Gloria Rios Roth – March 23, 1997
BB – The third interview of the day and we’re very, very happy to meet a very old friend, excuse me, a long time friend, originally from Massachusetts, now living in Nova Scotia. Today, again, is March 23 and we are still here at Callerlab Convention in Los Angeles and now we’re delighted to talk with Gloria Rios Roth. So Gloria, as I’ve started out with most of our sessions, where were you born and brought up and what has your family background, musical or what?
GR – OK. I was born in Needham, Massachusetts, which is a little town about 19 miles outside of Boston. I went to school there and then went to college out in Westfield and in college I met Mr. Rios, who I married, and after 15 years we had a divorce but it was in college that I met him. But it was way back when I was a little girl in Needham Massachusetts that I saw my first square dance. Typically … I guess that people know me … it was me climbing up on a … on a chicken wire trellis that had all ivy on it that I was not supposed to climb on, and I peered into the coach house that was attached onto our house. And there I saw … and now of course, we were Baptists so it was very unusual for me to see Baptist people and the Minister and his wife dancing this … this formation to a record. They had records and a Victrola, as we called it in those days. I thought that was the most … and I’ve never changed my feeling, and I thought that was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen … and to think that the minister was there and he was dancing and laughing and having such a wonderful time. I suppose that started a life long love affair with square dancing because it was when I was sixteen years old, which was over 50 years ago now, that using those same records ten years later … mother and dad still had them … in the red plaid album, with Ed Durlacher on them. Do you remember those records? Of course, they had the voice on them.
BB – ‘Honor Your Partner‘
GR – ‘Honor Your Partner‘, yeah, the head two ladies cross over and by the gentleman stand … and I would bring my high school kids down and I would teach them how to do these calls, and at one of my … I think it was the 35th class reunion, one of the guys said to me, “Isn’t it funny that you stayed in it. You used to get us all down there and teach us how to do those square dances and you actually made a profession of it”. You know, I had never remembered that I had done that back … so you know this is my fiftieth year of calling now … and I kept on, of course, when I got to college … took lessons out there and actually you were one of the first people I’d ever heard Bob.
BB – Is that right?
GR – Yes, because you had the club in Wilbraham and some of the dancers from Wilbraham came over with Willie Jenkins, remember? I learned from you and all and then … after I learned to dance he never kept calling so I did never see Willie. Do you ever see … did you ever see him again?
BB – Oh he was around for a little while but he gradually …
GR – Dropped out of it.
BB – … dropped out of it. Yeah, and he wasn’t really fond of it. He got tired of it early.
GR – That was a shame.
BB – Well, you were in Phys. Ed. weren’t you?
GR – No, actually my degree is not. It is in Education, but I went to Springfield College after I got my degree from the University of Massachusetts at Westfield. I went to Springfield College towards my Masters and that’s where I first met … at aquatic school … I first met Dick Jones … who was just beginning … and, of course, we didn’t know each other as callers. We knew each other … he was an instructor at that aquatic school, and so my … I started in while I was in college … all at the same time sort of meshed together, my marriage, my degree and everything … I started in running a children’s camp, and that’s where, you know, I got the Woodlands … because I was running one for the YMCA and they wouldn’t take them out of the building, out into the woods. So I said, “If you’re not going to do it…. because you have land out in Granville, Massachusetts”, then I said, “I am going to buy land and do it”, and the board sort of laughed at me, of course, I was only young, you know, but I turned around and went out and my husband and I found land and we built … and then he was a carpenter so he was able to build that beautiful place called the Woodlands, you know.
BB – It was beautiful.
GR – It was beautiful. It was lovely, and it was a nice setting out in the pines. Thirty squares could come in after we finished adding the additions on. We only had 20 squares in the beginning but we added some platforms and additions, you know, and we had a lot of good weekends, but at the same time I was running a children’s camp. So, for 38 years I ran a children’s camp and there’s where the physical education came in. I became involved in synchronized swimming and I coached a team in Canada that took first place at the Canada games back … now it’s going to be 20 years ago already, and gymnastics and you know, I kept up on that. I had a lot of excess energy … my parents used to tell me.
BB – And when was it that you moved into Canada?
GR – All right. I was divorced from Mido in 1965, and then in 1968 Johnny and I got married and moved to Canada and bought this place. His company … he was the chicken sexer.
BB – Was he really?
GR – Yes, oh yes.
BB – Did you know that Al was?
GR – No, I did not.
BB – Al and Mary both.
GR – You must be kidding me.
BB – No.
GR – I don’t think I ever knew that.
BB – There you go.
GR – But, you see, I wasn’t … I wasn’t seeing Al during the period of time …
BB – That was back in World War II.
GR – Even so … I might have known that but isn’t that amazing. There are so few Caucasians … most of them are Orientals that do that. But I … Al was lucky to get out of it because I always felt that’s what made John’s life short. He died at 55, and every time he got into the ops management … but then when he would go back to the sexing when they needed somebody in a hurry somewhere, you know, out West somewhere, and he was always so fatigued. It was a very demanding profession, very demanding even though it very high paying. But no, I did not know that or at least if I did I certainly forgot it. But then we found this place and I saw it from a distance and having gone … see, my parents were Canadian … I used to say as a girl, that there was only two places that I wanted to live out my life. One was the house with that coach house attached to it where I grew up in Massachusetts, in Needham, or in Nova Scotia… no special place in Nova Scotia. We used to go there every summer … but I always had, I suppose, the genes pulling me back there … and John’s company wanted him to go to Canada, and I said , “Do you suppose we could go to Nova Scotia?”, and John didn’t know where it was, and I had to get a map and to show him. Well, it was a love affair for him. He loved Nova Scotia and he did get up there and get established, and he was trying to develop a … well it would be similar to a union within the chicken sexing profession in Canada, and that’s why he went. But, of course, he didn’t live to achieve that.
So, when we went along the road … when we were going for his interview and we had stopped at a motel … and we had gone in by boat from Bar Harbor, Maine, across to Yarmouth … something we had never done as children, because mother wouldn’t go on a big ferry boat. So, we were driving along a highway that I had never been on, and we saw this place from a distance. This huge, massive, it looked like a chateau sitting there nestled in the trees and everything across the water. It just was beautiful and I said, “I can’t imagine what kind of a house that is. Who would live in such a house”, and we got to the end of what John thought might be … it was a dirt road (it is paved now) and he says, “I bet this leads in there and do you want to take a look?”. We had no idea, no idea that I was going to spend the rest of my life there, you know, and we walked up … we got up to the barb wire fence and there was just a hay field, no driveway, and we realized that nobody had been there for years and years and years. Then what we did was, we climbed over the barbed wire fence and climbed up … walked across this what would eventually become our front lawn, and up the stairs, and when we looked in the window of this old house… it still looks old now after 30 years of owning it. Inside it was brand new. It was just as if the plaster men had finished plastering – put away their tools. The stairway going up, up and turning and turning, and going up was just gleaming, gleaming white. We realized … and then we walked around on this wrap around porch, and we looked in the side windows, and I said, “Oh John, look at that place”. “That one room would dance three squares anyway”, and then we walked around and looked in another one and there’s another three squares in that room, and in the main front entrance you could dance one or two squares ,and I said, “Oh, I wonder what the story is with this place. Why is it just sitting here empty?” I mean it looked … not a stick of furniture in it, not a rug, nothing. So, we went next door and the old English gentleman that lived there, who became one of our dearest friends, he and his wife … John asked him, “Can you tell us about this house next door” and I suppose through 50 years he had been bothered many times with people asking and he said, (lowers voice imitating) “Yes, I’ll tell you. It’s an old white elephant and nobody wants that. You can’t do anything with that.” And John said, “I bet that in certain countries white elephants are extremely valuable.” So by noon time we were inside the house, and, just walking through it I knew, I knew I had to have it, and so, that’s how we got it.
And of course we have been dancing there … we have seven sessions … after 30 years I can still look at the floor and see some of the people we had in our very first class up there. I never … if we have a graduation or anything like a party night we have to get another hall because we have more than the seven squares that are comfortable inside, you know. But it’s great for classes because I never have over three squares, and very often only have two squares in a class, and I teach the round dancing there, and then the thing that is … my pride and joy is a group of 40 women who come twice a week and they’re called LORETTES, ladies of retirement, and they dance seven different dance disciplines including marching, soft shoe, ballroom, modern interpretive dancing, line dancing, country western … certain country western couple dances, folk dancing … and we do programs. We go out and do programs. So, I am still very active and I am still teaching callers and still teaching dancers and still love it just like I did when I was 5 years old … or 4 years old my mother tells me, when I climbed up on that ivy and looked in that window .
BB – Well, following that then, how did you get involved personally in square dancing?
GR – Oh, my introduction, of course, was that I thought I knew about it from those records, and being a New Englander, Bob, you’re one, and you know it’s true. We have an attitude that, when we know a little we think we know a lot and I, in particular, had more than my share of that attitude. So, when I was in college, just, you know, just barely out of high school, when … and I went to college at 17 and my … the fellow that I was eventually going to marry, the Rios fellow, he and some of his buddies who lived in that community of Westfield were taking their girlfriends, there were four of us, four couples, were going to go to an open square dance, an old time square dance. Well sir, there was the fellow that was the coach of the football team, the fellow that was also the physical director of the YMCA, his partner was the PE teacher … in other words each of us had some relation … and thought we knew … it was the most terrible night of my entire life. We argued and fought and we fought between couples, between our husbands, or partners, or whatever, and I thought to myself, that isn’t anything like it looked … like what we used to do back in that … back in Needham. So, about a week after that a woman … a girl called that was in college with us and she said, “Gloria, we have some people coming over from Wilbraham and their caller I believe was Bob Brundage”. I think you were the one that came over … and Willie was there and you did a demonstration … and there were 17 squares in that class that continued on then with Willie Jenkins, and that’s how we started. On the first night of class we were promenading, and do you remember Les Woods?
BB – Oh sure.
GR – And what was his wife’s name? Les and … you know who I mean. Les and … and I almost had her name. Bless his heart … he would … like if we were couple 2 or 4 which we were, because I can remember that we were couple 2 and they were couple 4, so when we were promenading … and it was so crowded in that little gym on Franklin Ave. there in Westfield, that my husbands shoulders and his shoulders were so close together and Mido looked at me … my husband looked at me and he said to me, “Hey, you’d make a good square dance caller” and I said, “Poof. Who ever heard of anybody being … a woman being a square dance caller”, and Les Woods leaned over – Althea, as he was promenading, Althea, and he said, “Hey, I’ve started learning to call. I’ll bring you a record next week”. So on the second week of class he brought a record and it was Hurry, Hurry, Hurry, on the 78 and the third week of class … he left it with me with the cue sheet … and on the third week of class we had two squares come up from the 17 squares, in my basement, our basement … we did … and that was my first thing. And then as we got into it, probably about five years after I was calling, was when we built the Woodlands. Willie had that first year … Les told me that Willie Jenkins was having three sessions in his … during the summer in his house in … where did they live, in Wilbraham too?
BB – No they lived down in …
GR – Hamden?
BB – Yeah, Hamden.
GR – So I went over and … and he taught us how to put the needle on the record, and gave us … you know, I had to do my Hurry,
Hurry, Hurry which I had by that time memorized, you know. Then, that was all that he was going to do just three, three nights, you know, and I had never danced to … at that time there was sort of an abyss between you fellows – you and Al and Earl Johnston. But Earl was in the next town to us in a club, and I had not ever danced to him, but I heard through Les, I guess it was, that he was going to have some sessions in his basement beginning in the fall. So, I wrote a post card to him asking if I could get into the class and he said that I could. So now he … as I remember, we had seven nights in his basement and there were like nine fellows … I am the only one that stayed calling, and I’m sure I gave him the hardest time because I also drove the furthest distance just to get down to his house.
But then we started dancing with him, and then I … where I was close to him I was able to observe his classes, and, of course, I had my educational … my teaching … and after class everybody went down to Friendly Ice Cream, you know, for sandwiches and coffee and stuff and Earl would have his notebook there, and he would check it off, and pretty soon he and I would be the last ones there and I would ask him questions, “Why did you do this” … and after about … now I was teaching, you know, the next night … I started my own group with the women’s club there in Westfield. I had a good group too, you know, with lawyers and doctors and people like that … but anyway, I was so terrible. I mean, I was so bad Bob, I just … I mean, I thought this was terrible. So, Mido knew that I was bad, especially on the patter, that he called Al and asked Al … or when Al was calling at the Woodlands once, he asked Al if he would help me with patter and Al said, “Gee, I really … you know I can’t really … I really don’t know how to teach anyone to do patter”, so, he called Earl and Earl said, “Gee, I just do it naturally”. He said, “You just have to listen to other people.” So it was Earl and Al that were the … after my first introduction to modern square dancing through you and Willie, who taught the class. Then it was listening to the callers that I had. Yourself, Al, Earl, all that … the callers I would book there, and I kept listening and listening and trying and trying and trying to develop … but I am still developing after 50 years. I am still hoping that I am going to get better (laughs), you know, whatever. So, it was really those guys that influenced me … you guys I should say. The three of you more than anybody else.
BB – Right, right.
GR – And I appreciate that.
BB – Well, thank you very much. Off the subject for a minute, how about any other hobbies that you have had during …
GR – Yes, well. I have … I don’t really. My hobby has been square dancing, and I think that as I get older I realize … my hobbies have always been the things that I have done, do you know what I mean? In other words, we are always involved in work, like my being involved in judging diving and getting my certification in judging diving, my synchronized swimming and all of that, and I have an idea that I presented a long time ago … and in fact, at one of Al’s clubs in Florida let me come and talk to them about it, and I did a market research on developing a line of swimwear for women who, when you get older your legs just don’t look good and I know a lot of women who go to Florida and Arizona and Texas and so on and so forth, and that they don’t like to go swimming because there are no swim suits that really make them look attractive.
So, I started designing and making and I … well that is a long story … but, for a while, with my mother … was ill after my husband and father died I was living in Florida, and I would wear my outfits on the board walk at West Palm Beach … well actually Lake Worth, and there are little boutiques there, and one time, one of the women who owned a boutique came out and she said to me, “Where did you get that outfit?”, and I said, “Why, don’t you like it?”, and sort of made a face, and she said, “No, because I want to get to your supplier”. So, I know I have an outreach and at this very convention Jim Wass, who is from the Washington, DC area … his wife is in material… and I found out at a very early stage in all this that I could not get printed material in Spandex. That it only comes from Italy … at that time. So, when I was living winters before … while I had to leave the House of Roth because of finances, and winter being so bad, and when John passed away and everything, and it was good because I had to give it a rest. The image up there was John and I, and I had to give them a rest so that I could go back and build an image of just me, like it had been at the Woodlands. It was just me.
BB – Right.
GR – So anyway, I went to college, and I was like twenty years older than the professors that I had at the Bethlehem…. in Pennsylvania Community College, and it was a course in fashion, and I took Marketing and Retailing and the whole bit, and they thought I had a tremendous idea. The two professors … women professors … and they … they thought I should really go ahead with this, and I still have that in my mind, and I’ve got an address coming from Jim Wass’s wife who is in material. She knows where I can get this. So she’s given him an address that he is going to pass on to me at this convention … because I met her last year and it’s a continuing process, I hope. I’m teaching callers now in our own area, my own dancers, to take over for me, little, you know, by little, because sure to goodness I can’t keep this up. I keep saying, “I can’t keep this up”. (laughs) Fifty years is a long time.
BB – Well you never know what might blossom out of this. Look what happened to Nita Smith with her petticoat thing.
GR – Well, that’s true isn’t it? And, of course I know a lot of people to contact, do you know what I mean, that could be distributors. Some of the callers wives who are in these areas with their husbands that are doing, you know, retirement places. They would be marvelous people to sell sort of the way Tupperware was sold – through demonstrations to show them what they look like and all. Jack Lasry gave me a big boost. I did something at his place and he just thought that was the most wonderful idea, and he wanted to invest in … in a company but I don’t know how to start a company. That is one of my big things. I’m not good with finances, you know. I can keep things going but I’m not good on finances.
BB – Tell us about some of the big things that you have done like festivals and conventions and so forth.
GR – Well, I’ve almost called in all of the states. I have only 12 states left that I haven’t called in of the 50, and I will … supposedly… I am supposed to complete that next year … this year in September. They are all the states along, believe it or not, the Canadian border like Wisconsin, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Oregon, Idaho, Washington State …
BB – Colorado?
GR – No, no. I have been to Colorado many times.
BB – Utah.
GR – No, I have been to all of those oh, years ago because I haven’t been on the circuit. I refused … it hurt me to refuse dances but there came a point when I had to stay … you know I had five children that I dearly loved and I never missed a birthday because I felt it was very important not to book on their birthdays. Now, you take five birthdays plus my husband’s and my own birthday … that’s seven nights a year … well, you would understand it but some ordinary people who aren’t square dance callers would not understand it. Seven nights a year I could not call a dance because I wanted to be home with my kids on their birthdays. I couldn’t let that pass by. So, I did, I guess, just about all the festivals that you could. I know, I guess … that some of the ones I did I wasn’t ready for, and I’m sure I laid terrible eggs. I don’t know how I ever stayed in calling. I remember one at the stage when we started … when I started. The Akron festival was the big, you know, the high level, and I had no more idea of choreography by the time … I mean, I don’t know, I’d only been calling for maybe six years, and I remember that by suppertime, it was an afternoon meeting, by suppertime I was using my singing call figures in my patter because I didn’t know any more patter. Oh, that was a terrible, terrible time.
BB – Willard Orlich territory.
GR – It was Willard’s … yeah it was Willard’s group actually and I went in for Dancer’s Choice too, once while Willard was still alive, you know, and then I did Callers Choice out in Detroit, which was sort of a … and what’s his name … now these are not ordinary club dances. I’m just mentioning some festivals … out in Illinois and in Indiana, Indianapolis they have certain festivals. St. Louis had their Miner’s Festival and I did that with Vern Arbishan’s group. That’s where I first saw … my gosh, that was so long ago … Jerry Schatzer, who is long now dead, and he was just a little kid. He said, “I’m going to learn to call”, and I said, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jerry Schatzer”, and, of course, he went on to be such a good leader and such a good caller, bless his heart. And let’s see, on the East Coast I did everything from the Sweetheart’s Ball in Florida, Melbourne, or Ocala as it was then, and the Tar Heel Festival … I had never really kept track of the ones … and I’ve never been asked it to tell you the truth.
BB – How about Atlantic Conventions?
GR – Oh well, yes. Those were great weren’t they?
BB – Sure.
GR – There you are…and up in … that’s where I first saw Ed Gilmore take the squares in the Royal York Hotel, and he did … he called Allemande Left In Alamo Style and they didn’t, you know, all … we used to hit it (a single clap), you remember how we used to smack the floor on it and then turn half, not do the swing thru bit … and he stopped the floor, and he said, “Now there’s a way to do this”, and he started in again and … and he had all those squares … I think it was maybe 100 squares or maybe 200, I don’t know how many. Anyway, it was jammed. Every one of us hitting the floor at the same time, so much so that they had to come in from the office and tell us that it was vibrating the building and that we should not do that particular thing any more.
BB – (laughing)
GR – But it was a beautiful thing to be part of. It just set the cockles up on the back of my head, you know, but I really, really enjoyed it. But those were great. I mean, the Atlantic Conventions, I’m sorry to say, didn’t continue, you know.
BB – Well they kinda … they moved to … they were once in Canada first and then they moved to the Washington area…
GR – That’s right and then WASCA sort of took over their own thing, and then the Nationals were … became popular. Then … when I moved … one of the things that I did do that, that … it always bothers me that when I left Massachusetts, and then later wrote back and said I would like to become … keep my membership in the Springfield Area Callers … I started Springfield Area Callers…. and I wrote to Al and Earl because they both had clubs in the area and, I implored them to come to it … and I remember Earl’s letter back to me said very abruptly, “I’d rather spend the afternoon … a Sunday afternoon with my wife”, and I wrote back a real … what I consider a rather nasty letter saying, “Sometimes, when you are … you are … you are just because of your abilities… you are put in the position of leadership, and that is the position you’re in“, and he came out to the Woodlands to the meeting that day, and he became President. I guess he was shamed into it, and they made him President, and I thought, there you go. I didn’t want to be President, and I had no desire to hold office and things like that. I had just too much other stuff going that … so I started that and they wouldn’t let me … they wouldn’t let me … they wrote back and said … in fact it was a… they sent … remember the young fellow Buck … Buckley was it?…. he only called for a little while, and then he went into politics I believe. Do you remember him? Good looking young fellow. Anyway, he came right to the dance I was calling out in Pittsfield or up in that area and said, “No”. That they had talked it over, and because I had gotten a divorce, and had taken my children and gone to Canada they didn’t want me to and I thought … that really hurt me, you know, because I mean, I started … and I kept on working on it and was involved with the beginning of N.E.C.C.A., which was the New England Callers and all. So, when we got to Nova Scotia we … I started the Maritime Callers, which is now … it had … they are having their 25th Square Dance Convention, and it includes the five Maritime Provinces. So, that was started by the House of Roth. I invited everybody … put a big stop sign from the highway. One of my dancers was the head of the highway department and he gave me a stop sign, and I put it right in front, and it said “Stop. Do not enter these doors unless you have a positive attitude”, and boy, we got off with a bang, I’ll tell you.
BB – Sure.
GR – And that’s still going after 25 years. It’s changed from being Maritime Callers Clinic Association to being … which is … time is very important, you know, to being the Maritime Callers and Cuers Association, and I’ve always been active, like in Callerlab. I never have run for the board. Never even tried to run for the board. I wanted to prove that just ordinary people like me and like other callers like me … that ordinary ones … that we could have some impact, and so I am always very outspoken about my beliefs, and I can back them up with a lot of experience, you know, and I just stay with being like that. Even since I’ve been here this year somebody said to me, “Well, you’ve been on the board a lot longer than I have”. It was Tom Miller and I said, “Well Tom, I’ve never been on the board at all. Never ran for the board at all. Never even had an idea that I wanted to”. There were some other personality reasons why I didn’t want to get involved in the earlier Callerlab … you know… organization.
BB – Just looking … checking that tape I’m just about down …
GR – I told you I babble on.
BB – Oh no, no, no, were not through yet.
GR – Oh dear.
End of Side A
BB – OK we stopped for a second to turn the tape over and so, continuing on. There are so many questions that I wanted to ask you. One of the questions does get a little profound. OK. (laughs) One of the questions that I have been asking people I’ve interviewed so far I’ve said, “What do you … where do you think square dancing has been and where is it now and where do you think it might be going?”
GR – All right. Where has it been, that’s the first one. It has been at the stage, you know, you know what you have on in that television set? (Ed. Note: she is distracted by the television)
BB – Yeah.
GR – It is positively gross and I’m sitting here just fighting it. It’s got snakes and spiders and I will be dreaming about that (laughs). There’s just terrible looking things. They will be crawling over people’s arms and stuff, and the news cast … and I don’t know what it is but it was distracting me.
Yes, where it has been. When it got started, and everybody said that was the heyday, I think it was the heyday for the times that it was, as far as numbers, and as far as people’s outlook about the activity was so beautiful, and that’s one reason why it appealed to me. Here was an activity that had no drinking, you know, you could go there with your husband and not feel that somebody else was going to steal him away, or he was going to have someone steal me away. The action of the dance … and I felt beautiful in my square dance clothes, you know, I’m such a big person. I always have been, not this big, and it made me feel very, very feminine and I loved that. I used to, as a little girl, help the church sextant who, who was the custodian of the church, ring the big bell and I often wondered what that man must have witnessed because, always on Sunday, mother had me in a full skirt, and I’d go up and the skirt would cling to me but when I rode that bell rope down that skirt went way out around me and I thought … you know, I loved the sensation of big puffy skirts floating out around me … so I thought … I mean the dress and everything about it was, and is to this day, a marvelous, marvelous thing. Now, your claim … and I will honestly say, and this is a little bit of critique against myself. I remember convincing Al and Mary, when they came up to my house, trying to convince me not to run a callers school with Ron Schneider, and in the end I convinced them to run a school, and he stopped at Earl’s house on the way down back home to Connecticut, and the two of them got started, and of course, I only had three callers at my first school and he had 48. I’ll never forget those figures because, you know, he had the name … they had the name and the two of them together and that was how they got together sort of, and the thing is that I believe with the advent of callers schools, that have become the way of the square dance activity, we have weakened the leadership. Now, that is a criticism of my own as well. People come and they think because they have gone through their session at a callers school that they then have what it takes … and along with that, sort of thought and honesty in … in defense of them, the people … the callers that I think have weakened the wonderful aspect of square dancing and have been less qualified than those of us that worked hard at becoming a caller, and watching other callers, and all these other kinds of things. The world has changed too. The advent of television, which I think has been the worst introduction to mankind that ever was … all we had … I did not allow television in my home until I was divorced, and I had my five children by then, and my three girls grew up without television, and all of them did excellent in school, and all of them went on to college. My two boys … then my first husband, on the first Christmas, gave us a television set, and when we moved to Canada I allowed them to take it out of the carton for the first time, and we watched certain things, but they grew up with it. But, with the advent of television I think the … the world has become more cynical and more … what should I say, less inclined to appreciate the deep … or to be aware of the deeper things, or to express the deeper things to one another. You know, the love of mankind to mankind and all, and that’s a sad, sad statement. But I do think that running caller’s schools … and … and I have watched this, and I mean, you can stand back and watch it. Of course the young fellows today don’t realize it because they weren’t around back when it was so different. So, they are thinking that it is a wonderful activity, and I think most of them have … there are some marvelous young leaders. I’m not saying that they’re all this way. I just think that we have put out too many callers … that’s what I think, that are poorly trained. Not because we did a poor job at callers school, but because it is the art of working with people is a difficult art to teach, and that is not what we are teaching in callers schools at all. We are teaching choreography, and, you know, sequence and formations and showmanship, but we are not teaching them the depth of the feeling that people … that the people have, you know, towards the activity. I mean it’s just something that’s elusive that we aren’t doing.
Where is it going? Well, if you had asked me this question before last night I would have told you that I honestly … where I feel myself phasing out of the organi … I might be phasing out of it. I honestly don’t know. I think to myself, “What’s it going to be?” Then last night I’m with a group of real intelligent people. They call for and dance with and learn to … with the Tech Squares out of MIT in Boston. One of the young fellows, Clark Baker, has an absolutely fantastic mind. He gets booked in Japan, and he was out here in Los Angeles a week ago, and he has never done a singing call in his life. He has never even tried a singing call in his life, and it’s all technical, and he is a dear, sensitive, young man. His mother was a cheer leader with me in high school … I was a cheer leader in high school and in college, and she was a cheer leader with me so … yeah, so I have a special feeling towards him because he is her son and she and I were good friends in high school, and we see each other only at class reunions. All right. Now, he kept telling us about these … the way the Tech … some of the Tech squares, and it’s only a few squares but it’s a beginning , how they dance mirror image dancing. Now, we use that term ‘mirror image’ when we talk about one side of the square and the other, but that is not what they are talking about. They are talking about the glass mirror on the wall, so that if I said to you … so if you’re a head man and I said to you, “Square Through four hands around”, if you look in the mirror it looks like you are doing a Left Square Through. So, you have to interpret a Left Square Through and then … OK … In other words, I would say to you … all right … then when you reach the outside you then have your left arm ready instead of your right and so … you would … I would say, “Swing Through”, and you have to do a Left Swing Through. In other words, everything is mirror and I said… I said, “You mean they could really do this?”, and I mean, “You guys can really call and have them…”. “Absolutely“, and uh, uh … I mean … then he told us about this other thing that’s called, ‘Stable’, and I said “Stable, as in horses?” No, he means … he said “‘it’s like, stay still”, where one person can not move so everything … but everything can be … but everything … he can turn but he cannot move off the spot. So, for instance, if you were in a line of four and this man, let’s say, was on the end of the line and you all have to turn toward the middle and pass right shoulders, instead of him moving, all of you would have to pass by him. In other words, this one person in the square … and just the thought of it … I mean there are aspects that I have never thought of. Now, the third thing is called no … ‘Elbow’ or ‘Nose’ dancing. You put your right arm on your hip and that becomes your facing direction. So, when you’re squared up, if you were the head man, you would stand with your right side of your body toward the center, and your partner would be facing your back with her right elbow up, and then everything is done as if that is your nose.
BB – Wow.
GR – Isn’t that mind boggling? So, as I say, if you had asked me that question before last night I… I honestly wouldn’t have had this aspect that apparently, because of the images that they get on the computers and the technical development of all of the stuff that they can get on the computers (a second invention that I feel that is a great source of hurt for mankind) … you know, because of that, these people who are so technical minded, they aren’t satisfied with ordinary square dancing, and now, at this point, I believe that there has to come two roads – square dancing and mind technical games, and I think that it needs a different name, and I hope somebody starts a different name for it and comes up with a name for it. You know, that’s what I hope. And the other thing is, if we are on the roll of square dancing, I have long felt that people still think it’s something you drink and do in the barns, and get drunk, you know, and whatever, and even after all these years, you know, they still think that, and I decided that I wanted to do … I teach ballroom and I teach round dancing and Country Western. I had over 200 couples go through a series of six lessons… not all at the same time. No, I would only take 20 couples in a session. That is all my room really could hold nicely and I just had them waiting to line up. So, I had over 200 couples, 204, in six week increments all through the winter for about three winters, and so I decided that I would offer instead of just square dancing … and I needed a name, and it was Harry Taylor from Florida that was talking to me on the phone one day, and I said, ”You know, I think we need another name for it because maybe the reason we’re not getting” … there is such a backlog of people now who have dropped out of square dancing, and had such a bad experience, plus the ones that have never had it in the schools the right way that maybe we need to call it something different, and I’m going to offer a class involving ballroom, round, square and country western and so, that is what I’ve done the last three years. I’ve offered all of them, and we do, on one evening, we’ll start out with … we work on the Tango in this particular class I have. They are really small classes, but we are working on the Tango, the Argentinean Tango…. for the ballroom kind. We are doing Cab Driver for the round dance portion which gives them their basic two step rhythms, and country western, we are doing a thing called Campbell Mixer which Cal Campbell developed, and then I added to it so it would dance a little better and square dancing. And what I’m finding, and I’ve done this last year and this year too, is that they would rather square dance than anything once they get into it, but to get them in I had to offer them something different. So, I do less and less of the other forms of dance during the night and more and more of the square dancing ,and once they’re hooked, you know what I mean, once they’re hooked, they would rather do square dancing.
BB – And what do you call it?
GR – I call it Interactive Dancing. Harry gave me that name. He said, “Why don’t you call it Interactive because every one of them is dancing with other people”. So, that’s what I call it…. Interactive … my Interactive Dance Class. So now you’ll hear people when I have the flyers up over on the bulletin boards in the mall, the little mall, just a little mall, you know, I’ll hear people standing in front of the flyer, and I heard one say, “Well, what is Interactive Dancing”, and the husband said, “Well, read underneath it says, its this and this and this and this”. So, people are starting to know about it, you know what I mean, and of course, the ones in class certainly know. So, I don’t know if that is going to help. I mean, something has to happen, and I’m just afraid that the leadership changes … it has changed.
BB – Well, what’s you secret of recruiting.
GR – It is still word of mouth. I do put flyers out … on a … once a year I have a Snow Flake dance. In the worst month of the year, January, and in Nova Scotia, you know, January can be … you can be without power. It didn’t happen this year at all. We had a mild winter but … in January, usually around the third … third Saturday in January or the last Saturday in January, I run this Snow Flake dance, and I have … at Christmas time I have a letter that is all poem, a poem. I enjoy writing poetry and it is a poem … saying, you know, we have liked you as our friends, and yet we have never been able to really give you a gift, but enclosed you will find a coupon … and an inv … personal invitation to come with us … and it’s all rhyme … to the Snow Flake … annual Snow Flake Dance at House of Roth in Clementsport, where we go to enjoy dancing, and then there is a little coupon that looks like a
dollar bill, and it is just in black in white, not colored, with green edges, so it looks attractive, you know, and then I put stacks of these out on my desks, and my dancers … now we are not talking dancers like you used to have in Wilbraham, you know, I mean, we’re only talking … on my roster I have twelve squares and a half… twelve and a half squares of dancers, and it takes me four nights to get all of those people in the different categories, you know, the Mainstream to the Plus workshop, to the Saturday night Plus dance, and the Wednesday night … is my A 1 and 2 night. OK. So I uh … that is as far as I go… will ever go.
Anyway, and so on this Saturday night no one is to wear square dance clothes, and everyone should dress up party wise, and they come in and I have like the old dance cards ,and it has a snow flake pictured on the front, and you open it up and, instead of blank places, it has a first group, and then I list … always I start with ballroom dancing, and I just have these wonderful CDs from Readers Digest with the big band sounds… all the big band songs that were so great to dance to ,and I play three of those. Then the next tip will be a round dance cued and I will list the round dances so that will give them the chance to see some people doing round dancing, and usually about the fourth … and the third one will be Country Western. OK, I will teach one line dance during that set, and then the next will be the beginning square dances. Lesson Number One. I call it Lesson Number One in Modern Western Square Dancing, and in my hall that I dance 3 squares at the proper size… I had seven squares in that hall. In the square … in the lobby where I can only dance one, I had three squares, and in the other room where I can dance three squares we had a banquet table set in there because we all brought food, and had a real big, you know, food thing. I had two more. So, I had all those people dancing. Now out of that, I might only get two squares. You see, I don’t stop my class. In other words, I overlap. I don’t finish one square dance class even though I am calling it Interactive I have already started the next one, and I let them come for ten weeks if they want to and bring other people in. Do you know what I mean? So the Snow Flake Dance has probably been the best idea I have had in that
area, but we are talking rural, Bob. You know, they drive 30 miles but, you know, there is only 300 people in our town. So, they will come 30, 40 miles to take square dance lessons and come on a regular basis after that at least once a week, and that is good. I’m happy with that and financially it at least pays the oil bill. (both laugh)
BB – The big oil bill.
GR – You don’t have one out in Albuquerque.
BB – No, that’s right. Well, that is all very interesting Gloria. One other question that I have been asking people … staying a little bit profound… do you have any regrets in your career? Anything you’d wished you’d done differently?
GR – I’ll tell you what I wish. I wish that … I’d never wish that I was a man, OK? I am very happy that I was a woman, and even though I was big and everything I loved the feminine part of … I used to wear long full dresses, you know, that was my trademark in the earlier years, but I have … I have wished that I wasn’t hurt so much by people who didn’t give me credit … I mean didn’t even recognize … not, I don’t mean I have to be recognized in a big way but … I’ve been … let’s put it the other way round. I’ve been so grateful for the people like yourself, Earl, Al, Max Forsyth, the ones who were callers ahead of me by seven or eight years. They were calling before I was, you know, and you guys were even longer than that but … they accepted me as a caller … it wasn’t until I got out and mixed with other callers that I realized that the people like out here in the West didn’t know anything about what I could do and still don’t, and you know … for one …
BB – Well, we had a little interruption there for just a second. We were just talking about regrets.
GR – If I have anything to say that wouldn’t be a regret is that I wouldn’t have met all of these wonderful people and now that I am alone … if I had been just a square dancer, and Johnny had passed away, I would not have been able to keep into it. Now I still can keep on as a woman square dance caller, and I can go to dances. I don’t, because you know, my physical health isn’t such that I can, and I don’t have any nights left that I can do that but I could go to an event like this and feel very comfortable coming to Callerlab or going to a National Convention, and been doing some of the panels and stuff. I feel very comfortable doing that if I want to, and if I can afford it. I have not become rich square dancing, and I don’t know any rich square dance callers, and even the retired square dance callers I don’t know any rich … and perhaps that’s not fair ,because we do give, you know, you watch these singers, performers, Snoopy … Snoopy Dog Dog or whatever his name is, you know.
BB – (laughs)
GR – Some of these people, they make such to do about it, and they get such tremendous amounts of money, and they maybe do five or six big performances a year. We square dance callers go on stage and put ourselves out on the line night after night, after night, and in your cases, you and Al’s and mine, and for me now fifty years coming up … you know, and we give of ourselves… we give ourselves totally over. There are some times if I had any regret is that I get lonely on the stage because I look out and see me giving those people a great time and I am enjoying giving them a great time, but I’m lonely. I’m lonely that I am not out there having a great time, you know. (slight noise in the background) He’s saying good bye to you, you know. (laughs)
BB – OK.
GR – But as I say, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing with my life at
67 years old if I wasn’t doing the teaching of dancing, you know, bringing joy into other people’s lives like that … in that way.
BB – OK. One other question. You mentioned that long skirts used to be your signature. There’s a little controversy now … not controversy really, but discussion about some people think we’re overdressed to attract new people. See what I am saying?
GR – Sure.
BB – What is your thought along this …
GR – I know that a lot of people feel that way. I feel in the area that I’m in, which is remote compared to a lot of the, you know, urban areas in the states. The people can’t wait to get into square dance clothes. Some of them have even, because they are all sewers in Nova Scotia and the Maritimes, you know, they all … most people can sew beautifully. They come into class on number one night, even though I am calling interactive dancing, they come in their square dance clothes. Yeah, the only thing, when we get sub zero weather that’s really cold and windy, and the snow from … gets plowed but the snow is really piled up and blowing around a lot on … on one workshop night a week, and that’s a Wednesday night, I have told them through the winter they don’t have to wear square dance clothes if they don’t want to, and even with that, some of them come with them on, on some of the bitterest night, but no, I … I believe if it’s true, it’s because the leadership in that particular area that it’s coming from has made it so…. because the wives of a caller didn’t want to bother dressing. Not that I … I mean that I can understand that it can be very tiresome to dress for them, especially if they go and sit and don’t dance and just collect money at the door. I think that they might be excused from it but that is no reason why the rest of them couldn’t. No. I would like to see people … you know, I get a kick out of it, you know, they don’t want to
wear square dance clothes some of them say, and yet they come in the prairie skirts and the prairie skirts don’t look near as pretty without the full petticoat underneath making them stand out. They look like angels and beautiful, feminine women when they are dressed like that you know. I would … I hate to see that happening.
BB – Well we still have some time on the tape. (all laugh) We have plenty more tapes if you want.
GR – Oh well, no, no, no I really bored you to death I’m sure Bob.
BB – Oh no, not at all. It’s very, very interesting. I’m having a lot of fun.
GR – Are you having … I bet you are, I bet you are.
BB – I really am. It’s been such a pleasure. I’ve gone through what almost 50 tapes now …
GR – Does that mean 50 callers?
BB – Fifty interviews.
GR – Wonderful.
BB – Still got … every day goes by I … somebody says “Oh, you’ve got to go and talk to so and so”.
GR – Sure.
BB – That’s the reason I’m here … was to do …
GR – Well, I was surprised to see you. I didn’t know you were going to because I don’t think I’ve ever seen you at a Callerlab, have I?
BB – Well, I’ve been to several back before but then I got out of square dancing for quite a long time when Fran was sick.
GR – Yes.
BB – It got to be too much of a pain for me.
GR – Oh sure.
BB – So. OK. You have very well answered many of the questions that I had and I certainly appreciate your taking the time. (all laugh)
GR – Well, thank you for asking Bob. It kind of shocked me. I know something your brother said when I was living winters in Florida … South Florida and he came to one of the callers meetings, and we had the Red Boot Boys were supposed to do a clinic, but it turned out that only John Williamson did any talking, and it turned out that the other guys didn’t do any talking at all but whatever the subject was that John Williamson was talking about at the time, your brother came along behind him and leaned over and said to me, “Boy, am I glad we got in square dancing when we did. Those were the good days”, and it shocked me because, you see, I felt that I came along so far afterwards that … in other words, you guys were calling so far ahead of me … but when it came right down to it, it wasn’t that far ahead of me, not in relation to when you’re looking back over so many years, you know, so I got such a shock about it. That’s why I told you I had a shock tonight again … hey, I guess I am one of the old ones, you know.
BB – Well, a lot of people that I’ve talked to said they really felt as though they were in the right place at the right time. You probably feel the same way.
GR – Yes, I certainly was. Hey, I was. I had you guys. You were the masters, you know what I mean? And I … you know, most people didn’t have that. You know, most people … I remember … I just wrote an article back last year about Frank Kaltman, how he’s the one that taught me, actually worked with me at a time when everybody in New England had sort of warned me to be careful of that guy when you go to these Atlantic Conventions, you know, “He’s a dirty old man”, or words like that, and I was a little apprehensive because it was one night late, and I was walking through the … one of the hotels there that we were all in, and it had the exhibition … exhibit in, and he had the Folkraft booth, and it was … he had … it was Chalfont Hadden … remember they had the big sliding doors that would come through these smaller rooms off the main … and so he said to me, … went like this … he just gestured to me, “Come on, come on”, so I started and I had my record case and if he tries anything boy, I’ll hit him with my record case, you know. And we walked into … and he closed one set of doors. And then we walked into another exhibitor’s booth. and he closed another set of doors, and after the second set of doors he turned around and he said, “I think you’re going to make it and one of the things that you need to know how to do is to cue and prompt contras correctly”, and he took me and he started me in, and for about an hour he worked with me, and he really pounded away, you know what I mean, and that was really very nice of him.
But the person that introduced me to contras was Al at the Windsor Sherman Hotel when he had those weekends up there… the first weekend I ever went to, and … and you guys … and I don’t know about you on the contra part … but when you have danced them correctly from the very beginning it’s a terrible pain. It’s just a terrible pain to dance them off the number 1 beat of 8. It’s painful and … and, and I was in the Florida State Convention, and Jack Lasry was MC-ing a session that was trying to promote the idea of contras, and he had … he introduced a man who got up and started talking about … and explained about the music, and saying how the music is the thing. They simply have to … you have to … you have to, you know … and then he got people on the dance floor, myself included. Jack couldn’t dance then, he was already too sick to dance, but I took his wife Carol, and I danced the man’s part, and this man didn’t one time start … I mean start cueing … I mean prompting, so we could start dancing on the number one beat and finally when he finished what he was doing … I was having a terrible time… because my body just didn’t want to move, and of course, I’d lost … I’d been behind on the foot work for what he wanted … so when I went to sit down I was due to call very shortly in another place, and so Jack took over the microphone and he says, “Does anybody have any questions?”, and I raised my hand and I said, “Jack, you know the gentleman who told us about how important the music was in contra cueing and all”, I said “He then proceeded to demonstrate to us he has no idea in the world how to do that. We never once were able to start …” and you could just feel the rest of the room withdrawing, and I could feel it but it had to be said, because who knows who was out there who would say, “I hate contras”, because of the way this man did it, don’t you know, and I said, “I’m sorry that I can’t stay for the answer. I’m due to call in another room”, and I picked up my record case and walked out and I got around the corner and I waited, and everything in the room was quiet, including Jack, and all of a sudden Jack said, “That’s our Gloria. She says it like it is“. (both laugh)
BB – You’re right. Well, you’ve certainly said it like it is tonight and thank you very, very much.
GR – Well thank you for asking me. It is an honor to be asked because it makes me feel that you guys … it’s just like I said in the beginning, you respected me from the beginning and gave me some credit for my little contributions. Thank you for asking me Bob.
BB – Well you’ve made a lot of people happy I’m sure.
GR – I hope, and I’ve also made a lot unhappy I’m sure. Haven’t we all?
BB – Oh Yeah
GR – You can’t avoid that if you are a leader.
BB – Yeah, but thanks very much for taking the time …
GR – OK
BB – We’re on our way to another program called ‘After Party Skits’ and you’re going to participate in that.
GR – Yeah, I’m going to do that one little thing. Are you going to see that?
BB – Sure, sure. I wouldn’t miss that for the world.
GR – Good, good. Let’s see, what floor are we on right know?”
BB – 10
GR – 10
End of Side B – End of interview with Gloria Rios Roth