Ed Foote – May 17, 2008
Bob Brundage – Hi again, this is Bob Brundage again, and the date today is May the 17th, 2000 and eight. And today we are very, very happy to have a chance to talk finally with Mr. Ed Foote back in Wexford, Pennsylvania. And Ed is going to be another first with all of his firsts that he’s had over his career, because this is the first caller that I’ve talked with that works almost exclusively in the challenge area of square dancing. So Ed why don’t you give us a little background before square dancing and tell us where you were brought up and what life was like before square dancing.
Ed Foote – Well I was born and raised in Pittsburgh and went to college … got a BA degree at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania and then got an MBA degree from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. And (I) was part of the Army National Guard for six years … and worked for … and during that time I worked for three years for Mellon Bank in their Operations Division and four years in Columbia Gas in their Rate Division. And when Columbia Gas left Pittsburgh in 1973 I went full time. I should make one comment here initially on your opening statement. I have never worked exclusively with Challenge. In my entire career of 43 years in calling, 50% of all of my calling has always been Mainstream and Plus.
BB – I see.
EF – Some people think I work exclusively with Challenge because that’s where my name has been publicized a lot. I was Chairman of the Challenge Committee in Callerlab for 30 years, I ran the National Advanced and Challenge Square Dance Convention for 34 years, I’ve written a lot of Challenge articles for … for about 20 years I wrote a monthly column for American Square Dance magazine that my instructions were to keep it at Advanced and Challenge news because they had enough information from other people on…. on other topics. It was only about five years ago, when new owners took over, that I was allowed to write anything I wanted in that column. So I … and one of my clubs, North Hill Squares, I’ve been the regular caller there for 42 years … excuse me, 40 years, 40 years this year and it’s always been a Plus club. And I call numerous Mainstream and Plus dances each year and as I say 50 % of all my calling each year is always Mainstream and Plus.
BB – Well I’m glad to hear that. I … I didn’t mean to imply that you were exclusive, but be that as it may. Well, you’ve covered everything in general and we’d like to get a little more comprehensive than that if we can. How did you get introduced to square dancing in the first place?
EF – Well, I got introduced to square dancing … I was going to … I was working at Bloomingdales department store in New York City in the summer of 1964 between years at graduate school … at Wharton School, and I was staying in a dorm at Columbia University and every night … every Friday night at the Student Union they had a dance and so I would go there every Friday night and dance. And it was the traditional type of dancing where you didn’t have to know anything and they taught you everything that you … that you learned.
BB – Well that’s interesting. And who were some of your mentors as you came along?
EF – The mentors in terms of calling, I didn’t really have any in dancing so to speak, I was really … it was all in calling. The first one was Pete Heckman from Pittsburgh who was the long time … for many years he was the most difficult caller in the United States. He specialized in Challenge, of course it wasn’t called Challenge back in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, it was called hot hash. And for instance the well known caller Lee Kopman who has specialized in Challenge, he listened to Pete Heckman’s tapes for years as he was learning to call. Well, Pete Heckman was in Pittsburgh and so I attended his dances before I started to call and that’s where … and then once I started to call he would let me practice calling for his group. Other callers that had an influence on me were Lee Kopman, because I attended his dances when I was first learning to dance … learning to dance Western. In the first four months or so I was going to his Challenge dances and once I started to call he would let me call a tip at his dances. And then after I’d been calling for about a year, Jack Lasry was a big help. I would listen to his tapes and try to imitate some of his phrases. In fact, some people for a long time said that my calling reminded them of Jack Lasry because of some of the phrases that I would use.
BB – Right.
EF – So those were the three main callers that had an influence on me.
BB – Right. Well, going back just a second, when you were at Columbia, was that where you met Marilyn, your wife?
EF – No, I met Marilyn in 1967, when I was working at Mellon Bank. As part of their management training program, I would rotate through all the different parts or branches of the bank … all the different parts of the bank and she was working in one of the … one of the parts of the bank and that’s where I … so I met her there.
BB – Right. So, and she is your devoted partner I understand.
EF – We got married in 1968 and she learned to square dance once we got together. She didn’t know how to square dance before that and so I taught her how to square dance and (she’s) been square dancing ever since.
BB – Right, right. Well I know she’s been very helpful with your ??? … we’ll talk about your National Advanced and Challenge in a minute. Let’s first of all talk about your association with Callerlab.
EF – Well ok. My first convention was in 1975 in Chicago and I’ve been to every convention, except one, since then. I was Chairman of the Challenge committee when it … well, when the first committee was appointed in 1977 it was called the Advanced and Challenge Committee and I was Chairman of that. Then, in 1983, that committee was divided in two parts, the Advanced Committee and Challenge Committee. So I remained Chairman of the Challenge Committee and the Advanced Committee being a separate committee there was a separate chairman for that. In addition in Callerlab … I was … I wrote the procedures for ethics complaints for callers and I based it really on legal principles. I’ve had a long time interest in the study of law so I wrote up the ethics procedure for filing a complaint based on that and that procedure is basically still the one in use today. Fortunately, the procedure has only had to be used maybe three or four times in the history of Callerlab because the Ethics committee Chairman and the Chairman of Callerlab were able to solve disputes before it gets that far, to what we would call adjudication. In addition I recommended the Callerlab emphasis call program where one call is emphasized for three months or six months. That’s been done at Mainstream and Plus and Advanced. And I recommended that back … I forget when… probably the early ‘80s and that program is in effect today.
BB – Right. Well you were also on the Board of Governors.
EF – I was on the Board of Governors for three years, right.
BB – Right. And several other committees too.
EF – Yes. I’ve been on the Advanced Committee for … as long as it’s been in effect, and the Ethics Committee and the … I’m trying to remember … well right now I’m on the ARC Committee (Editor’s note: Applications Review Committee) which reviews different choreography questions that are sent in and whether they are appropriate or not. I’ve been on the Ethics Committee; I was on the Program Policy Committee for a number of years which looked to coordinate Callerlab programs with the overall goals and aims of Callerlab. And I’m trying to think of any other. That’s probably most of the … well, I’ve been on the Mainstream Committee and the Plus Committee. I’ve been on them for a number of years as a member.
BB – Well, that’s certainly an interesting bio. Let’s see, you’ve also done a lot with caller training. I know you’ve done … oh, I wanted to ask you first of all before … if you … have you done any recording per se, like square dance records. I don’t remember that …
EF – No, my only square dance record was one tip on one of Bob Osgood’s record albums that he made for a number of years featuring a different …
BB – Oh yes, promotional records.
EF – … promotional records, and he would have about ten callers on each year’s album. My main recording was making teach tapes for Advanced and Challenge. I started that in the early ‘80s and these were for tape groups, for people who didn’t have callers in their area that were calling the Advanced or Challenge but wanted to learn it.
They would learn from tape … teach tapes. And there were two or three callers that had made teach tapes before mine and then I decided to make a set and they proved very popular. I also sold dance tapes, again for … mainly for tape groups at all levels, primarily for Advanced and Challenge. There was no real need to make these Mainstream and Plus since there were plenty of callers calling that. I did make tapes for Mainstream and Plus at DBD or Dance By Definition or all position dancing… teach tapes for teaching people that already know how to dance Mainstream and Plus. These tapes would show how to dance these calls from all different variety of positions. And then dance tapes for that also. And then about 10 years ago I made a Mainstream video teach tape again teaching people who already knew the Mainstream calls from one or two positions how to understand the Mainstream calls from a variety of positions.
BB – I see. Well, that’s interesting. Well, then you’ve also had … like callers schools and clinics and like that.
EF – Yes, I’ve done callers schools in, I think it’s 38 states (Bob chuckles) and a number of countries in Europe. I’ve done them in Canada, Australia and New Zealand. For a number of years I ran a school here at my home. A five … a five day school every summer for about … for about … for about 17 years here at home.
BB – Ah, ha. Well, which brings up your travels overseas. I know you’ve done extensive traveling and besides the callers clinics your also calling for various clubs and so forth right around the world.
EF – Yes, I started going overseas for calling back in … oh, in the middle ‘80s and I’ve made a total of … it’s either eighteen or nineteen trips overseas. About eleven of them have been to England and I’ve called in ten European countries plus Australia and New Zealand. (I’ve) called about five times in Sweden, and when I would make my trips over there … most callers would go for the weekend and just go call for the weekend and then come back. I wouldn’t do that. My wife and I would go and maybe make a three week out of it. And we would sight see and call and the first time I would go to a … to a country would be for sight seeing with any calling I could get. And then, when I would go back it would be as a business operation and I would fly back and call for looking to … looking at it as a business. And again, I would make my trips two and three weeks so I would call for a variety of clubs and probably the vast majority of them were Mainstream and Plus clubs. And in fact, the majority of them would be Mainstream clubs because back in the ‘80s and ‘90s most of the clubs in Europe were Mainstream. But I did call for Challenge groups over there also and Advanced groups … help promote that … those programs over there.
BB – Right, yes. I have to interject here … I think you said … you made a comment that European dancers are much better than US dancers. (chuckles)
EF – Oh yes, definitely.
BB – (Bob chuckles) So …
EF – There is a reason for that if you want to …
BB – Yes, I’d like to hear that.
EF – The reason is … and I first discovered this … the whole history of how this happened is interesting. When I first went overseas to England in the beginning of the ‘80s, the level of dancing there … the ability of the dancers were the same as here. There was no difference. When I went to Sweden in 1985, the Swedish dancers … dancing in Sweden started in the early ‘80s. In the beginning of the 1980s there was only one club in Sweden and that was in Stockholm. Some … a couple of dancers from … who had danced in Sweden … or, excuse me, they hadn’t danced in Sweden. A couple of people from Sweden went to Saudi Arabia and danced in Aram… and were part of Aramco, the oil company there. And they were pretty much confined to their base because of the Arab customs they really didn’t want to leave the base much, so they started square dancing as a means to pass the time and they would get tapes and records. Well, when these people went back to Stockholm they said, “Well, let’s start a square dance group in Sweden”. They went back and started and self taught … they taught the people just from what they knew and this snowballed. And by the time I first went to Sweden in 1985, from one club in Stockholm in 1981, there were now about 35 to 40 clubs throughout Sweden, all having spun off from this original three or four people that went to Saudi Arabia.
BB – Right.
EF – Well, those people then quickly … and they were dancing better than the US. And then those people quickly decided they wanted to travel so they went to festivals in Germany and Denmark and they could out dance the people in Germany and Denmark. Well, the people in Germany and Denmark didn’t want to be outdone, so they said, “Well, we better learn to dance as well as the Swedes”. And boom, in the space of five to seven years Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark, England; they were all dancing at this much higher level. People ask, “Well, why do people in Europe dance much better … dance the calls much better than in the US” and the answer is, it’s because of the mind set. In Europe people say, “We want to have fun, and the way to have fun at square dancing is to totally know and understand the calls because if we totally know and understand the calls we won’t break down, and fun is not breaking down. So we’re going to study the calls and know them inside out and then we won’t break down and we’ll have fun.” In the United States the dancers say, “We want to have fun and fun means doing the least amount of work possible, so we want to learn only the bare minimum to be able to get by and then that’s all we want to do because fun means not having to work”. So, that’s why the people in Europe learn to dance DBD and all position dancing in their beginner’s class right from the getgo where, in the United States ,probably the majority of dancers never get exposed to all position dancing and…. and have really no interest in doing so.
BB – Right. Well that’s really interesting. I’m glad you expounded on that. Some of the … you’ve been to Japan and China?
EF – No, I haven’t been to Japan or China. A number other callers have been to Japan and China. My only … my only trips to Asia have been two trips to Australia and one to New Zealand, and I did a number of caller’s schools over there… caller clinics and seminars as well as calling throughout the whole East coast of Australia from Queensland all the way down to Melbourne and in New Zealand. We were there for a month – two weeks on the North Island, two weeks on the South Island, and just a lot of dances on both islands.
BB – Now the reason I asked that, I wondered if you had any thoughts on calling for non English speaking dancers.
EF – Well, my only real experience with that was when I first started to go to Germany which was in the late ‘80s and all the young people could speak English so that was do problem (Bob chuckles). The older people probably didn’t have English in school so they couldn’t speak it. So, when I first started to call in Germany I wanted to know what percentage of the floor understood English, because if most of them didn’t, then it would do me no good to directional cue calls. Everybody knew the calls in English, but if I directional cued something, (and) they didn’t understand the directional cueing, then it wasn’t worth my while doing that. So what I would do would be at the very start of the dance I would inject a 10 second quick joke comment and I would look and see how … what percent of the floor laughed and that would tell me what percent of the floor understood English. Now, by the mid ‘90s virtually everybody understood English. From the getgo in Sweden you could walk down the street and talk to everybody in English because they always got English television from across the North Sea. There was no interference in the television signal so everybody has grown up in Sweden with English. In Germany, it’s a little bit different, but ever since the mid ‘90s you can talk to most people on the streets in English and you will be able to carry on a conversation with them. So, I never had the experience that callers have in say, Japan, where people literally know no English except the square dance commands. I know one time … well for a number of years at the Advance and Challenge Convention there would be 8 or 9 women from Japan (who) would come to our Convention and almost none of them could speak English. They could do the calls. They were dancing C3 but they couldn’t speak … they couldn’t carry on a conversation. And one woman who could understand English, she was the spokesperson for everyone and she would go up to Marilyn and pay everybody’s fees, and ask the questions, because none of the others could speak English.
BB – Right. Did you bump into Al Stevens in Germany?
EF – No. I first called with Al Stevens in 1976 at the Yorktown Square Dance Festival in Yorktown, Virginia. That was before he went to Europe. And he and I got along great and we had a great time and then he went over … and that was the only time I ever saw him at a square dance. I’ve seen him a number of years since at Callerlab but I never ran into him in Europe.
BB – Right, well that’s interesting. Well, let’s talk about the National Advanced and Challenge Convention. I know you were the one that organized it. You and Marilyn did all the work, for heavens sake, for years.
EF – That’s true. It was started in … it was started because the National Convention refused to provide halls for dancers who had studied Advanced and Challenge, even though it wasn’t called that back then. It was just a place to have better dancing. They refused to provide a hall for that, so I said, “That wasn’t fair” so we organized in 1967 as part of the National but is wasn’t part of the National … the National was in Philadelphia and at the George Washington Motor Lodge in Valley Forge, I set up after parties that ran from eleven at night to one in the morning of Challenge. And that is where the word Challenge first started to come into effect. And I got about oh … six or eight callers to volunteer to call there. And that was the start of the Challenge Convention. Then, the following year, 1968, we decided to make it a separate event and that was held in Columbus, Ohio and it was a separate event ever … from then on. It became … we added an Advanced Hall, I think it was 1984 … we added an Advanced Hall. The Convention started out as one hall and eventually it went to two halls and then it went to three, four and when it finally … at it’s hey day we were dancing six halls. We were dancing A2, C1, C2, C3A, C3B, five halls full time and then a C4 hall part time. And it operated that … in that manner for … oh starting in the mid ‘90s … early ‘90s until the Convention ended. The last year of the Convention was the year 2000.
BB – Right, well. You very kindly sent me a copy of the program for the Challenge Convention in 2000 which contained a very nice history of not only the Convention but also of Challenge dancing. In there I noticed one comment (chuckles) I thought very interesting and that is that it started out as Challenge and eventually evolved in to Advanced and Challenge, because some of the dancers thought the Challenge level was a little too much and they wanted something a little lower level than that.
EF – Right. Back in the mid ‘70s there were no lists for any calls. And so, those of us that were involved with Challenge said, “We need some kind of unified list“. So I took a poll of all the leading Challenge callers of the time and then published, in 197– … oh, it was really the start of 1974, the first list of Challenge calls that was agreed upon by everyone, and that was called the Challenge Dancing’s Basics 100 Calls List. Well, about six months later some people said, “Well, we want to do more than what’s being called at regular club dances but we don’t want to do these 100 calls. What are the 50 most common calls”. So I took the poll of the callers again and we came up with the list for Advanced … the Advanced dancing list. We decided we would do this pole every two years so in 1976 we did the whole thing again. I canvassed all the callers and this time we dropped the name of a hundred … The Challenge Basic 100 Call List because we recognized there could be more or less than 100 calls. And in 1976 published the second Advanced Dancing’s Basic List and Challenge Dancing’s Basic List. In 1977, Callerlab took over the programs and then these lists were … started being published under the Callerlab auspices so we had a new vote in 1977 of the callers that were in Callerlab that were calling Advanced and Challenge and went from there.
BB – Right. Well I know your, your Convention has been up and down in attendance but I notice that one year you at least had 200 squares.
EF – Right. The height of it was 200 squares; I think that was 1992 somewhere around there. That was in Virginia Beach. We were in Virginia Beach for about ten of our total of 34 years. And the reason the Convention folded after the year 2000 was that the down turn in square dancing in general and all the events were downsizing and by the year 2000 there were numerous Challenge weekends throughout the year and our event had started to decline in attendance. And with running six halls … it’s pretty difficult to find a place we could afford six halls. We were in a hotel and to try to get enough room nights to pay for the halls and it just was a struggle for the last three or four years to be able … to be able to meet expenses. So I decided after the year 2000 to just end the convention. And for those that wanted to continue to dance there were numerous weekends, almost every weekend of the year there would be a Challenge weekend somewhere that they could go dance.
BB – Right. Well, I know here in Albuquerque we … someone promoted what they call a “Fly-in”. Is that …
EF – “Fly-ins” are from … that’s what the Gay and Lesbian Association of square dancers …
BB – Oh, ok.
EF – … call their weekends. And all their weekends are “fly-ins”. They are usually at multi levels. They’ll have Basic and Mainstream and Plus and Advanced and Challenge throughout the whole weekend. So every Gay square dance event is called a “fly-in” except for their international convention that’s called the International Gay and Lesbian Square Dance Convention.
BB – Right, right. Well, could you tell us a little bit more about the different levels? How many … I don’t know if it really is that important but how many calls would be in C1 and then C2 and so forth?
EF – Well, when we talk about levels … of course Callerlab prefers us to use the term “programs” so we don’t …
BB – Right.
EF – … say that a person is a certain level, so therefore, they’re better than someone else. So, there are nine programs altogether Seven of them are recognized by Callerlab. So, starting from the bottom it would be Basic, and then Mainstream and then Plus. Then Advanced and there is A1 and A2 within Advanced. And so you might say there are two programs there and not one, but let’s say it’s one. So Advanced would be level number four and then there’s C1, C2, C3A and C3B. And that’s because … there’s A and B because at one time there was only one C3 list but there wound up being so many calls on there the dancers said, “We better split these up We’ve got too much to know, too much to learn”. So we split them into A and B. And then … so that’s … I’m trying to think … if level 5 was C1, C2, C3A, C3B that would be eight and C4 is nine. Callerlab recognizes through C3A and the Challenge committee at Callerlab is responsible for all the lists of calls through C3A. The lists of calls at C3B and C4 are handed … are handled privately. A caller is selected to canvas all the callers calling those programs and those … and lists are made from there.
In terms of the number of calls in each program, we know that Mainstream has about 68. When you count through Plus that’s about 100. So if a person is dancing Plus … the Plus program I generally say they know about 100 calls. Advanced consists of 75 calls. C1, C2, and C3A and C3B each have about 100 calls. So somebody dancing A2 will know 175 calls, dancing C1 will know 375 (Ed Note: 275?) and C2 will know 475 (Ed Note: 375?). Of course there’s the difference between Advanced and Challenge and Mainstream and Plus is two fold. One is the number of calls, the quantity of calls, but then two is the complexity of calls, how difficult are these calls. And those are the two components that make up each of the programs as we move along the line.
BB – Right. Well anything else about the Convention you want to tell us about before we move on?
EF – No, that’s pretty much it. I enjoyed…. enjoyed all the years doing it and we had our convention in like I said, for ten years in Virginia Beach. We were in Dayton, Ohio two years, in Louisville, Kentucky for
two years. In the early days of the Convention we were in Pittsburgh for about five years but that was when the Convention was only two halls. We were in Niagara Falls one year; our last year was in Milwaukee. It was a good learning experience for me because I was… in essence was, a meeting planner for 34 years and had to deal with convention and visitor bureaus around the country trying to find a place for … for our convention. So I really enjoyed the experience with that.
BB – Right. Well you certainly have to be complemented, you and Marilyn because, good heavens, you know when they put on the other regular National Convention it takes (chuckles) committee after committee and hundreds of people and you and Marilyn did most of the work yourselves.
EF – Well, I’ve always felt that the National Convention … the staff running it is bloated. There are way to many people there than there need to be. I mean, in our convention, granted it was myself and Marilyn doing the bulk of the work. Besides us, we had a sound person and a prog … a person doing the scheduling of the callers and that was it. Four people. So, at the height of the Convention, when we had 200 squares, that was … that was what … that was 1600 dancers. The National Convention is really just more people. But in terms of what has to be done, there isn’t really a whole lot more that has to be done …
BB – That’s true.
EF – … when you have 20,000 dancers than when you have 1600. You just increase the quantities. So, I’ve always felt that the big National could easily be run with forty people. But, on the other hand, it takes a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of people don’t have the time in hours to give. So, if people only have a couple of hours to give then it takes more quantity to equal the number of hours say that Marilyn and myself put into running our Convention.
BB – Right. Do you ever get a chance to dance yourself?
EF – Occasionally, when we have guest callers at my home clubs here in Pittsburgh which … mainly we have guest callers when I’m on the road but a couple of callers … two or three times a year we’ll have a caller that says he’s coming through Pittsburgh and I’ll just give up my night for him. We’ll dance in that manner. It was interesting with the National Challenge Convention … one of the reason’s I started it was so that I would have a place to dance Challenge and the result quickly was that I couldn’t dance at my own convention because (Bob chuckles) I was too busy running it and I would be lucky to get forty five minutes of dancing in during the three day period.
BB – Right, right. Well, I know you’ve also been staff caller at many other festivals around the country and around the world.
EF – Yeah, I sent you a list of all those and I don’t know how many there are on there but I’ve called festivals in…. in more than half the United States and overseas.
BB – Ok. I’d like to ask you, what do you find appealing about calling? What’s … what do you find is the appeal to you?
EF – The appeal to me is providing fun for the dancers. And the one word that describes what I’m trying to convey to the dancers is ”Inspiration”. I want them to be inspired, so I try to select music that will get … that will lift them off their feet. When I first started dancing to a caller named Paul Hunt on Long Island, back in 1966, he would … his style of calling had you feeling like you were on a little platform of air two inches off the ground.
BB – Ah, ha.
EF – And so that’s the way I’ve wanted to make the dancers feel … but I also wanted them to feel inspired by the music. So, that’s the way I call, and I make my patter calling that way and I just want to uplift the floor in that manner. As a result of that philosophy, which may or may not be the philosophy of other callers … some callers have the philosophy, ‘I’m going to call to the lowest level square on the floor and that will get everybody through‘ and that’s fine. There’s a number of callers that have that philosophy. That’s never been my philosophy. My philosophy is, I don’t want to penalize the dancers that know what they are doing because some dancers on the floor don’t know what they’re doing.
BB – Yes.
EF – So, my goal has always been to pull the bottom 10% up to the level of the other 90%. So, if I have … if there are 20 squares on the floor and two are standing, I’m not going to be too concerned about that. I going to try to do directional calling to get those two squares dancing…. dancing along, but I’m really calling to the 90% of the floor that can handle it.
BB – Right. Well, that’s really great. So, do you do any round dancing at all?
EF – I can round dance … I can do Phase II rounds and I am a round dance cuer. I can cue about … oh, 20 rounds, but I never hire myself out as a cuer per se because I did that once or twice and I found I never left the stage. (Bob chuckles) I could never talk to the dancers. I called a dance and I called the rounds and so I just prefer not to hire myself out that way. But at my home club, when our regular cuer is away a couple of times a year, then I’ll cue there. If a club gets stuck that I’m cueing for … er, that I’m calling for, “Well, our cuer didn’t show up”, then I can step in and I have enough rounds to handle an evening … one evenings program.
BB – Right. Looking over your resume I see you’ve done considerable writing for square dancing too. Tell us about that?
EF – I started writing back in … one of the first times was when I started writing for the News and Notes … that was the title: News and Notes Caller Notes Service that had been established by Al Brundage and Earl Johnson. And they asked … and they asked Deuce Williams to be a writer for that service, but he wasn’t able to do all of the issues. Al basically did the office work for the issues, Earl Johnson wrote one page of record review, and then Deuce Williams would do all the choreography. And so he would write 90% of the issue. Well he … he found he didn’t have the time to do all that so they asked me to come on board and Deuce and I split six issues … we each did six issues a year. And then … that was in 1978. Deuce fairly quickly then kinda backed off and didn’t really want to do too much and so by 1982 I was the full time writer for News and Notes. And then in 19 .. I guess it was 1987 or along in there Al and Earl decided they wanted to … not be involved with the Notes Service anymore so they sold it to me and I took it over and ran it … I guess… I guess I stopped writing in 1989 or early in 1990. I just phased out of the notes service. I was very disappointed because a lot of the top callers in the country said it was the best notes service around. I always considered the best notes service was Jack Lasry and I patterned my writing after his, but he passed away in the mid ‘80s and so once he passed away a number of callers said they thought mine had the most interesting choreography. It explained it well and everything. But if I wanted to raise my note service the price of $1.00 I would lose all sorts of subscriptions. It was like people were looking at the dollar amount, they weren’t looking at the quality, and so I quickly found that I wasn’t able to generate enough money from the note service to cover all the time that I was putting in writing this, and this was a ten page note service every month so it took a lot of time.
BB – Sure.
EF – So I just decided to back off and not … not do it anymore, which was disappointing. I enjoyed writing that and I still have all the old back issues of my note service and, in fact, I have all the back issues of Lasry’s note service. But I enjoyed doing that during that time. Then I also … American Square Dance magazine asked me to write a monthly column on Advance and Challenge starting in 1984 which I did every month for 20 years and then I think it was 2003 when the current owners took over … they said, “You can now write on anything you want. You don’t have to limit it to Advance and Challenge”.
BB – Yes.
EF – So, now I have been basically ignoring Advance and Challenge in my articles and just writing on all topics. I also … I also wrote the…. the sight calling write-ups that Callerlab uses for sight calling and hands out in all it’s sight calling seminars and that kind of thing … on isolated sight, two faced line sight, and facing line sight, and then … oh, and the fourth article is, “How to remember your partner and how to remember your primary and secondary couples in squares”. Those are the four … those four articles are part of the Callerlab curriculum that are handed out with all their handouts … for their sight calling handouts. Then in addition, I’ve written a lot of articles … a lot of articles that I wrote for American Square Dance magazine I would reprint and then just put out at dances. Three of the ones that I’ve used for over twenty years are ones called, “Tips for New Dancers”, another one, “Tips For Better Dancing” and the third one, “How To Look Good When You’re Dancing”. And I’ve literally handed out maybe ten to twenty thousand copies of those three articles just at every dance I go to and in Europe. And a lot of people say, “Can we reprint these” and I say, “Fine, no problem” so these articles have been reprinted in a number of booklets. I also wrote … I also currently write for the Northeast (Square) Dancer magazine which serves New England, and I’ve been writing for them for … I think 15 years or something like that. Those are the two … those are the two publications I write for. For about two years I wrote for the Promenade magazine which serves Seattle. I wrote for them for two years until new owners took over. So my basic writing is now for American Square Dance magazine, Northeast Dancer and then the articles that I pass out at my dances and at caller’s clinics and caller’s schools.
BB – Right. Let me interrupt you for a second and turn this tape over. Hold on.
EF – All right.
BB – Ok, were back and we’re talking about your writing. You’ve also written some books?
EF – No, I’ve not written any square dance books per se. They’ve all been articles.
BB – Oh, I see. Ok.
EF – Well, I should … I’ll amend that. One book I wrote was entitled, “How To Run a Successful Advanced and Challenge Tape Group”.
BB – There you go.
EF – And I wrote this in 1979 and sold this for about ten years. People that run tape groups they … a lot of people they just say, “Lets start a tape group” and they have no idea of how to run it so I just took all the best ideas from tape groups all around the country, put it all in a book and sold that. And that’s the…. that’s the only book that I’ve actually written. Now I’ve been co-author on some other books. That started off with a person that wrote diagram books for Advanced, C1, and C2 back at the beginning of the ‘80s, a person named Milt Strong. And he had me be the editor for that book and then when he went out of business in the mid ‘80s a lady named Ruth Graser in California took over the books and she wrote all of the calls and diagrammed them all for all the different programs. We had one for Mainstream and Plus and Advanced, C1, C2, and C3A. She would write the book, but I would proof read it and make sure all the wording was correct and the diagrams were correct. So we each did … she did the bulk of the work by putting all these on the computer which took a lot of time, but then I was the editor for it because each book would require probably eight or nine edits before it was ready to go into print and we sold just a lot of those books because there are very few … well, there were very few diagram books in existence, and so, for awhile, ours were the only books. Now there’s one other book that covers Advanced and Challenge but there are really today only two books that cover Advanced and Challenge in diagrams, and one of them is mine. Now the lady … we’ve sort of gone out of business. We’ve … she stopped printing the books. I’ve turned the books over to Palomino Square Dance Service and I’ve turned all my teach tapes and dance tapes over to them so Palomino now really publishes all my books and the tapes and so I’m kinda of out of that area of work right now.
BB – Ah, ha. What about those tapes that have moving diagrams, these are videos right?
EF – Videos, they don’t have moving diagrams. My one video was dancers … it was designed to teach Mainstream dancers how to understand Mainstream DBD (Dance by Definition) or All Position Dancing but it took a different approach. Most … virtually all video tapes have a square dancing the calls and teaching the calls. And the caller will say, “Here’s how you do Coordinate” or, “Here’s how you do Wheel and Deal” and the square walks it through. Mine was assuming the dancers knew how to do the calls already and I would show them how to do it from different positions. So my one video was … well that video… the Mainstream video was 90% … 95% walkthrough and then just a little dancing at the end. And I should inject that for a number of years I did have video…. video teach tapes that did the same thing for Advanced and C1 and I think we did C2 also. This was with a man in Ohio named Dale Garlock. And we recorded these tapes at his home and then sold those and those were the only video teach tapes that were available. But they weren’t of studio quality and they quickly degenerated. The masters … the masters actually wore out (Bob chuckles) and we never had saved a duplicate master so we were just out of business at that point. He had a Mainstream teach and a Plus teach video but they just wore out and we’ve never done anymore with the videos just because the quality is … was so bad in terms of how the videos looked on the screen. They were ok when they were made, but after ten years the duplicating just meant that we didn’t feel right about selling them anymore because of the quality … the appearance.
BB – Right, right. Well, I’ve been asking everybody I’ve talked with, “Do you have any regrets or anything you wished you’d done differently”?
EF – Oh. Well, that’s interesting. I guess … I guess I would say off hand no, I can’t think of anything I would have done … I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. The only reason to have done something differently would have been if my circumstances had been different that would have forced me to do things differently, but it’s all been kinda … the circumstances just call … just kind of laid themselves out for me, and as each circumstance appeared I just did what seemed obvious and logical at the time. So I guess I would have to say that there’s … there is nothing I regret not having done. I guess I would have done everything the same that I … the same way that I did it.
BB – Well great. I’d like to talk for a little bit about your personal life outside of square dancing today. You sent me quite an impressive list here … play softball for example.
EF – Yes, I’m in a senior softball league and I play three times a week Spring, Summer, and Fall. I play tennis twice a week. I volunteer at a radio program for the blind and visually impaired in Pittsburgh, and I’ve been doing that for eleven years. And I’ve had a weekly program on Holistic Health for eleven years. And for nine years I had a program on religious news and inspiration. I’m also on the pulpit supply committee of two western Pennsylvania Presbyteries and so when a church has their pastor go on vacation and need a substitute person to preach, why I’m one person on the list that they can call on. So I don’t have Rev. in front of my name. I never went to seminary, but I’m on this list and get called. So I will lead church services about fifteen … fifteen times a year. I’m trying to think what else is on that list I sent you.
BB – Well how about investing?
EF – Oh yes. I … a long term interest of mine has been finances and investing, and so I help people who haven’t studied it the way I have, invest their money. At any given time I probably have ten people who I am advising on how to handle their investments and how to have them be safe and this kind of thing. And the list of people range from people that have no money, and are in debt, to people who want to know how to handle seven figure portfolios. Because I’ve studied this, and with my background at the Wharton Business School, and I’ve studied this all my life, I’ve been able to help a number of people like this which is very … very satisfying.
BB – Well that’s great. And also you mentioned that you are a teacher of Spiritual Dance.
EF – Right, right. I forgot that. Yes I’ve been doing that for fifteen years. Spiritual Dance I describe it as generally … if people know what Tai Chi is, which is very slow motions, standing pretty much in place … that’s what Spiritual Dance is. It’s slow motions, in place, sometimes with a partner, sometimes in a circle. You can be moving in a circle very slowly, often times it’s saying words in unison with the group or saying words to a partner for about ten seconds and then you move to another partner and do a few little hand motions and say words to them. And I’ve been doing that for … for fifteen years. I’ve led Spiritual Dance in churches throughout the country, really from New England to Florida to California. And I try to … try to find places where I can do Spiritual Dance in my travels when I’m square dancing.
BB – Uh, ha.
EF – I’ve been fortunate to find a number of places to do that. I’ve also done it … led Spiritual Dance at five different … oh, conventions where people get together for a spiritual weekend. I’ve led Spiritual Dance there.
BB – Well, that’s great. I’d like to also ask you the same question I’ve been asking everybody else, “Where do you think square dancing is going?” and with you … especially, “where do you think Challenge dancing is going?”.
EF – Well, unfortunately, as we all know, today square dancing is going down hill. Some people blame the square dance activity and oh gee, they bemoan the fact that our product is just not the right product and we have to change. Well, the truth is, every group activity in this country has been on the decline since 1990… since 1990-91. Bowling used to be held up as the big example of how successful a group activity can be, and now bowling is down the drain. Church activities are down the … are way reduced. Every group activity in this country is down … lodge membership, whatever, whatever group you want to name. The reason for this is multi-fold. It started first of all with video cassettes, where people could stay at home for an evening enjoyment. They didn’t have to go out. It also started in the ‘80s with the fact that people ‘to find themselves’ could do it individually. In the ‘70s it was, find yourselves by belonging to a group. But then in the ‘80s it was, find yourselves by doing something individual, take a college course, go for a walk or jog. We have at the end of the ‘80s and the early ‘90s … all of a sudden we had working wives. In the ‘70s wives tended not to work. Now everybody works. So now the wives come home from work and they don’t want to go out because they haven’t been home. It used to be they were home all day and would say, “Well, I want to go out for the evening”. Well, now they have been working all day so they are content to stay home. The nail in the coffin of all group activity started in about the mid ‘90s with the internet. And now everybody sits home on the internet and that’s just … really killed group activities. So, as far as square dancing… square dancing is just another group activity and it’s going down hill along with other group activities. Some of the changes that have been proposed for square dancing I think are good. We have to change with the times. If people don’t like our dress code, why fine, change it. And I approve the changes in the dress code that we’ve made. But basically, I think our product is good. It’s just that it’s been affected by this mass down turn in group activity. I don’t think square dancing will ever go away. I think it will always be there in terms of the one night event for church groups and lodges and that kind of thing. And I think there will always be square dance clubs, but they may be different from what we have now. The emphasis today is on the Community Dance and clubs having … knowing fewer calls. And having … maybe a club only knows 25 or 30 calls and not the 65 or 70 it takes now to graduate. But I think … I think where that is … that’s a factor that will keep square dancing going. It will also … may also keep some people from belonging to square dance clubs because they’ll say, Well, I want more than that”. So then… then we say, “Well, what will that do for Advanced and Challenge”. Advanced and Challenge will always be there but it will again be a reflection of the total square dance picture. Advance and Challenge … has always been and will always be the very small part of the pyramid. It will never be the base. So, as the base of square dancing declines, Advance and Challenge will decline. So, in terms of where it will go, there will always be people that will be gung ho and want to learn a lot of calls and so we will always have an interest in Challenge. We won’t have the number of Challenge clubs and Advanced clubs in the future that we had back in the ‘90s and ‘80s for instance. So I think square dancing … to summarize… I think that square dancing will always be around but I think it will be, in another ten years, vastly different from where it is now. On the other hand, I remember ten years ago, people saying, “ In ten years from now it will be really reduced and really down”, and those people would have been amazed to see how resilient square dancing has been and the fact that we do have a lot of clubs still going today. And we still have the National Convention going although … even though the numbers are way down. The National Convention is a viable … a viable event still where a number of people ten years ago might have said, “As of today it wouldn’t be around any longer”.
BB – Yeah, that’s a good point, right. What do you see for programs like … the ABC program?
EF – Well, the ABC program … you have to try everything, so people who want to try the ABC program, I say, “More power to them”. It’s so new we just don’t know how it’s going to work. I think it’s a fine idea on paper but whether it will actually work or not, I don’t know. The survey that Callerlab … Callerlab about five years ago hired a marketing firm to do research of people to see what people wanted in square dancing. Was the name square dancing good? And what do people want in square dancing? And one of the things that people said they wanted … or one of the questions that was asked was, “Would you support a square dance club”? And the answer, “Yes, we will support it”. “And how often would you support it”? “Oh, we would support … we would go out to the club maybe once every six weeks or two months”. Well you can’t support a club that way.
BB – Right (chuckles).
EF – So, because there just aren’t enough people there. So, the ABC program is designed to … well. maybe we’ll get these people that only want to come out once every six weeks or two months. Well, unless you’re in a big population area, I don’t think there’s going to be enough people to support … to support that. It’s unfortunate, the idea of having a club just be there all the time, and whenever people want to show up fine, that’s a great idea on paper, but in practicality it doesn’t fly. And I’m wondering, five years from now, will we see that while ABC was great on paper will it actually have been able to prove … be proven successful. And we won’t know until that time happens.
BB – Yes, right. One other question … do you have any thoughts about contra dancing?
EF –Love contra dancing!
BB – Do you.
EF – I never get to do it, but the beauty of contra dancing is the precise timing. I do one night stands and call for church groups and that kind of thing and I love the Virginia Reel and a couple of other rounds and contras that I do there. And the timing is so perfect and the dancers love it and…. the joke in the Challenge community is that we ought to have Challenge contras. And the contra dancers all throw up their hands and run screaming into the night when they hear that because it’s supposed to be real easy. But I’ve always loved the contra dancing. At Callerlab, Clark Baker, for the last couple of years has done a thing as an after party called “zesty contra”. And it … which really could be almost considered a Challenge contra, but it involves contra. So I just love contra dancing and wish it was around more and would enjoy doing it. I don’t have the time to start a group myself and there is no contra group in my area but I’m … I’ve always been a big supporter of contra. I think it teaches people how to dance with the correct timing. I think all square dancers… it would behoove them to all have three months of contra lessons. Then, if they never do it again, that’s ok, but at least they’ve learned how to dance to the … actual timing and dance to the music. Nobody dances … nobody dances to the music anymore. In fact, I’ve said for fifteen years, our activity is no longer square dancing our activity is square walking.
EF – And it’s so rare … it’s so rare now that I see people actually dancing to the music that if I indeed see this … if I see one couple on the floor actually dancing to the music I’ll go down between the tips and complement them. (Bob chuckles) And if the whole club is dancing to the music, and there are about five or six clubs like that that I see during the year, I will complement them over the mic. at how impressed I am that they are dancing to the music. Now, they don’t believe me. They think I am just putting them on, but they haven’t been around the country and see what I see, and I’m really serious when I tell them how wonderful it is to see a group actually dancing to the music because I’m hardly ever seeing this.
BB – Well, that’s really interesting. I didn’t think you might … I didn’t think you would be involved with contras.
EF – I’m not involved but I’m a big supporter.
BB – Yes, right. Well I know Clark … you’re voice and Clark Bakers ideas too. Well, unless you can think of anything else Ed… anything you want to put on this tape for posterity.
EF – Well, I guess we’ve covered about … we’ve covered about everything that I can think of.
BB – Have you ever had any hobbies?
EF – Hobbies. When I was growing up in Jr. High and High school I collected stamps and then I quickly concluded that this was a con job by the federal government (Bob chuckles) because they kept printing more and more stamps just so collectors would buy them and give the government the money.
BB – Right.
EF – So, that wised me up right away and I dropped that. And now my hobbies are really these other… other non-square dance activities that we talked about, the soft ball, the tennis, the radio station, helping people invest, the Spiritual Dance. Those are mainly my … those are my hobbies… hobbies right now.
BB – Right, right. So, well, I think we can call this a day. It’s certainly been very … we’ve been talking for over an hour and I’m really happy to get all this information on tape and we’ll get it transcribed and I hope you’ll look it up on the Foundation of New England’s web site, sdfne.org.
EF – Well, I appreciate your … all the work you’ve done over the years on doing this. You’ve been doing this for ten years I think now.
BB – Yeah, I started this in 1996 actually.
EF – Oh my goodness. So I’m really impressed with … with all that you’ve done on this and it’s really wonderful that you’ve done this. A question, is there … are these tapes anywhere else besides the New England Foundation?
BB – Well, there’s a few at the Lloyd Shaw Foundation archive. And outside of that I’d say no, except for what I happen to have here.
EF – What I’m thinking would … I’m always a big believer in backup. And heaven forbid that the archives in New England would burn down, but if it did, all your tapes are gone. And I would hope you might consider having them or somebody make a copy of the tapes and send them all to Callerlab and they can just store them in a box somewhere but now, now we have two copies.
BB – Yeah.
EF – I always… I always like to have two copies of everything.
BB – Right. Well, I know they’re making … Johnny Wedge is the one that’s doing all the placing of these on the web site and I know he is making copies of everything on CD.
EF – Well, that’s good.
BB – Yeah. So … but I’ll bring that up to the powers that be and make sure that … it’s certainly a wonderful suggestion. So, all right then why don’t we call it a day?
EF – Well ok, I appreciate everything …
BB – I can’t thank you enough for finally getting together and I’m going to be talking to a couple of other Challenge callers, Vic Ceder and Tom Dillander.
EF – Dillander, yeah he owns Palomino, yeah.
BB – Yeah, so …
EF – Yeah, he is not a Challenge caller. He may call C1 but his big claim to fame is that he runs Palomino because without Palomino we’d all be down the drain.
BB – Right, well that’s what I want to talk to him about. Right. Ok, well …
EF – And if you think of anything else feel free to give me a call or send me an email and then I can email anything back to you and that kind of thing.
BB – There probably will be some corrections to make, some of the names here and there and I will get together with you by email for that.
EF – In case you wanted the spelling of when I said Pete Heckman it’s H-E-C-K-M-A-N. And other than that well, it’s easy on the spelling of Lasry and Kopman.
BB – Yeah.
EF – I don’t think we had any other complicated names in there.
BB – Well, very good. Well, once again thank you so much and it was really a pleasure to talk with you and say hello to Marilyn …
EF – Ok, very good.
BB – … and we’ll call this the end of the tape.
EF – Ok, very good. Thanks a lot.
BB – Thank you Ed. Bye bye.
EF – Bye bye.
(tape ends – End of interview with Ed Foote)