March 23, 1997
BOB: Mike, tell us a little about your background, where you were born and brought up and how you got into square dancing and so forth.
MIKE: Bob, I was actually born here in Culver City, right here in Los Angeles. My folks even grew up here in southern California, so I’m a definite native, Scandinavian background. My father came from Sweden. I guess I began square dancing around 1960. At that time as a youngster I was very much involved in athletics, the YMCA particularly. My mother had attempted for several years to get my father to learn to square dance and he finally did. So, they square danced for a couple years and at that time there were quite a few teenage groups in the Southern California, so she attempted to get us involved. I am one of four, and my brother and I really refused to get involved in square dancing. But, we routinely bet my mother around the holidays on all the Bowl games, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Sugar Bowl. Well, the big bet on the Rose Bowl was if we lost we had to try square dancing. We had to try three lessons. We lost this bet on the Rose Bowl, so that was the thing. So, the next class that started we had to dance. We danced at a little place in the San Fernando Valley called McDonald’s Barn. It was a beautiful barn that holds about 25 squares and a wood floor. There were 17 squares of teenagers at that class.
MS: I was ten at the time and was kind of enamored with the fact that I had all these girls I could dance with. I began to really enjoy square dancing. We took square dance lessons. It was about 26 weeks at that time. We learned to square dance and when we finished lessons there was still about 15 squares of kids, so there were quite a few teenagers anywhere from about 10 years old up to 20 years old. I enjoyed dancing for several years in the teenage clubs. About 6th grade when they were teaching square dancing in the elementary schools, the teacher was teaching us things like the Virginia Reel, Bingo the mixer. I kept telling her this is not square dancing; this is not modern square dancing. So, she said to bring in a record. Well, I went to the caller who was calling for our teenage clubs at that time, a club called the Buds ‘n’ Belles, and he gave me a record. The first record he gave me was Bob Van Antwerp’s “Limehouse Blues” on MacGregor. So, I brought that to the class, flipped it over on the flip side and taught them how to do it. They learned the patterns like square thru, right and left thru, dive thru. They really enjoyed that kind of dancing in squares and the changing partners that you did versus mixers and some of the older music that was at that time. Frank Messina, who played for MacGregor Records, was popular with the TV studios around here, so his music was familiar to a lot of the kids because they heard those on TV programs and such. So, they enjoyed that. Then I went back and borrowed more records from him. I basically taught the class almost five records when the teacher finally came to me, my sixth grade teacher, by the way, her name was Miss Hite. She came to me and said, why don’t you just turn ’em over and call the other side of them. So, I took them home and I practiced these five records and started calling. I would call a tip, maybe a couple singing calls at our teenage club and that kind of thing. I really enjoyed teaching the kids and they enjoyed it so much they kept saying “Why don’t you get another record, get another record.” By the time I think we graduated in the sixth grade, I had probably taught them about twenty different records, teaching them the patterns. And, of course, they knew the figures after a while. I was just so enamored with my importance and all this teaching stuff when I realized I’d put on the music one day to do something else and I had a square out there dancing and I wasn’t even calling! They knew the patterns and had memorized them. So, I suddenly realized I’m not so important in this equation. Anyway, after the summertime in that year of ’63, that’s when I began calling, our instructor for the teenage club I belonged to, the Buds ‘n’ Belles, was a fellow by the name of Bud Brugman. He really was an excellent caller and he used singing calls for patter, which was a big effect, and I really enjoyed that.
He became sick and he couldn’t teach the teenage class that following year. He came to me and said, “Would you do it?” He said he would be glad to help me, he would show me what I needed to do. So, I said yeah if he would help me out. So, I purchased a set. My folks purchased it and I paid them back as I called this class. I think I made $10 or $15 a night and I taught this class in ’63. We had about 8 squares of kids. I continued to teach classes thereafter until I got into high school about 1967 and I was involved in sports. I played football and baseball in high school do I didn’t have a lot of time then until I became a senior in high school when we reformed a teenage club that I taught a class. Predominantly the people involved in this class were football players. The football coach used to give me the worst time about taking his guys out and having them square dancing on Wednesday night. The game was on Friday, Thursday was a no pads day. He said these guys are dragging around here because they’re square dancing and you’re causing these guys to get tired. And, he gave me a problem through the whole year (because his son was one of the guys dancing) and at the end of the year he came to me and said, “All of our linemen have become better linemen because they’ve learned to square dance. He said, I have to admit this to you and I hate to tell you this (He was a gruff old guy), he said my linemen can move better, they’re more balanced on their feet. These guys have become a lot more coordinated and I think he was right. Anyway, that was high school. After high school I went to, I was still calling. The clubs in the southern California area at that time went from club callers to a visiting caller format. So, it began where all the callers didn’t have a particular club to call for, but we called different nights around the city for different clubs. So, when I went away to college I was in New Mexico. I went to Las Cruces.
BB: Oh, did you really?
MS: I started college down there and there was a project in Hope, New Mexico with building a ranch house for a friend’s father. It was a job on the weekends when I wasn’t calling. So, when I wasn’t calling I was up there building this ranch house. I had to work when I was going to school and I would come back to L.A. and call my dances when I had to. But, after a year of that, we had finished the house, there was no work up there, travel back and forth was getting to be a bear, so I transferred to San Diego State and did more of my college in San Diego, I was still calling in Los Angeles, but that was an easier way to get back and forth.
BB: Sure, right, right. So, then how did you get into the National scene?
MS: Well, it was about the time that I was going to dental school here in Los Angeles. After San Diego I got accepted to dental school at USC. I lived right down at USC. It was about 1974 that I took a contra prompters class from Bob Osgood. So, I got to meet Bob and Becky and know their contra group and Gail and I began to dance regularly with their contra group. So, in ’76 we started doing contras and went to the National. My first national was in ’63 and I didn’t go again until ’76 when it was out here again. At that time Bob had invited me to CALLERLAB in 1977, so that was my first CALLER LAB Convention back in Kansas City. That’s really when I began to meet people around the country. People that were my heroes, and people that I had seen in the activity and read articles about. I had gotten Sets In Order since I started calling and reading the articles from different people, knowing the Hall of Fame callers. So, it was at CALLERLAB I really got a chance to meet those heroes. What impressed me because the very next year I was assigned to do, I think it was in 1979 I was assigned to take charge of the Exhibitors Area. At that time we didn’t have an Assistant Executive Secretary, so they assigned someone in the city. So, I handled that job. They liked what I did, so the next year, I think I became Chairman of the Plus Committee. And through CALLERLAB got to meet a lot of the fellows that were my heroes.
B8: Yeah, yeah, Oh, that’s great.
MS: Not only that I think the thing that impressed me about CALLERLAB was at that time it was a place where your heroes became your peers. You could meet and talk with these guys. Everybody was approachable. The guys like the Lasrys, the Dick Legers, Brundages; all the people that you saw their pictures around the country and their records and such. I knew a lot of the fellas from the west coast because I was out here, Bob Osgood, Arnie Kronenberger, and Bob Van Antwerp. All of those guys were influencing me when I first, but, I never met the guys from the east coast. So, CALLERLAB really brought me to the national scene.
BB: Are any of these people that you would say are sort of your mentor? Anybody that influenced your career?
MS: I think as far as leadership and working with people and how I handle myself, I think Bob Osgood was probably my primary mentor.
BB: Yeah, I figured.
MS: As far as calling, I would say my primary mentor would be Bob Van Antwerp.
Because Bob recorded so much on MacGregor and that was the popular label at that time.
BB: That’s great. Off the subject for a minute, do you have any time for other hobbies?
MS: I do. I think one primary right now is, of course, square dancing. It’s my hobby, an avocation. I’m a regular exerciser. I walk regularly. I ride bikes. Because of the coast here I’m an avid beach person. I like body surfing and water skiing when I get a chance.
BB: A regular beach bum, huh?
MS: I don’t too much anymore. I’ve got that kind of skin that’s a problem, so I’m not on the beach anymore. I occasionally like to go fishing. My father’s a real fisherman, so I occasionally go out with my father and do some fishing. I like playing the guitar. Another thing I’ve gotten into just recently that I enjoy to do since going to New Zealand is bungee jump.
BB: Do you really?
MS: Primarily with my kids. But later on now whenever I go through Vegas or I go some place where there is a particular, I only jump with one particular company, so I do a little bungee jumping.
BB: I’ll be darned. Better you than me.
MS: Actually, what it was I heard Jon Jones did it down in New Zealand I said if Jon Jones can bungee jump I can bungee jump.
BB: Okay. It’s not for me, but be that as it may. Okay, well you certainly had an interesting career. I mentioned earlier before we got on tape about a CDP program. So, tell us a little bit about that. How you got involved in it and so on.
MS: The CDP program primarily, my exposure was through CALLERLAB in about 1989 when the program was being developed. I was doing contras at the time so I had some of the background. At the time I began calling, callers also cued rounds, so I had some exposure there. Primarily, I formed a CDP group about three years ago with the idea let’s try it here in an area where we don’t have a simple form of dancing. The entry program here in southern California is Plus. I thought let’s give this a try. So we had it on the same night where there were two other square dance clubs that had classes. And we started every eight weeks, we started a group, my wife and I for a year. Most of the dancers that we had that went through this liked the square dance part the most. They liked the mixers, they liked the contras, they liked the line dancing. But, primarily the people that really enjoyed, the couples, the younger couples, enjoyed square dancing. Gail and I referred them on to the square dance clubs in the area. We found that when people really liked the square dance part went on the clubs, the people that were left were primarily singles who liked line dancing that we could do mixers and contras with, but we couldn’t keep a homogeneous group of couples together, more singles, people without partners. So, we had a difficult time making it go all the way. We had some great classes and great groups. The first part of the night we would teach the program, the second part of the night we would just dance what we had learned. So the experienced group danced the second part and came early to help the new group. At the end of the year we were going to try a second year, but we lost our hall. It was at that time that one of the other clubs in the area said, but the way now that you have Tuesday nights off, could you teach for our group? They were teaching a progressive class that is this new multicycle program
BB: Okay. Well, that was my next question. I don’t think we put that on tape, did we, about the Multicycle program?
MS: No, I don’t think so. The Multicycle concept was an idea of starting more than one class a year with the same group. Years ago we used to start maybe two classes year. But since the program has become a little more complicated, the entry program for a square dance club, we traditionally over the last several years have seen clubs sponsor only one class a year. This club was shrinking in numbers and wanted their numbers to grow so why don’t we start a class every 13 weeks.
BB: Oh, 13 weeks?
MS: That’s basically what they started. They started every 13 weeks, but it made four starts a year and there was always a start in the summertime. After two years of trying this, they weren’t getting anybody in the summertime. Another caller was working it for a while, then he moved, and they had me work it. At that time we decided to go to 17 weeks in stead of 13. With 17 weeks that’s three starts a year, we could start the normal times like September and January and we could also make a start in the springtime. The springtime we find successful because it’s daylight savings time. People come out when there is all of a sudden more light outside when they come home. People are ready to do something.
BB: How far could you get in 17 weeks?
MS: Normally with 17 weeks, an hour and a half group, I’ll get through the Basic program. We move them right along. We close after two weeks. By the third week we’re teaching and I use demonstration squares. Of course, we have a good number of angels. Probably half of our group is angels. Although our first phase is about four squares, we tend to dance about eight squares, so we’ve got a good mix of angels. They come and they learn the Basic program. Some of them that are faster move right on in to the next program. After 17 weeks they can now go to the 8:30 to 10:00 group and come and angel the first group. We find most of them do which helps them reinforce their skills in the Basic program, once again repeating those calls they know. At the same time, when they come to the second group, they’re learning the Mainstream and Plus calls in the second phase.
BB: Is that also an hour and a half?
MS: Hour and a half long, yes. I go through the Mainstream and the Plus program in the second group in 17 weeks also. We find that the majority of those people come back and workshop. They come back again and workshop that group of calls again. So, most of the fast learners go through 34 weeks, they’re out and they’re dancing. The other group, some of them will dance twice with this Basic program and go through that class twice. Some of them will go through the second phase twice. So I find that most of them at least come back and workshop or review.
BB: So, what you’re saying is you get all the way through the Plus program in 34 weeks.
MS: Right, right. The fast people go ahead and do that. It’s interesting this club, the other thing this club does to give their dancers more dance time, is that on their club dance night every other tip is Mainstream. It’s the only club in the area that has any kind of a Mainstream program. But, every other tip is geared toward these new dancers. And if they know any less calls than the Mainstream program, then I send the calls they do know to whoever is calling that dance, so this new class can dance. Because of this program, and other programs like it in this area, there are quite a few dances during the week for new dancers. People who go to those dances, of course, progress. People who don’t, will sometimes repeat the phases.
BB: Of course, in this area you have a tremendous population to draw from.
MS: We do.
BB: But, do you have any secrets of recruiting?
MS: I think one of the best things that’s come around, and it will be announced at this convention, because it’s also been used in the Washington area; we have a radio ad campaign program. An editor of one of the local magazine actually is the spearhead of this program. All the clubs and callers donate money. We have benefit dances for the radio ads. We raise about 4 to 5,000 dollars, and we advertise on the various radio stations. This magazine has an 800 number that people that hear these ads call in. They give their name and address and they are sent a packet of information. At the same time a master list is developed. This master list is then sent to clubs, these people in different areas, their names are then sent to the clubs so a personal invitation can be followed up on. The other thing we find is that personal recruiting is easier because people say, “You know, I’ve been hearing that on the radio.” And so, it clicks in. I think that is a real key for us in the last couple years. The other thing is our newer dancers, the dancers that just begin, they are your most enthusiastic people. They recruit their friends and they dance with their friends. They’re coming early with their friends to dance with them. They all say the same thing, “Mike this is great! We’re the smart ones now.” And yet, they’re reinforcing their skills, and at the same time they’re dancing with their friends.
BB: Well, that’s interesting, but this magazine that you mentioned, they’re the ones that administer this project?
MS: Yeah, the editors of the magazine, Jim and Lea Veronica from OPEN SQUARES. OPEN SQUARES Magazine has been in this area for many, many years.
BB: Okay, I see. It’s a local square dance magazine.
MS: Yeah, it’s a local magazine that has square dance events and such.
BB: Do we get copies of that at the archives?
MS: Oh, definitely, very definitely. Yeah, yeah.
BB: Yeah, I do remember that now.
MS: That magazine has been around for a lot of years.
BB: Now what sort of stations, radio stations, do you choose, Country western?
MS: Well, it’s interesting. She does country western, she does news programs, she does easy listening. She has been doing this for about the last three years now and has a list of the stations that we seem to get more of the calls from. She’ll ask people when they call in what station they heard. So she’s kind of got a formula now. The area for Los Angeles differs from the area down say between San Diego and Los Angeles, because there are areas down there that are now involved in the advertising. And areas that are all the way out to Barstow that are also involved in this. Now the stations that she advertises out in those areas are a little bit different dependent upon whatever ones respond the most, those are the stations we go back to for a second year.
BB: Just give us an example of how much these spots cost.
MS: Good question. I couldn’t tell you the particulars of them. I know that I’ve been involved with fund raising dances, but she really handles that. She’ll actually be presenting this program at this convention.
BB: Oh, she will, huh?
MS: There’s another fella that’s been involved in Washington, D.C.; he’s here at this convention and he’ll also speak.
BB: Oh, okay. What’s the name of that guy?
MS: Bruce Mitchell, I believe is
BB: I mean the name of the session.
MS: Oh, the session will be on, actually at the opening session she will get a ten minute talk; the opening sessions and I think she’ll have a Birds of a Feather session later on that same day.
BB: Well, that’s interesting. So, I’ll make sure I get to see that.
BB: Well, as you know the activity is suffering from a downslide at the moment and maybe this is one of the answers that we need.
MS: I really think we’re just on the edge right now of a boom again. As you’ve seen over the years, we’ve kind of had cycles. I think we’re at the point now where there is a lot of baby boomers, a large group of population whose children are now going away and they’re finding more time. I think a lot of them were involved in country western dancing, the craze it’s been over the last 5 or 6 years. That’s started to decrease or decline and I think a lot of those people are tired of the bars and the smoke scenes and are ready for an activity like this. I think if we’re smart and we market it that way. Of course, this is my age group, I’m kind of a young baby boomer, but still, I’m at that point where I think this is a group that I can relate to as a teacher and running classes. And I think there’s a lot of callers that will find that this group will fill their classes if they’re mart in the advertising.
BB: One of the ideas that I’ve run into in talking with some of the other older callers, many of whom are now retiring and so forth, we’re not getting any young people into the activity. Some have expressed the idea that, well, we’re not because we don’t have any young leaders, like yourself. Do you conceive of any way to, or are any of the people you’re training, do think they may become callers some day?
MS: I think we’ve seen, over the last several years, we’ve seen a decline in the number of callers because a lot of them have retired. We haven’t seen newer callers, as many new callers pick it up. It has become a more difficult thing to master, but we’re seeing
BB: You’re right.
MS: And the other thing is that for so many years the leadership really held on the shoulders of the guys that were the running force of the activity for many, many years. And now that some of them are retired, there are places, and CALLER LAB is a good format I think to develop leadership. A lot of the Hall of Fame callers and the group that is retiring now has been smart enough to kind of target a few people to pick up. I know I’ve really been helped along and encouraged to encourage others and have in recent years gotten involved with teaching callers to some extent, doing seminars and I think we’re going to see more and more newer callers come along, or younger callers, to pick it up. I don’t know that we’ll have the numbers of callers that we had for a while, but
BB: Well, Cal Campbell’s idea, he believes that we should be doing more at the university level.
MS: Absolutely! I agree, I agree with that. I think his COP program and even Jack Murtha’s Diamond Program for the younger grades, I think we need to get square dancing back into the schools, to do social skills. I know on Fridays, about one Friday a month, I’m out teaching square dancing, easy dancing at elementary schools because the fifth and sixth graders, if these kids have a good positive experience, they’ll be our dancers down the line. They’ll pick it up in college and what have you. It also teaches great social skills to men and women at a critical point in their life, so I think it’s a great activity. Colleges and universities, you bet.
BB: One of the things I’ve been concerned about is, you know, our modern generations have no rooms for any
MS: I agree.
BB: When I was in sixth grade I remember we, and before that, we used to march in and out of school and recess to John Phillips Sousa.
MS: Right, right.
BB: Then I was in the Boy Scouts, and we always marched. Then I was in the service, and we always marched. Kids today are not getting that kind of training.
MS: Right, they’re not getting that kind of training. I agree. I think that the music they listen to has a beat that largely hits them on the side of the head. You can’t miss it. But, we don’t have the same kind of beat in our music, our older music. The most common school series today still is the Ed Durlacher Series from ’51.
BB: Is that right?
MS: I’m just amazed that we don’t, now we’ve gotten a lot of Bob Ruff’s stuff, and Wagon Wheel stuff from the 60s, Murtha’s, Jack Murtha is using some stuff that’s more modern. But, we don’t have music that’s upgraded enough and that’s one of the reasons why Jack’s program with the Diamond Program, he’s gotten some of the other labels to donate their music. I know I just got some music from Rhythm Records, which I’ve been affiliated with for quite some time, and Wade’s got some good music that I’ll do a singing call patter series for the schools. And this is a Half Diamond Program, so we’re only looking at about ten calls on these programs. We need some music that’s a little bit more in line with what they’re used to hearing so they can enjoy this as much as, enjoy the rhythm of it.
BB: Excellent point. So, well, I’m glad that, I don’t think we see this type of thinking or program anywhere else in the country, as far as I know, do you?
MS: What’s that, school programs?
BB: Yeah, or this multi?
MS: Multicycle program? Actually this is a program that’s been around for a long time. Darryl MacMillan did it, I think back in the 80s.
BB: Yeah, but it’s spasmodic. Right?
MS: Right. Well, it’s interesting because it’s been used in different ways. That’s one of the things that we’re advocating at this convention, as we did at the last convention, that those that are trying it come forward and let us know the different ways. And there’s at least no less than ten or twelve ways that I’ve seen the program run and run successfully. Depending on where your destination is, if you have to go to Mainstream or Plus. You know Bob, I know that there’s a lot of discussion now about changing our programs, you know, and combining them, but I’ve been a long time advocate of the Basic program. I think it’s one of the most, one of the great programs. All the basic that you need for all the other programs are in that program. It’s a perfect program to make for our entry level. So, who knows what will come out at this convention, but I would like to see us have a simpler form of dancing, like to see more and more callers teaching a shorter period of basics to let people get back to the sociability and the fun of square dancing.
BB: In general, do you find that there is not a good quality of teaching in our activity?
MS: I think that’s a factor, but it’s one that we’ve begun to address. I know CALLERLAB has addressed this even back in the early 90s, late 80s, early 90s. Our focus was on teaching. Our themes of our conventions had been that way. I think CALLERLAB for a long time has spearheaded the educational process with callers and encouraged them to continue their education. Unfortunately, we’re seeing less and less callers spend the time and money to go to a convention. More of them, through CALLERLAB accreditation for caller coaches are attending callers schools, even for brush up to kind of get their juices going again. But I think the emphasis on teaching is swinging the pendulum back the other way. It used to be where you just had guys teaching. And we still have guys out there that don’t understand calling that much or understands figures and definitions, and don’t understand the learning process. But we’re seeing things about teaching. For instance, right now there’s a guy on the internet that regularly submits articles about teaching. He’s a teacher in Florida. I don’t agree with all his concepts, but he’s got some great ideas, and the fact that it’s out there for people to read is terrific. Another thing I just picked up on the internet, that you’d love, I don’t know if you’ve seen this (sound of briefcase opening). One of my dancers in my class said I want you to click this on and I want you to see and just read this and enjoy. It’s a square dance callers’ course from 1949, Ed Gilmore. I mean, you read down Bob and you read those things that Ed had taught in a callers’ school in 1949, and except the figures, so much of that is the same. And he’s quoted Lloyd Shaw here and he’s added his more of his own elements. It’s a wonderful document.
BB: Isn’t that interesting.
MS: And here it is on the internet. So, we’re starting to see some more information. Interestingly enough a lot of callers subscribe to the internet, so this material is becoming available through that. It’s becoming available through CALLERLAB. Lloyd Shaw Foundation has a, I’ve been a member of Lloyd Shaw Foundation for many years.
BB: I got the impression that most of the callers’ schools that are going now spend 90% of their time talking about choreography.
MS: You’re right. But, there is also a number of young leaders that are now caller coaches, a new generation I should say; Tony Oxendine, Jerry Junck, John Kwaiser, Ken Ritucci. A lot of the young guys that are not only teaching choreography, but they’ve been involved in it long enough where they are teaching the social skills, teaching the interaction with the dancers, they’re teaching learning concepts, why people learn, how they retain information. So, we’re seeing a shift back, I think you’re right. In the 70s and 80s we became enamored with the complexity of the choreography, but I think through the late 80s and 90s we realize we’ve made ourselves so specialized that we can include the numbers and the social dancing we used to have. So, I think the pendulum is swinging the other way.
BB: I know a friend of mine, a caller in Albuquerque, went to Tony Oxendine’s callers’ school, the last session, who said that they didn’t allow anything about (tape ends)
MS: I think the pendulum is swinging back the other way.
BB: That’s really great. Well, getting back to your own personal career. I really enjoyed these thoughts on the overall. Tell me about some of the big events you’ve been to, like festivals and National conventions and so forth.
MS: My first exposure nationally was when I was teaching a class in the early 70s. One of my couples began to, well he had, the gentleman of the twosome there, was shipped to Saudi Arabia and had to work in the oil projects. So, his wife would tape my classes and send them to him. Well unbeknownst to me at the time, he had a group there of Americans and Swedes and Scandinavians, primarily, a couple European couples there that he was teaching to square dance using my tapes. About 1985 I was invited to do the Swedish National. It was like their third national convention they had in Sweden. Gail and I picked Bob Osgood’s brain a little bit and Bob and Becky talked to them about taking a tour over there. They explained that they had taken a lot of tours, so we kind of got some information. We took about 45 dancers to Scandinavia. We stopped and did the Swedish National. There was 1200 people at this Swedish convention, They had a Basic/Mainstream hall, and a Plus hall and then they had a large swimming pool where they swam. There was a bowling alley in this facility and their dancers just came with their back packs. They got lockers and they would dance a while and then they would go swimming and shower and they’d come back and dance and they’d bowl — it was interesting. We danced on an indoor track, which is an unusual surface for dancing, but it was wonderful. In the main hall, which we said had close to some 180 squares in there, we danced alternating Basic and Mainstream tips and the other hall off to the side was a Plus hall. But the majority of the dancers I took were Plus dancers, but they could not dance in the Plus hall, because in Scandinavian, of course, it’s year three of dancing before they actually dance Plus and they know their Plus calls upside down and backwards. I called with two callers from England. We had a wonderful festival. Did a callers’ seminar. At that time, many of the callers from Scandinavia were brand new. They were 16 and 17 years old. So, I did a couple callers’ sessions over there. One of the questions that sticks in my mind that they asked me, one of the young callers said, “If we were to come to America and call what would be one thing you could advise us on?” And I said, “The thing that I could advise you on most is when you call, open your mouth.” Because when they talk in Sweden, they rarely move their lips. To be understood in calling, and listening to these guys, a couple of them called during the meal times, they hardly opened their mouths. I said, “You’ve got to open your mouth and enunciate so the dancers can. But I think that’s true today and true with any callers, but especially Swedish callers. Anyway, we finished that tour in through Sweden. We also took the dancers to Norway. We danced with a club from NATO, actually many were from NATO in Norway. They only danced to records. And we were going through the front door with my set and my records and the gal said, “You know, I’m so tired of dancing to you.” I said, “I just got here.” One of my records from Sets In order and I recorded others, was over there. It was patter, a whole album of patter and they had been dancing to this record for almost a year and she was just tired of dancing to my stuff. So very humbling.
MS: But since that time we’ve taken groups to New Zealand and Australia. We’ve gone to Japan several times. I’ve called many state festivals and region festivals all over the United States.
BB: Any interesting thoughts with these non-english speaking groups that you’ve called for like
MS: Like in Japan?
MS: I think it’s really a wonder that these people enjoy square dancing as much as they do. They are so precise. I think that the one thing I find about dancers is there is a lot of non-verbal communication that goes on between you and your dancers. In here, in the United States as well as overseas. But, you become acutely aware of it when you go to Japan, as you probably know. You realize that much of your communication from the stage with people is your smiles, the waves, the handshakes is all non-verbal, you don’t exchange words that much. And so, you have enough tools that we’ve already learned in dancing and the things that we share non-verbally to enjoy a whole evening where you don’t share the same language. I’ve always been fortunate that most callers that go over to Japan that we always have an interpreter handy, so when we teach something or we have a conversation we can exchange ideas.
BB: It’s interesting. I just talked with Ed and Audrey Palmquist and they’ve had experience with the same thing in round dancing. Of course, that’s the influence of the international ballroom people, because it is international and they all use the same terms. We all know that square dancing is a new language.
MS: Yes, no doubt. Well, it’s interesting, another thing about Japan is that when I first went there, there was very little round dancing, and still in some of the clubs there is very little round dancing. But in the summertime when I was back over in Kobe, we actually had a festival there that they were setting up equipment in the small hall and they were setting up for square dancers, and I went into the big hall and they had that set up for round dancers. I said, don’t you guys have this backwards. And they said no they had more round dancers scheduled. And they indeed had a ballroom for round dancers. They had two Japanese couples that were young and just looked great together and they were teaching. Here was some leaders in Japan who really had some personal magnetism. They attracted a lot of younger people to their dance group. And here indeed we were calling the square dance to about a third or a half of the number of people that were in the round dance group. It shows you that the leaders and the dynamic nature of your leaders really makes a big difference.
BB: Certainly. Well a minute ago you talked about records. Tell us a little bit about your recording experiences.
MS: I’ve recorded on, of course, on Sets In Order, a couple of their tracks that they had and then I did one, their promotional, I did a couple slots there. When I first started I was recording for a company called Wild West out here, which was also owned by a fellow who owned Windsor Records at the time. I had a short stint on a label with a round dance cuer that was Happy Tracks. I later went on to Thunderbird and Bob Bennett. Then I went to Circle D with Wade Driver and then on to Rhythm Records, I’ve been on Rhythm Records since about 1985-86. I don’t think Bob, that there is any person, this is just a personal observation of mine, since 1974-75 when rhythm Records started that has more of an influence on how our music has changed in square dancing than Wade Driver.
BB: No kidding.
MS: One of the reasons I say this is because he was probably the first person to bring some of the concepts from the radio and country music into our square dance music. So, now when we play square dance music, you not only have a lead line and a solid rhythm line of the song, but when the caller finishes calling there are other instruments that come in, whether it be a fiddle or a harmonica. So callers, and this I think has influenced a lot of the way callers have called to some extent. We used to, of course as you know, every beat had a word. A lot of patter, and there are still songs where we get back to that. We’re seeing more of the younger callers start to pick up some of the patter that we had years ago. But, also at the same time we’ve been able to quiet down a bit and have a caller be more of a prompter like years ago, because his music filled in the spots and he doesn’t have to say all the words. So, I think at the same time it has progressed music along to a little more modern, but it’s brought back some of our concepts of prompting and it’s also made us aware how our calling has changed to some extent so that we use some of the patter like that.
BB: I’ve heard Wade talk about that at one of the big convention. I heard him talk about the technology of recording and how he mixes his music together. It was very interesting.
MS: It’s interesting because I went back to him the first time I ever heard him talk about music and said why are you telling everybody how you put your music together? Because he said it was just going to improve music in square dancing. Consequently, we’ve had Chaparral pick up some of the same concepts. We’ve had Royal pick up the same concepts, since those guys learned from Wade. So, a lot of the music we have today has been recorded in the same vein that Wade used back in the 70s.
BB: That’s interesting. Getting away from this type of thing for a minute. There is discussion around the country now about we’re over dressed, our costuming is a little bit too much. Do you have any thoughts on this?
MS: I’ve always enjoyed, personally enjoyed our costume, and I think at large conventions and festivals it’s nice when everybody dresses up. But I also think that at classes, and when we’re trying to recruit new dancers that if, and particularly when you do demonstration, if you have a group out and your demonstrating square dancing to somebody and your costume is so elaborate, people think that we’re professionals. Our dance is complicated enough where it looks like we’re professionals, we’ve practiced for a long time. Unfortunately, if we want people to join our activity, I think we have do demonstration and show our dancing in costumes that people can imagine themselves in, imagine themselves wearing that. People look at us and say we look professional and I can never imagine wearing those dresses. So I think if we dress in costumes that are what somebody would already have in their closet; comfortable shoes, long sleeves for men. You know, dresses for ladies that are comfortable to move in. I think we’ll get more new dancers. When we get to the big festivals and we have certain times when we want to dress up that’s great too. I don’t mind. But, I think we need to be a little bit more open.
BB: I was surprised at San Antonio National last year, there were not a lot, but there were some people just walking around in ordinary street clothes and shirts and wearing their badges and so forth and evidently dancing the same way. I just couldn’t get over it.
MS: I don’t know. I think some of those people that when they come into the National like this will wear their regular clothes, but they’re not dancing. They’re going to exhibits, their going to seminars
BB: Well, maybe.
MS: Still, when I look out and I call at a National, I look out on the floor and I still see the majority of people in recognized square dance costumes. I find at workshops, particularly if I go down to some of the retirement communities and call down there, at the day workshops the people wear regular clothes. At night time they are more apt to dress up. But, I think that the costume is relaxing in the retirement areas more than in any other place.
BB: One of the questions I’ve been asking most everybody I interviewed is where do you think square dancing has been and where is it now, and where do you think it might be going?
MS: Well, I think it’s grown, it’s changed over the years. You know we had that period at the turn of the century in the 1900s where it kind of fell down and Henry Ford picked it back up. You get Lloyd Shaw and people like Bob Osgood with his magazine and all the energy that came out after the war period and it really boomed and I think we saw a tremendous change because of the simplicity of our society. We are a lot more complex in our society now and I think that we’ve been in a down slope for a while. But I think once again we’ve got, as I said before, we’ve got a baby boomer population that’s our biggest group of people right now in the United States and I think we’re going to see square dancing as a great activity for those people. A lot of them have been stuck in front of their TV for a while. They’ve had a few years sitting in front of their computer on the internet and I think those people are ready to get out. I’m finding that quite a few of the couples in my classes, one of them has been either on the internet or busy with their job or with their kids in the scouts or whatever, and they want to get out as a couple. If square dancing is smart we’re going to capitalize on that and we’re going to pick up a lot of new dancers. So we’re going to start to swing back up again.
BB: Are we going to get any couch potato people?
MS: Interesting. I think there’s always going to be those people who want to sit down. And it’s funny that we talk about them, because we went through a period in the United States where everybody was exercise conscious and we still are to some extent. But, yet, as a nation, in the last six months to a year they said now there are more heavier people in the United States than there has ever been. So, we’ve seen people that have exercised and then dropped off the bandwagon, but I think square dancing is an ideal activity that’s not a sweaty type of exercise. The average person can relate to it a little bit more. I think if we’re smart, we’ll capitalize on the health benefits and the social benefits of square dancing and we’ll get those people too. Not all of them, but we’ll get some. It’s pretty easy to rent a video and sit down in front of your TV.
BB: Well, we can’t let this tape go by without mentioning Gail.
MS: We shouldn’t, we really shouldn’t. I’m fortunate that I met Gail in high school and took Gail to her first square dance. I was calling a dance and they refused to believe I had a girlfriend that didn’t dance, so they pulled her through the whole night. From the first dance I ever took her, she danced to whole night.
BB: I’ll be darned.
MS: Later on I taught her with a group of high school people in a class. We married in ’71. She has really been a big part of my calling and my life since that time. We just celebrated our 25th anniversary. She does my booking. She handles a lot the affairs. She says “No” better than I do, so she allows us to kind of balance our family and my schedule. I’m a practicing dentist, as you know, and have been for twenty years now and have a very active dental practice Monday thru Thursday, then if I travel on the weekends Friday, Saturday Sunday, I might be out traveling, She balances that with my kids activities.
BB: What about your family? What kids do you have?
MS: I’ve got two boys now that I’ve been pretty involved with all the way through from Indian guides and scouts and baseball and boy scouts. My oldest son is an Eagle Scout. Last year he joined the Marine Reserve. He wants to be a firefighter, so he joined the Crash Fire Unit of the U.S. Marines and is now on reserve duty. He’s going to school now to pick up his college credit for Fire Science and he is basically a firefighter in the Marine Reserve. Once a month he goes down and, much taller than I am, big kid. My younger son is almost 15 now. He’s in junior high school. He recently got into playing the guitar. He plays his guitar a lot. My older son plays guitar and I play guitar, as a hobby.
BB: Any aspirations for calling?
MS: I don’t think so. Both my kids, I have taught their classes in grade school. But because in our area we don’t have a lot of younger kids groups anymore, because my kids have always been involved in sports and scouts and such, they’ve never really had that much time to get involved in square dancing. Gail and I go a lot so we try not to force it on them. Both of them have called with me before on occasion. One of my greatest memories was when, because my older son had called several times with me, singing calls and such, but my younger son hadn’t. So, I was doing a Christmas dance and I said listen you guys why don’t we work up a rendition of Jingle Bells. My older son and I practiced a bit and we got the younger son to practice once or twice and he said, “Dad, this is just Jingle Bells. I know Jingle Bells.” I said, “But it’s different Jimmy (Mark is the older one, Jim is the younger one), it’s different Jim when you get a microphone in front of you, you get up there amongst these people, sometimes it’s kind of hard to remember the words.” He said, “Dad, I know Jingle Bells.” So we could never get him to practice. We went up and did the dance, got in front of the group, my younger son got the mike in his hand and he looked out there and he couldn’t say a thing. His mouth was wide open and his jaw was, and of course, my older son is laughing. We’re looking him, we’re waving at him trying to get him to open up his mouth and sing. They went home shortly after that tip with some other kids to a house that was close to the dance. After we picked them up, my younger son popped out of the back seat, because they had been sleeping in the back seat on the way home. He popped up and said, “Dad, you’re riqht! When you stand up in front of a bunch of people you kinda forget stuff.” Yeah, sometimes you forget everything.
BB: Tell me, Mike, in your career looking back what, you said 25 years?
MS: Well, I’ve been married 25 years. I’ve actually been calling 34 years.
BB: 34 years, okay. Looking back on that, any regrets? Anything you wished you’d done differently?
MS: No. You know there really isn’t. Early on Arnie Kronenberger, Bob Van Antwerp, not so much Bob Osgood, but Arnie Kronenberger, I especially remember saying to me, “This is great fun, and you enjoy calling and stuff, but have something else to do beside this as a career.” He said you could make this a career if you wanted to but he said to have something else, so that if you got tired of traveling and running around, you would have something else to do. My mother felt very strongly about that. She was a tremendous help to me early on in calling. If my head got too big she’d kick me in the fanny, and so I think I had good people that gave me some good perspective over the years. I’ve been fortunate that those people have been such a help to me.
BB: That seems to be pretty much a universal answer, too, Mike.
MS: Is that right, really?
BB: Yeah. Most everybody says now that I don’t think I would have changed a thing. A lot of the guys that I’ve talked with and the gals say, you know, one thing they’re so happy about, they seem to have been in the right place at the right time.
MS: I know that I came along a lot later. But I think I was fortunate enough to have learned and read articles, because at that time there weren’t callers schools. The only person that was teaching callers in the southern California area was Bob Van Antwerp. So primarily the stuff you read out of magazines and you picked up with books and people who would say to think about this or, you know. So, I had the right people at the right time to help me, and gave me the right perspective. I think so many guys get enamored with the fact that we’re on the stage. The bottom line is you put your pants on the same way everybody else does. I’ve learned a lot socially from other people.
BB: Do you have any solution for the drop out problem?
MS: I think making our dance form simpler. Getting back to the social part of the activity, stressing that more. I know that the club I’m working with right now, immediately when new dancers join the class they become part of the club, they’re invited to all the social events, the picnics, and we need to get back to that where that becomes as much a part of the activity. I think we have room for club run clubs, I think there can be caller run clubs. And for a while I thought you know if the clubs that are run by people and their square dancers go down the tubes, we’ll always have clubs that callers will run. Maybe that’s what we’ll get to eventually. But I feel like we’re coming back out the other side. Although we’re finding a lot of people are not so much willing to run for offices and be part of that, there still are a number of clubs where there are people real actively involved. You can’t discount either.
BB: This has been a very interesting hour of conversation. I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with me here, Mike. I know you’ve got a bunch of things on your mind that have to be done in the next couple of days.
MS: Yeah. Well, I was happy to be invited. My primary reason that I’ve been involved as much as I have is through CALLER LAB and my involvement in CALLERLAB. Finally becoming Chairman, I’ve been on the Board since 1982, so I’ve met a lot of the real leaders in the activity. I think over the years the people that have really tried to make a difference have been involved with CALLERLAB and I’ve gotten a good chance to meet those people.
BB: Did you ever get to study under LLoyd Shaw at all?
MS: I didn’t. No. My information through Lloyd Shaw really came from Bob Osgood and his exposure.
BB: Well, I think we’re just about down to the end of the tape. Once again, Mike, thank you so much Good luck to you. I’m certainly happy to get to know you finally. I see your name around here and there, even though I’m not that active in the business as such anymore. Thanks again very much.
MS: I enjoyed it. Thank you.