Rutty, Ed: SDFNE Hall of Fame

Photo Rutty


NOVEMBER 13, 1996

(Bob Brundage) Well, here we are again, this is Bob Brundage, and today is November the thirteenth, 1996, and we just enjoyed a very nice lunch with Ed and Joy Rutty, we’re in the big metropolis of Portland, Connecticut.

(Ed Rutty) Big!

[BB] And so Ed, we’re anxious to hear about your life, and how you got into square dancing, what life was like before that, so take it off.


[ER] OK. Square dancing initially was not the biggest thing in my life, you might like to know. After I finished my military service, I was in the air force, and was discharged, I went to college, or I should say I got married and then went to college, that’s the proper order.


[BB] Where were you born and brought up, Ed, by the way?


[ER] I was born in Hartford but I was brought up in Deep River.


[BB] Deep River, ayah.


[ER] Actually, it was kind of interesting.  I went down there to spend two weeks one summer and left seventeen years later.  And I went into the service right from there. But after college we started raising a family and doing the sort of thing everybody does, getting established in a job, etc. And we went to a couple of square dances, they used to have square dances in Middletown, down at the old yacht club, the barn dance type of things, and I admit the first impression I ever had of a square dance wasn’t great. One guy was wearing a big belt and suspenders.  Man, I thought, this has got to be a rough activity.  He was really worried about losing his britches.  We had a good time, really enjoyed it, and it seemed all they had was a piano and a drum, I don’t remember any other instruments at all. The caller was good, we had a good time, lot of swinging, they’d swing for sixty-four beats.  Then go out and throw up and come back in and swing some more.  It wasn’t until I started working for Stanley, I worked for thirteen years right here in Portland before working for Stanley, and one of the guys in the company had just taken lessons from Dick Leger in how to be a caller, and he wanted to start a class. Being right there, close to him, we were “captured” and brought down to his basement to become part of his class. We had three couples and Tom Jones, his name was Tom Jones, Tom and Helene Jones, maybe you remember them?


[BB] Can’t say I do, Ed, sorry.

[ER] Well he had a couple of misfortunes, he couldn’t carry a tune in a basket and he had no sense of rhythm but he sure loved the activity.  And he did know a lot about it. Anyway, he taught the class to square dance. We had six lessons, and on our graduation night we went down to Guilford for our graduation. And if it hadn’t been for the caller there, Jim Murry, and the whole club who were so gracious, we wouldn’t be in the activity today. My friend, Walt Dower and his wife were there, and she got hit in the nose with an elbow or something. She was in tears, ready to go home and we were just not having a good time but they made us feel so welcome we stuck it out. Although we never affiliated with a big club the four of us danced all over Connecticut, at every kind of event you can think of, went to weekends and so forth.


[BB] About what time was this, what year?


[ER] This was in sixty-two.


[BB] Sixty-two, OK


[ER] It was about a year after that that Middletown had an amateur night, and Al Brozek used to MC these things, you know; Walt Dower, couple other guys, including Cliff Brodeur were there, me.  He brought the house down, you know, great singing voice. Anyway, we did our thing, and they applauded! And man, that’s contagious stuff, I wanna tell you.


[BB] Sure it is.


[ER] So, based on that, Walt and I actually bought PA systems, couple of VP50 Bogens, speakers, microphones, and we’re gonna become callers. We called a lot for the walls at first, didn’t get a chance to do anything else.  My first dances were something less than roaring successes.  But eventually, over the years, I built up a following and finally got a club. This club had just decided to break away, splinter off from the original group, club politics I guess.  And having need of a caller the people from Madison came up and approached me to be their club caller.  So I took over and called for them for seventeen years.  That was basically my start but I’ve had an infinite amount of help from other callers, Dave Hass for example. I used to fly a lot and I would fly Dave to some of his dates up in New York State or Maine, and he’d let me call a tip.  And that was my entree into calling in other states.


[BB] Well, Dave didn’t tell me that he had a chauffeur


[ER] Is that right?


[BB] Yeah, that’s pretty good .


[ER] We flew a lot together, quite often in fact, saved time.


[BB] I guess. I remember once I had to, my father went away on a convention and I was home alone and I had a job on Cape Cod, and I’m in Danbury, Connecticut. He went away to a convention and left me and I had to bring off a setting of baby chicks, that was our business, and a particular time was eight o’clock the next morning after the dance and the only way I could get to it was to hire a plane and go. And we did, we put up over night and flew back the next day, people took up a collection to offset the extra expense. You don’t make much money when you fly an airplane to a fifty-dollar job. But that’s away from the point. Go ahead. So, where do we go from here, Ed?


[ER] Well from here I don’t know. The activity has gone in so many different directions, and it was such a simple activity when we began. When I first started it was the only show in town.  There wasn’t, the VCR hadn’t been developed yet, and television wasn’t that widespread.  There wasn’t that much for a family to do except square dance. So it just exploded.  I remember forty squares often, and it was just great.


[BB] I know you’ve been very active in the Connecticut Callers Association, tell us, you’ve probably held every office twice.


[ER] I guess I have. President three or four times, Treasurer and Secretary, I guess I’ve done ’em all.  It’s a good group. And when I first started, at my first meeting, there was Earl Johnston, Dick Jones, his wife, couple other big timers as we called them, at one of the Connecticut Caller meetings, and they were going to listen to us new guys call and evaluate us.  Well the first guy to get up, I’m not sure he’s still alive, came from Clinton, an older man and he was so nervous that he had to hold the microphone really tight to keep it from wobbling back and forth. And he said, “If you think I’m nervous now you should have seen me when I started, I had to hold the mic with both hands!” But, we all did our bit, and typically I got up and promptly got all screwed up, got the dancers all fouled up, struggled my way through, finally, very embarrassed sat back down. Dick Jones said, “Well, you’ve got a great voice, Ed!” That’s a nice touch.  It’s been a been a good thing.  Things we’ve done meet people, long path but I’ve enjoyed it. For me, given me a lot, I like in camp grounds, and weekends.  Square dancing’s particularly the chance to really, it’s a wonderful activity.


[BB] One of the things that I know you’ve been heavily involved in, Connecticut Square Dance Festival, and probably the New England too. Tell us a little bit about that.


[ER] The last event in our area was in Waterbury, ’94 and ’95, and that was a lot of fun. Lot of work of course, I was sound chairman which means of course I had to put all the sound up in the various buildings.  Fortunately, we had great cooperation between the city of Waterbury and the committee. For example, I sketched up and requested some brackets to be put on the walls in the halls for mounting the speakers and they whipped them out and mounted them in no time. The hard part was, we had to get up there and put the speakers on them and tie them down. Little tricky, getting up on the stands holding a thirty pound speaker. But it worked out well, good festival, although the festival attendance has dropped off some. I think ours was one of the best as far as overall quality was concerned and the pleasure of the dancer.


[BB] Worried about next year, being way up in Bangor, Maine? Whether people will travel that far, from southern Connecticut for example, a long haul.


[ER] I think a lot of people did go last year, fair turnout.


[BB] Did they?


[ER] Yep, and they hope to improve it this year.


[BB] Well that’s right, they’ve already had one.  For the sake of the tape, it’s the habit here in New England for the same town to have the convention for two years in a row.


[ER] Well, they really get used to it the first year, know what’s going on, so it’s easier the second year.


[BB] Yeah. And it does make it easier all around. To break in a new crew every year would be tough, and it’s a big commitment too, you think of people committing two years, and of course it takes two years to plan it, get it off the ground.


[ER] That’s right. We started well in advance, activities are a lot of fun. getting together.  Many of these,  every once in a while, I’ll meet one of the other chair people and we’ll question what we are doing now that we don’t have all these meetings to go to. Even though it was a lot of work, attending meetings takes a lot of time, seeing these things develop and seeing everything fall into place is very satisfying.


[BB] Yeah, do you remember what the attendance was the second year in Waterbury?


[ER] Boy, tough question.


[BB] Oh well, it’s not important


[ER] Oh, I want to say somewhere around fifteen hundred. The attendance was light but it was very pleasant, everyone had a good time.


[BB] Yeah, that’s the important thing.


[ER] No serious complaints.


[BB] Well, the Connecticut Festival turns out a pretty good sized crowd too.  That’s every year, and it’s held in different parts of Connecticut.


[ER] We would like very much to find one place to have it, like a University that would be the ideal situation because moving from town to town is a little difficult, although we have found some towns that are very friendly towards us.  We’re going to be in Middletown next year again, this is the second year in Middletown.  Actually a lot of dance activities have been centered around Middletown. Your must remember a lot of them.


[BB] Sure.


[ER] A lot of callers started there. But we would like very much, we were looking at one of the state colleges towards Danbury way, southern Connecticut. They’ve got a good campus; it would be much nicer if you didn’t have to bus everybody, just walk around.


[BB] Right, right, I attended the last one in Middletown, the Connecticut Festival, before I moved to Albuquerque, it was a job.  It’s tough for the program chairman too, ’cause how you get from one hall, takes fifteen minutes by bus to get there. They had the same problem in San Antonio, this year, at the Nationals.


[ER] Really?


[BB] Yeah, one of the halls was a good fifteen minutes after you got on the bus, to go to and the round dancers didn’t like it, because they were away from everything else, you know, and one thing and another.


[ER] Sure. Keeping everybody happy at one of these things is a bit of problem.


[BB] Next years National, in Orlando, Florida, is all on one concourse.


[ER] Oh, that’s great.  How did they sound the halls? Being sound chairman for a couple of years I’m particularly interested in how they work these things where they have two activities in the same hall divided by a curtain. Do they put the sound back to back?


[BB] You know, I don’t remember, Ed. I remember one of the halls in San Antonio was in the back end of the cafeteria they had out in the middle of a huge hall, and I walked through there and I could hear the calls perfectly all right, but I don’t know about it. Now we’re just goin’ to develop a new festival, out there, they’re calling it a Mini- National. It’s going to be in Denver in 1997, and they’re calling it, “USA West”.

And it’s a conglomerate of all the Western states, Utah, Colorado, California, Oregon, Washington, and Mexico and Arizona, and I don’t know if Texas is in on it or not. But they’re just in the throes of figuring that out, and supposedly they’ve already checked the sound situation and they say they’ve got it licked.  Look, It’ll be interesting when I get there to see what it’s all about, I’m supposed to be interviewing you.


[ER] That’s ok. I just thought of something. One of the weekends we went on, Les Gotcher ran, and it was in a chicken coop like building up in Massachusetts someplace.  He did a workshop in the afternoon on some new call he was gonna use, and the thing I remember the most was his use of the microphone, I thought to myself, he practically swallows the damn thing. But you know that’s the best way to use it, really.  So every caller I’ve ever watched I’ve picked up something, I steal from everybody, unabashedly, I don’t care who they are, but each guy has something to offer, is unique, and Les sure was something with that microphone, it was soaking wet when he got through!


[BB] Right, he really put his heart and soul into it. Yeah, we sure do miss him. Who are some of the people, well first, you and Dave Hass have conducted weekends together, and you work well together, I’ve attended one of ’em as a dancer and I really enjoyed it. But, so what’s your experience along that line now ?


[ER] Well I’ve worked with Dave a lot; he used to do a week up in Maine, at Papoose Pond and that went on for seventeen, eighteen years, we used to have forty squares for a whole week. The people were about two inches shorter by Friday. Then we do a weekend up in East Hill Farm in New Hampshire but Dave and I, I think the reason we work so well together is because we disagree so often. We’re always arguing about something but out of this we’re pretty productive.  He has vast experience and he is unfailing in giving, you know.


[BB] Yeah, so all this time with your square dancing, were you doing it full time now, or were you still working?


[ER] No, I was still working, it was always an avocation with me, but the nice thing about it, when I retired it gave me something to follow through with, it was a carry-through activity that I was doing before and after and that’s the greatest thing any retiree can have.  Either dancing or calling, it’s one of the advantages of the whole activity. Oh, another interesting thing too, Dave and I won a free class with, of all people, the Al Brundage, Earl Johnston square dance school in Virginia.  We drove down, and we had a marvelous time. Can you imagine, I think I was vice president of the Connecticut Callers Association at the time and I’m not sure if Dave had an office at that time, he was probably president, but anyway we won the drawing for the free school. It looked so “fixed”, it wasn’t of course, but we enjoyed the class, got a lot out of it, really did.


[BB] I thought of a question in the middle there, you mentioned Stanley, now, come to my mind, is that Stanley Tools?


[ER] Stanley Tools, yep.


[BB] Cause there is a Stanley Home Products.


[ER] Well, Stanley Home Products is a little bigger, financially than Stanley Tools, although we’re Fortune 500. I was a manager of engineering there for tape rules, had charge of tape rule design. That’s how this association with square dancing began with old Tom Jones.  I retired from there in ’88 and started doing more calling.


[BB] So, you’re working pretty steady now, what’s your schedule like now?  How many classes or dances a week are you doing now?


[ER] Sometimes it seems like I’m out eight nights a week, but this year I have one less class than I had last year.  Last year I had four classes.  This year I have three, and one of those is a workshop. Some of the clubs are having difficulty getting students. Some are very healthy with a good number of students but two of my clubs had no luck at all getting a class this year.


[BB] Hard times.  What would you say is the average age of your dancers now? Now, you know, in Albuquerque, for example, we’re almost entirely to retirees.


fER] It’s almost the same around here, I think the average age must be around fifty-seven, fifty-eight.


[BB] I see, you were an early member of Callerlab?


[ER] Yes, charter member.


[BB] Charter Member, there you go.


[ER] Went out with Charlie Baldwin, and Charlie asked me to go out and I remember Earl was there, and I think Al also.


[BB] Yeah, Al was there.


[ER] It was quite an eye opener, really, to find that a lot of the callers who do this full time were that vitally interested in the basic aspects of dancing. I kind of had the idea that they didn’t really care as long as the dancers were there at their dances.  But they could see back then, the need for making sure that this whole string of activity that resulted in their having a full dance hall kept going, you know. It was a good session, I enjoyed it.


[BBl Yeah. Any affiliation with ACA?


ER] No.


[BB] No?


[ER] No, although I might, I think it has something to say.


[BB] Yeah, I’m surprised, there are several people that are members of both Callerlab and ACA.  But, which is good.  So what are some of the big events that you call for out of these local festivals?


[ER] I called at one national, out in Anaheim, that was interesting. I’ve called for most of the New England Conventions that I can, and of course the Connecticut Festivals, I support those all the time. Other than that, I have called for, let’s see, they have a Canadian Festival up in Toronto, I’ve done that.  The Flaming Leaves in Vermont, I’ve done that, that’s nice.


[BB] That’s a nice festival. So you haven’t traveled internationally.


[ER] No.


[BB] Some guys have, and I guess you haven’t had the time to do any recording?


[ER] No, I haven’t. The dancers, they’re very loyal people, they get very enthusiastic and they want me to do that, I get more pressure from them than from anybody else. I’ve toyed with the idea and I may one of these days.


[BB] OK. I’m sure you’d be good, I know you’re one of my favorite callers, I really enjoy your tempo and timing, and I can’t say that about everybody, even some of those I’ve interviewed but that’s another story sometime. So you have any hobbies?


[ER] Oh yeah, I have a raft of hobbies, music, I play a few things, piano.


[BB] Yeah, I see you have an organ here.


[ER] Organ, yeah, ukulele, harmonica.


[BB] Ukulele, yeah,


[ER] My real “instrument” is the trumpet, believe it or not,


[BB] Is that so?


[ER] Yep, and I have a computer, or you can call that my twenty five hundred dollar solitaire game.  But I really do use it a lot now for E-mail, getting on the net, contacting others, there’s quite a layout of square dance activities on the net, photography.  I don’t fly anymore but that used to be a major hobby.


[BB] Yeah, let me throw you a small curve now, what do you think is the appeal of, what do you find appealing about calling square dances?


[ER] Oh man, well, to be a caller you’ve got to have an ego, a big one.  The thing that’s most satisfying to me though, is the appreciation of the dancers when you get all through, the applause.  I mentioned when I did my first performance in public, at the amateur night, I got all through my singing call and they all applauded. And it seemed to me like it was a standing ‘0’, you know.  Well, I never forgot that, and that is still, I think, one of the nicest things, the appreciation of the dancers for what you do.  That means more to me than anything else.


[BB] Sure, good. Did you come from a musical family?


[ER] Relatively, yeah, my mother played a ukulele and sang, but mostly I think my music is something that my Grandfather gave me, he was quite a musician, he was a fiddle player and played fiddle for a small dance band at one time.  He also played a drum, and so I guess it’s there, somewhere.


[BB] Yeah, well that’s great. Well, we were talking a little bit about your military service; you were in the Air Transport.


[ER] No, I was in the Troop Carrier Command.


[BB] Troop Carrier, right, well, that’s a nice plum job!


[ER] Well, yeah.


[BB] Better than Gliders.

[En] Yeah, sure is!  You get back!


[BB] That one way traffic gets to yah after a while. Most everybody I’ve talked to I’ve asked for some sort of an overview. In your estimation. Where do you think square dancing has been, think it is and where do you think it might be going?


[ER] It has been a very big part of my life, and for a lot of people, as I mentioned before, when it started it was the only show in town. As other things have come along to vie for their time it’s been very hard for us to keep the activity up at the level it was at one time. I think it has become overly complicated for one thing, we’ve kinda lost our original objective of just supplying a really good time for people who only want to do it once in a while. The activity has become very highly specialized, which may have pushed people away from it and we have not really kept up with the need for proper public relations, we don’t sell it the right way. I think we’re going to have to go back basically to the beginning, shorter lessons, to give people the opportunity to not have to commit so much time getting into the activity. It has a good future for the people who get involved in it. The thing that keeps me going, really, is the fact that when they do this, when they take the lessons, they say, “Why doesn’t everybody want to do this?  It’s so much fun.”  That’s what we can’t seem to sell, if we could package that enjoyment, send out an envelope full to potential dancers who’d open it up and say, “Boy, fun!” It’d be great but we haven’t learned how to do that yet.


[BB] Right. What’s your opinion of the CDP program, the community dance program?


[ER] Oh, I think it’s great. That’s a great program. When I do fun nights, basically that’s what I’m doing, working with a bunch of people of all ages, for example. I just did a dance in New York for Girl Scouts and their dads, and it was basically the CDP” program, you know. You’re getting all these people to come out to a fun night but you expose them to square dancing. You do a lot of other things, of course, you do

reels and line dances but at the same time you expose them to square dancing. They have such a tremendous time that at the end, almost to a person they will tell you so. I think it’s most important to make sure that their first exposure is a good one. That they all go away feeling this is something they can do and something they’d like to do again. If the caller can do that then we’ve got a chance to maybe build this back up again. If they see square dancing advertised and they remember back when they were involved in a program of some sort, a fun night, if it was a good experience they will want to try it again. The community dance program may be the opening up, or the reopening of the whole activity, we’ll have to go back to that and start allover again.


[BB] Right, yeah. It just occurred to me, out in Albuquerque there’s quite a bit of discussion about costuming. What’s the situation here? Are people still after they’ve graduated, and so forth, still coming in full square dance attire with the petticoats and the whole thing?


[ER] Yeah, they do pretty much. I tell my dancers when they go to blastoffs or new student dances, it’s not necessary for the men and women to buy square dance costumes but the ladies should wear skirts and the men long sleeved shirts, that and soft soled shoes. Other than that, nothing special is required. When they graduate, then if they want to, it’s an optional thing. I hate to see people who don’t have some of the western dress.  I think that costuming is part of the action.  Whether the ladies wear prairie skirts or full slips and all that is immaterial. If there is some vestige of the idea that this is a basic American folk dance and they wear something to indicate this I think it important. It’s part of the “theater”, part of the show.


[BB] Yeah. Of course, the dress manufacturers are concerned about this problem, the square dance shop owners, etc. Well, I don’t know, have we exhausted our thoughts, Ed?


[ER] Just about, I guess. I think it’s important that the caller always be dressed properly.


[BB] You remember back when Callerlab first started, they made the stipulation the guys could not unbutton their shirts


[ER] Down to their navel?


[BB] Yeah, right, I’d forgotten about that. Do you do contra dances?


[ER] No, at fun nights I do simple reels, simple contras but don’t usually.

I can do some.


[BB] What do you find the situation here is with line dancing? Is there any association with line dancing with square dance clubs as there is with some clubs in the country?


[ER] A couple of clubs tried the idea of teaching line dancing and square dancing at the same time and it wasn’t too successful here. I’ve heard that in New York State it has been very successful but I have no personal knowledge of that. I tried it to a limited degree but it wasn’t too successful. It may be that the line dancers come to lessons one night and never come back thinking they don’t have to repeat any of it. In the mid-west I think they do this, Jim Chamondelay has had good luck with such a program.


[BB] OK Well, out in Albuquerque, there are four or five very popular bars actually, that feature this, you know, they run classes and teach ’em and they’re advertised in the local paper etc, but it’s still just a bar.


[ER] Yeah. Well, we have a couple here, we have one called Illusions, over in Waterbury, or Wilton is it, anyway, we’ve been over there a couple of times to see what happens and it wasn’t bad. They have a cover charge to go in, they have beer and spirits etc, but there wasn’t anything untoward about it, very well controlled, the teacher was excellent. And they have pretty big crowds, well organized; everybody moves in a specific sphere, they do exactly what they’re supposed to. But they’re having the same problem with line dancing that we used to have with square dancing, that’s the fact that there is no standardization. You may do a dance to a certain tune one way here and go to another place and it’s a little different. So they’re struggling with that I guess. It’s reached its peak, starting to taper off.


[BB] Plus, I think they’re making it too complicated.


[ER] Yes, right.


[BB] But you know. Over the years I was associated with the folk dance field way back before western style square dancing became popular in New England, and you know, they had the same problem. And one of the callers I talked to said that bowling has the same problem.  You know, now they count the number of boards you have to lay the ball down on. It’s getting so you can’t just go out and pick up the ball and put it in the gutter anymore.  Well, be that as it may, I really appreciate your taking the time, Ed, and thank you for lunch.


[ER] Well, you’re welcome.


[BB] So we’ll make sure we get these somehow transcribed and we’ll certainly save the tapes and put them in the Lloyd Shaw Foundation Archives Dance Center in Albuquerque and I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about this project as we go along.


[ER] Well, it’s a great program, I hope I said something profound.


[BB] There you go. OK, well, thanks again, Ed, we’ll be seeing you around the square.

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