying them awhile back after the round dance people really got going. And almost every club would have either records or somebody doing rounds at the dances and it was kind of futile …
(recorder clicks off abruptly, end of side A)
BB – Well we just took a brief pause long enough to turn over the tape. So we were just talking about round dancing. How about our current popular line dancing?
DH – Back then, line dancing really wasn’t … well we … but what we did do almost every night we did at least one contra, that I can remember. At every club dance we used to do at least one contra and sometimes two, and the dancers seemed to like that and that part of it just sort of faded away. We just got to using less and less and all of a sudden nobody asked for them any more. But I used to enjoy the contras. It was one of the fun things that we could do. As a matter of fact, we, as the callers, could even get down there and dance, because once they learned the routine we could just jump in … but I don’t know if the line dancing has really hurt us. People, a lot of people, think it does. I think it attracted a whole different set of people
BB – Sure.
DH – In general there are more singles, not that they are all singles, but more singles. But I think, at this point, they …. they’ve…. they’ve ruined it like we ruined square dancing by just coming up with something new every time you turn around. As a matter of fact, a couple…. a couple of couples that took lessons from me two years ago … they came in sort of a group … they said that the year before they had taken line dancing and they had a good time but they really didn’t enjoy it. And so they took lessons with me, maybe it was three years ago, but anyway, they are still dancing very actively and are glad that they got into square dancing.
BB – Yeah. … You don’t do any of them yourself.
DH – Not any more. I used to cue. When that … when round dancing first began to get really popular I did cue, and, as I say, I did teach so I don’t have too much difficulty round dancing today because I sort of knew the basics and I learn easily.
BB – Well, many of the clubs around the country are trying to incorporate line dancing sort of in place of round dancing or in addition to … but you’re not involved in that.
DH – No. I’ve, I’ve talked to some of the clubs about trying that, and a lot of them were reluctant to do because they thought there was going to be a phase out of the cuers, and I didn’t think there would be, and I don’t think it’s going to be at this point. I think there are still clubs that will do some, you know, country line dancing. But back when the round dancing first started coming in, we used to do a lot of line dancing. You know really simple stuff. I can’t remember the names of them now but I remember one was … uh … uh … Amos Moses and the Alley Cat and some of those, because they’ve been around for a long time. But, for a long time, the line dances in square dances got quite popular, but most people who are dancing today don’t remember that. But we used to do a lot of line dancing along with couple dancing.
BB – And we did circle mixers. There was a different program back in the old days.
DH – There sure was. And even today callers say, “What’s your system”? Well, I don’t have a system, because back then you just learned as you went along. I … I never really … and so, I guess if I had to sit down and think about it, I’m sure I could probably come up with some kind of a system, but it would be, I’m sure a mixture of everything, because as the activity grew, I grew with it. I’m … I didn’t start to call when it … you know, like a caller starts today. He can’t learn experience. There’s no way, you know. You know, a lot of callers today can’t really call a true traditional or fun night square dance and base it on what we know today as Mainstream or Basic calls. But, there is a lot of variety of stuff.
BB – Did you ever have any time to do any recording?
DH – No. I was going to do it and I had…. I had talked a couple of times with Grenn. I was talking to Earl about it and he said, “Well, you call up Grenn and tell them I told you to call, and he’ll let you do something, but I never did it. And so … but I’d like to someday before I get out of the activity. But when I hear some of…. some of the quality of some of the stuff that goes on those tapes … those records, it’s atrocious. I wonder why the record companies allow it to go on. But I guess the callers pay for it so they don’t care.
BB – Yeah. Well, I was talking this afternoon with Randy Page and he was saying he couldn’t understand how some of the record companies can release some of the things they do.
DH – I would think it would give the record company a bad name, but so many of them do it I guess. Of course, some of them are restricted and they won’t let anybody other than there regular staff guys go on and so they are sort of pre-chosen. But, you know, a lot of callers out there who want to record and they just go to a studio and they can do anything they want. As long as they buy it, the record companies made their money on it I guess.
BB – Well I heard Wade Driver, and he has his own record company of course, and he made the comment one time, “If you come out with a record, it doesn’t mean that you’re a national caller now. It means you have $500.”….
DH – Yeah right.
BB – … And if you start your own record company it doesn’t mean that your all that much of a hot shot, it means that you’ve got $5,000 to spend”.
DH – Yeah right. Well back twenty years ago, or twenty five years ago, it was a feather in your cap to record. But now everybody does it.
BB – Well, this has been a real interesting session Dave, I’ve … most of the guys I’ve been talking with I‘ve asked them to kind of give us a kind of overview of where do you think square dancing has been, and where do you think we are, and where do you think we’re going?
DH – Well, you know, the only thing I know is from the ‘50s, but I know that in the late ’40s, I think it was the late ‘40s, that Al and a whole bunch of other national leaders got together and standardized the program because in New England … if you did a Do-si-do in New Hampshire, it wasn’t always the same as if you did a Do-si-do in Connecticut. Some was left shoulder and some was right shoulder. You know there was a lot of things that weren’t standard. And so those guys got together and pretty much standardized it and that’s what we call Western Style square dancing. I’m … you know, I’m sure we’ve evolved from, you know, what they were doing as traditional into getting more of the couples dancing rather than the visiting couple concept. And it’s slowly developed and the old basic basics, you know, Ladies Chain, Right and Left Through, Circle Left and Right, those got incorporated and then we started to get creative with the choreography and that’s where … and that’s how it grew. But, you know, we … I think we hit our peak in probably the middle ‘60s to the early ‘70s. I think in ’75 it began to sort of fade out … not fade out but it began to be difficult to get classes and people weren’t staying as long as they did back then. I can remember the Belltown Squares club … I think we had dancers … the average dancer stayed there 8 to 10 years at least, and so I’m … they started with the club and finished with the club when it closed out. It doesn’t seem to be that way today. You’ll get a class, and you’re lucky to keep half of them or 25 percent of them. And they don’t even last only a couple of years unless they get really the bug to get going. In the East here it’s difficult to find a dance that’s not Plus, or at least have enough Plus in it so a Mainstream dancer would have difficulty, you know, functioning, and feel uncomfortable and therefore really doesn’t enjoy dancing.
But, you know. I don’t, I don’t think it’s ever going to fade away. I’m sure … I’ve noticed myself and I’ve talked to a few of the other guys…. were beginning to get more and more one night stands again. I mean I do. Well, I shouldn’t say I do as many one night stands as I call for clubs, but I’ve been getting a lot of them lately which tells you that square dancing is fine. But, you know, it’s not easy to sell. And the other problem is that because we have had so many people in and out of the program and the people who leave, I’m sure, leave for other reasons than they got too busy or whatever, they just didn’t enjoy it that much. And of course they are out there un-selling square dancing. We got more un-sellers of square dancing than we have sellers because everybody who goes through a club program and quits, because it’s not their bag or not fun for them, that’s what they tell their people … there friends. They say, “Yeah, we tried that and you had to go at night and … “. So, I think we really have to think about what were going to do next and try to come up with a program that’s contemporary. I know some of the guys are saying, “Oh, we shouldn’t do anything with Mainstream and just cut out all the Plus things. At this point in the program, I’m not sure that’s the answer, but I think we do need to whittle it down so that you can teach it in 15 or 20 weeks and have everybody dance that level and make it so difficult … they have to dance two or three years before they can go to the next level. They were saying like Advanced shouldn’t be A1 or A2. It should be Advanced period and the callers need to stick with that. I mean, they can’t keep calling the A1 and A2 you know. If we’re going to make the change we need to make it together and the guys who are dancing A1 are going to have to stop it or make them learn the rest of the Advanced program. Either that or go back to whatever we call this next level. And I’d like to see it either Square Dancing or Club Level. It was Club Level for so long and it… it worked fine.
BB – I’d like to think that because it’s tough to do to ask people that have gotten as far as Advanced to go back and remain with the other program …
DH – Well I think some of them … I know some of the dancers who take Advanced A1 workshops they don’t really dance A1. They dance some of A1, but I think that if push came to shove … I think that all of … some of them would probably say, “Gee, we ought to dance here because it’s more fun”. But I think, at the same time though, Advanced ought to be a program where they don’t call sort of soft A1, in general terms, but you know, easy stuff so you get more … I think that we need to turn that triangle around so that we get a good base of… of club level dancers or the first entry level, or what ever it is, because now we’ve got it just reversed, the tip of the triangle is upside down. We have very little people on the basic level or the entry level and more into the Advanced and Challenge, and they are going to run out of people pretty soon. So, the whole…. the whole thing is going to collapse. So, I think we need to turn it around before, before you know … while we still have a chance and still have people in there to, to uh keep it going. I think we ought to think about what we should do. But, I definitely think it should be whittled down and come up with a set of calls, and it doesn’t have to be all Mainstream or all Plus, or whatever or all even Basic but … and those programs are OK but I think that Callerlab needs to maybe think back about the name, you know, of Mainstream and change it to something that’s more livable with … people are going to live with, I guess I should say.
BB – Well the thought I was thinking about, for people who have gotten as far as Advanced can we now ask them to support something that is at a much lower level is sort of an admission of defeat if they do.
DH – Well I suppose it is but, I think most of the people who are in the A1 end of Advanced sort of realize that that’s a necessity. That we do have to support the clubs and keep them going. I think most of them, or pretty much all of them, do belong to a Mainstream … I mean a Plus club somewhere. Or they are dancing regularly at, you know, the general level in that area along with going to A1 dances. But even the A1 dances I think are starting to fade away a little bit and those… those aren’t well attended. I think some people are getting tired of keeping working on sharpening A1 but can’t then go anywhere to dance it because the guys who have Advanced dances usually call the whole program of Advanced. So, if they are A1 dancers, they really can’t cut the mustard if they go to an Advanced dance. And some of them may just decide that well, I don’t want to go into all that so maybe I should do more with the club or do more in that level. And, you know, I think we need to keep the more popular ones. The more frequently used ones. And I know that every caller has got their own, you know, favorite call, and every time you bring up a call to drop and, “Oh, that’s my… that’s my whole thing”. Well, I think if we’re decent callers, and we’ve got a head on our shoulders, we can learn to live without a figure. We can do something instead of, or we can talk it through.
BB – Call it directionally.
DH – Yeah. Call it directionally and I don’t have any trouble with tha., I just don’t think people … I called a few dances one time and I called only Mainstream, and I asked the dancers at refreshment if anybody knew what I did. There was only one person out of the whole crowd that said, “Yeah, you haven’t called any Plus figures tonight”. I said, “You’re right. I called Mainstream, but I made it very interesting and most people didn’t know”. So it’s possible to do, and if the callers all start to…. To…. to not call a certain figure it’ll play out. It’ll just happen. Dancers will come and say, “How come you don’t ever call wallop the ding dang” or whatever. They will just have to be concentrating on the other part of the dance so much that I don’t think they’re going to think about it. But, if you take them all away, that’s where I think you’re going run into a couple saying, “Hey, we don’t … what happened to all these things?” I’m sure that would be noticeable. But if we fade them out little by little … I’m sure … now for example, Dive Through, it’s still on the teaching list but I really don’t call that actually. I call Pass To The Center. I think most of the callers in this area … and so I do … I teach Dive Through one night to show them what a Dive Through is but I never use it, and most other guys don’t use it. So … and Do Paso, it’s OK, but do we need Do Paso? I don’t think so.
BB – Well, I was talking with Jon Jones and he was making the same comment really. There are a lot of calls we really don’t need, like we don’t need Partner Trade and California Twirl both. Let’s drop one of them, I don’t care which one, but that type of thing. And he mentioned Dive Through and Pass To The Center as another.
DH – Yeah, I agree. I have always been, up until this year, been teaching California Twirl early on in class just because its … I don’t like to teach Right and Left Through before I teach Square Through so, I’m always looking for ways to accomplish a Right and Left Through. So I say Pass Through, California Twirl. But this year I decided to try it and do a Pass Through, Partner Trade and it worked just as well. I didn’t have any more trouble with it. So, yeah, I do it actually once in a great while but, you know, there is so many other things that you can use instead of, if you, you know, do your home work. That’s what it amounts to. I think it’s become too easy to call Plus and, you know, just … they’re all zeros and equivalents. You know, it sounds like you’re doing a great job but you’re really not. Well, I think the other thing too is, we as callers get tired of ourselves. I don’t think the dancers get tired of the material but we get tired of our material. We call it so often, so many times in basically the same … oh, I’ve got to tell you. A few years ago I recorded myself like the first dance of the month at my club, and then I did the same thing at the next dance, and I thought I was calling the same dance but it wasn’t. Because you call so many dances between when you see that group and you see them again, that you change subtly each … you know, each time you do another night but when you go back to that first night and then record it, it’s a totally different dance. I mean that there may be some tunes that are the same but it’s totally a different dance. But we call so often that it doesn’t seem like we’re ever changing. And I think that’s maybe what we should look at too, is listen to ourselves as we call and see what we are doing that makes them happy and what we’re doing that doesn’t seem to generate any excitement.
BB – That’s a very interesting point, I’ve haven’t really thought about it that way. Well, having been calling for so long this is kind of a trick question then. (chuckles) What do you find is the appeal of calling a square dance?
DH – Well, I don’t know. I enjoy being with people so I have never really had any difficulty being in front of people. I don’t know why, but I just never did really. I mean, I had butterflies, you know, and everything else, but I don’t … it was a very comfortable area for me to be in and I guess during, well not my early stages but, in the… in the mid … well probably early ‘70s, I… I probably taught pretty hard, because my philosophy was, if they are going to pay me to dance, I’m going to teach them to dance. And so I…. I probably turned a few people off doing it. But that’s the way it was then and now of course I have a totally different attitude and the whole thing is their fun out there. That’s important. Te dancers have to win.
BB – That seems to be the common thread of the interviews that I’ve been making ….the one thing we have kinda gotten away from, where we don’t let the dancers win all the time.
DH – Well, you know, one of the things … and I feel sort of the same thing, I think if the caller says, “Yeah, this is the right way to go and I’m going to do it”. They’re always a little apprehensive because they think the guy next door is going to do what you’ve just stopped doing and all the dancers are going to run over to him. But I don’t think that’s going to happen. But I think we all have that…. that sense that, gee, if we’re not doing what everybody else is doing, you know, maybe we are going to lose our people, maybe … and they really aren’t OUR people. They’re dancers, and they can go any place they want. I think we have the feeling that if we’re doing something and their coming to us regularly, that maybe we don’t want to change too much because maybe they’ll find something else down the road. But I think, you know, we as a…. as an industry say, or as a group, need really to take a look and get the fun back in dancing, both learning and dancing on the floor and therefore generate some interest in that community activity. Because it is a group activity. It’s good exercise. It’s low impact, you know …
BB – Yeah. …. Well Dave, we really appreciate your taking the time to drop off the Interstate and take the time to come down and do this.
DH – That’s all right. I enjoy it. I’ve been doing some speech … talks at some of the associations around. In fact I just did one at the Springfield Area Callers last week. Sort of doing that, just telling callers how it was back then, because most of the callers around today, they weren’t calling back then. They may have been dancing but they weren’t calling back … you know, back when I started. And people still say, “Oh, I remember when you did this at this place or that place” and I, of course, don’t remember them but … and I did do something down in Atlantic City one time. I forget who let me do it or whatever … but I called a dance and … it might have been a … oh what do you call them when they get the dancers up and they go in their pajamas or whatever
BB – Oh yeah.
DH – I can’t remember the name.
BB – Knot Head?
DH – Knot Head. No. Knot Head was traveling 500 miles. Idiots, or whatever it was … but anyway I remember doing something down in Washington and for like ten years people would say, “Do you remember me? I was down in Washington.” I must have had 50 squares out there and they think I’m going to remember them.
BB – Sure, right.
DH – Well, they remember me because I’m only one guy. But I’m amazed at the number of people – “I remember when you did …” and of course I remember doing it but I don’t remember like where … you know, who was there (chuckles).
BB – You got it. So, now I’ll let you get on the road Dave.
DH – All right.
BB – I really thank you for taking the time to make this tape and I’ll put it in the archives and you’re now a member of the future generations for posterity.
DH – OK
BB – Thanks Dave.
Recorder clicks off. End of side 2. End of interview with Dave Hass