BETSY GOTTA INTERVIEW
June 26, 1996
Bob Brundage – Well, let’s see this is Bob Brundage
again. The date is June the 26th and we’re at the 46th National Square Dance Convention in San Antonio and talking tonight to Betsy Gotta and her husband Roy. We’re about to get started so Betsy, tell us a little about how you got started in square dancing and what your family life was like, etc.
Betsy Gotta – OK, well Bob, there wasn’t much of a time in my life when I haven’t square danced. My parents started when I was probably a baby – somewhere before I really remember. I started when I was 5 going on 6. The caller who taught my parents had a club for children – actually a series of dances for children at the YMCA in Metuchen, New Jersey. To the best of my recollection what he did was on Friday evening he started early – maybe 5:30 or 6:00 o’clock and he worked from kindergarten through 3rd grade and then forward through 6 or 7 and then the junior high and high school kids all in one evening. We did what we would now call the Eastern Style visiting couple dances and mixers – things that would now be called Traditional dancing because that is what the dancing was at that point in time. Now what that has of course given me is the background to call that kind of dances basically through my childhood memory and recently history of fun. Unfortunately, he also besides calling and working a full-time job and had a heart attack when he was younger than I am now and was told to slow down and didn’t. So when I was about 8 he had to stop calling basically because I believe he died. The man’s name was George Swank. In the meantime I had been dancing with my parents and of course at that time in the early 50’s – this would have been ’52 when I started – 1952 – in the grade school where I went to they square dance – family square dances probably once or twice a year as fund raisers so I’d go with my parents to those dances and my parents who had been involved in dancing started going to conventions. I remember they went to the New England Convention when I was probably 6 or 7. I did not go along. I was too young. I stayed with my grandmother.
I remember my dad has a story that I heard for many years. They knew the caller Ricky Holden who was very famous on the east coast. Ricky Holden was a very charming man and a lot of people did things for him. He talked my mother into giving him a ride to Brockton for the New England Convention. Actually it was the Atlantic States Convention that was in Brockton and he was going to help with the driving. What happened was that there was a snowstorm because these conventions were in the fall and we got really snowstorms. My mother fell asleep and my – and Rickey fell asleep and my dad drove all the way to Boston in the snowstorm. So, the story goes – of course we have the accident different and he pulled into Boston after this long drive wondering about the fact that nobody had helped him like had been promised and the valet came out and said, “ Pach yur cah sir?” (heavy Boston accent) and my dad said, “Hell no. I’ll park it. I just got here”.
BB – Laughs – really good.
BG – But the friendship continued regardless. One of the first dance weeks that we went to we used to go to a week camp which was sponsored originally by Folkraft Records which was owned by Frank Kaltman…
BB- Frank Kaltman
BG – … and they were a based then in Newark. I remember going there and there were 2 Doberman Pinchers which were like as big as I was.
BB – Nosie.
BG – Yes, Nosie. Frank and Ricky Holden started a dance camp which the first year met in New Jersey in ?? State Forest in one of the camps there. They subsequently moved it to Kentucky and it has now turned into the Kentucky Dance Institute after many years. We went there and my folks stayed in contact with Ricky Holden for years and years and years. In ’57 Rickey hibernated – in ’57 I actually got a really good grade on a school project because Ricky Holden had been abroad interview – not interviewing – he was taping folk dances for Folkraft Records and he was Hungary just about the time of the revolution. I did a school project. I did an interview with him and got a very good grade because he had a firsthand knowledge of what was going on in Hungary. In the meantime I would go to the dances and I would dance with my dad. I was very frustrated because my dad was dancing with me. Other people might ask my mom to dance but nobody ever asked me. So, at one of the Atlantic States Convention in Washington I made a button which everybody found very funny. It was one of those big picture buttons and I covered it with paper and said, “I can dance. Ask me”. It didn’t work but everybody had a good time laughing at it.
BB – Good. Your dad’s name by the way?
BG – My dad’s name Art Seeley and he started calling somewhere in the late 50’s. At the Kentucky Dance Institute they had – we did a caller’s school. They did all kinds of dancing. They did square dancing, folk, international folk dancing, what constituted round dancing then. When they were in Kentucky they did play-party games which would be the Kentucky version of dancing. As long as I understood it, as long as there was no played music the bible preachers did not object to it and call it dancing so in that sort of dancing everybody sung the lyrics and you danced the pattern to your singing. We did that and there was a caller’s school. I’m sure my dad got started calling then but I don’t really remember – it was always there. I went to the caller’s school and Ricky Holden was one of the teachers, my teacher in calling when I was eleven. I went with my dad. In that point in time at the end of the week everybody that had been in the caller’s school had to call one dance at the Saturday evening dance. The first dance that I ever called was, “Chase The Rabbit”. There were no monitors. We had a Bogan turntable and there were no monitors. I really couldn’t hear the music and I was scared to death. Ricky Holden beat the time on the table for me and I evidently, from what people told me I did a wonderful job. However, I was so tense and upset by this I went outside, sat on the steps and cried for half an hour and vowed I would never, ever do this again. I was going to dance. I wasn’t going to call.
So, I continued going to dances. Now I’m getting old enough so that we can get into the teenage thing – teenage dancing, depending on your area of the country was getting quite popular. We started going to national conventions in 1961. The first year my parents sent me off on a kid’s tour and I told them, “Uh uh. I’m missing too much dance time. Don’t do that again”. So, in ’62 we were in Miami and I would have been 14 and there was a girl caller – Charlotte Watkins – I think she about 16 – she called in the youth room. She was so smug about the fact that she was a caller that I looked at my partner and said, “ I could do that”. I went home and my dad had a teenage club by then. He was calling for a group called ‘The Church Mice”. It had gotten started from another club that had kids in it but they wanted their own space to dance. So they started this club and had my dad, Art Seely call for it. This was a perfect place for me to start practice calling and I did. Out of that club my dad trained not only me but another caller named John Sweeny who is still working actively and another caller named Ron White who is in Delaware who is still working and a young man by the name of Bob Whitt whom I don’t know – I heard at one point he may still be doing like one night stands, beginner parties but I don’t really know. We’ve lost contact with Bob. So all of these people learned to call in the early 60’s and they are now probably in their late 30’s and still calling. Pause – OK, let me breathe. Tape clicks off and on again. So now we’ve gotten to the early 60’s. Having started calling I figured I should go ahead and start being more public about it and at the next National Convention in Minneapolis/St. Paul in 1963 you’ll find the name of Betsy Seely on the program in the Youth Room. You won’t fine Betsy Gotta because she didn’t exist yet and that was the first place I called at a national and I’ve called at every national since then. I was in high school then and I continued to call and dance and I went to college. I actually made the final decision of where I was going to school based on the fact that near Fredrick, Maryland I knew less than an hour away there were teenage square dance friends and I could have a special life. If I didn’t meet anybody to date, if I could get into Silver Spring, Maryland I could go square dancing. That was how I actually made the final decision of where I went to school because both of these schools were – that were my final choices were equal in academic standards and ratings like that.
While I was in college my dad and I would do the father/daughter weekend square dance every year and a lot of people kind of came out and made sure they came out and danced with us. It was a very big event for us. I continued to as I said to dance with my friends and call a little bit down in Silver Spring and Falls Church, Virginia when I was trying to get through school. In the meantime my father had started calling – actually he started calling for the Rutgers Promenaders when I was in high school. That was on on-campus college age club. They started (aside to Roy) how old are they now, Roy? 37. No, 40 – 42 – they’re 42 years old now – this is ’96 and they started – subtract 64 and they had several different callers before my dad. Actually I called the first dance by myself for the Rutgers Promenaders and we have to segway back a little bit to when I was in high school. My dad was sick – I actually had a little cold too but he was like in the bed. He was not going to get up and go call a square dance. I had no driver’s license because in order to drive in New Jersey you had to be 17. I was 16 – a high school sophomore. My mother drove me up and we went on campus. I was scared to death. These were college people. I called and I did mostly singing calls then – I called everything I knew. In between sets – I did 2 singing calls and took a break then 2 singing calls and took a break. In between the sets my mom made me hot tea and somebody gave me sour lemon drops and I sucked on the sour lemon drops and drank hot tea and kept my voice. When I did everything I knew the dance wasn’t over so I started in again at the beginning. I did everything over again and they didn’t care. They were perfectly happy to dance and I survived. That was my first dance all by myself. After college – the Rutgers Promenaders had never had lessons. When more off campus the then College Advisor told us when he was in school at the beginning of the semester they put up a notice on campus anybody wants to square dance come out and they can square dance and get coached that night and they just started off and they taught people as they went and so at the end of the semester when the projects and exams were getting too heavy they didn’t get a square up and then they stopped activities for the semester. Then they started in again next semester. So, my dad thought that maybe they should do some lessons. This was 1969 and he really didn’t have the time and he basically said, “Why don’t you let Betsy do the lessons?” because I was out of school and kind of looking to establish myself as a caller and that was it. (??) was an adult caller as opposed to a teen caller so the first set of lessons that were held on campus – every lesson was in a different building and it was 5 weeks long. The challenge was finding where the lessons were that week. You know, this was more than they’ve ever had so they were perfectly happy and, of course they were college students and used to learning to learn like crazy. After that I said it was too short. The next semester they got 10 weeks and we did Mainstream in 10 weeks. We did various positions and, you know it was rough and scramble but they go through because they were young and interested. I taught lessons twice a year from 1969 until about 1991 when they started to, when they moved off campus. We started changing our pattern to stay there weekly. Before we were done we stretched the lessons to 13 weeks and that was all we could squeeze in any semester. The problem was that we couldn’t go to a second semester because it was a good six -week break. It wasn’t like adult education classes where you could schedule five-week lessons in between someplace that was close. All these people went home for that six-week break.
Betsy and Roy Gotta Interview
They weren’t even in the state necessarily. So we went through one semester. The interesting thing about that is because they learned early a good square dancing experience a lot of people either remember it fondly or once their kids are grown they may drop out to raise the kids but they come back and they think they come back afterward.
During the course of this I was doing lessons and then I met a young woman named Donna Reed – just like the actress – but it was not the same person. She went through lessons – square dance lessons and she was very interested in lessons and she had this terrible boyfriend. This terrible boyfriend wanted – he was kind of jealous and he wanted her – he would let her go to square dance lessons but he did not want her to go out to eat afterward. I had been involved with a young man who I did not marry – I was engaged to him but he was also very jealous and I thought, “This is not a good thing. I should not date this man”. I spent a whole semester telling this young woman that she should not date this guy because jealous men were just not the right people we wanted to be around. She brought him to lessons the next semester and he took lessons and they split up and about now Roy, “I need you to tell some of this” because the young man turned out to be the man I married but I didn’t know that at the time. Tape clicks.
BB – So now we’re introducing you to Roy Gotta. Go ahead Roy.
Roy Gotta – I thought briefly about ?? My fiancé and I
broke up and I dropped out of the lessons probably somewhere around Lesson 4 or 5 and said, “I don’t need this” because I was only doing it to keep this young lady happy. Brought another young lady from the club who had a very persuasive method to get me to come back into lessons again. So, I came back somewhere around Lesson 7 – picked it right up again. I was fortunate enough not to find it too difficult. So I graduated from the lessons with the Rutgers Promenaders.
That was the spring of ’72 and the following year, at the beginning of the semester there was a square dance and a couple of the girls from over at the Dulles College called me up at my fraternity and said, “ Look, we’re going to a square dance. Betsy’s calling” and it was up in the boon docks of New Jersey and I said, “ Yeah, it’s OK with me but you girls will have to drive because I’ve been kind of drinking a little bit here at the fraternity”. So we went out and got lost – got there in time for the very last tip and Betsy was sharing the program with somebody else and she was not calling the last tip so they needed somebody to fill the square. So I said, “Well, OK I’ll jump in and Betsy jumped in and we danced. We started talking about this and that and the next thing you know we just agreed to dance together at an up-coming convention in September and basically by Thanksgiving we were engaged. So now we’ve been married for 22 years and are one of the unusual teams in the country where the female part of the couple is the caller and, of course I cue round dances.
BB – When did you get started on round dancing?
RG – Got started round dancing in 1978. The Rutgers
Promenaders had just the year before started dabbling with round dances. We had always done them at the club. It was one of the old fashioned type of a deals where there was I think 3 round dances that the club always learned from memory – Frenchy Brown, Flip Side and Street Fair and the club could just do them.
BG – They also did I should mention they were also doing a
couple of folk dance type things – Doubleska Polka and Salty Dog Rag were very popular. And again they didn’t need cues for those either.
RG – People just simply did them. The previous year somebody
had wanted – a young man in the club had started introducing some round dancing. The club seemed to like it so we got to the first dance in September in the fall of ’78 and somebody said – I didn’t remember his name but somebody said, “Where’s so-and-so doing rounds”. And I said, “Oh, he graduated and moved to New York” …
BG – He got a job offer.
RG – … on a job offer so they said, “Why don’t you cue
rounds?” I said, “ Why should I cue rounds?” and they said, “Well, you and Betsy are the only ones who know how to round dance”. So I said, “OK” and they said, “Well, you know how to round dance and she’s got the equipment”. So that’s how I started cueing and that was 18 years ago. It works out nicely because as a team such as this when you can do both people hire us as a team you know, around the country. It works out well.
BB – That’s great. Tape clicks
BG – OK. So, in the early 70’s I was living in South Jersey and I was working for the Rutgers Promenaders and doing guest spots in and around Philadelphia area because that was the closet to where I was. From there, after Roy and I became engaged I started trying to change my venue to working more in North Jersey and I found – I have to say I found it was made easier for me in North Jersey by the fact that there had been a woman caller – I believe from Long Island named Beuhla Samec …
BB – Beulah Samec
BG – … and she was an excellent caller. Because of the fact that there was a good woman caller who was known in the area there was probably much less prejudice or – Tape clicks off momentarily – continuing – so, anyway because Buelah Samek was a good woman caller there was probably less resistance – I don’t want to say prejudice. I mean, too many people talk about prejudice. There was less resistance to the idea of a woman calling and it was a very unusual thing in a lot of areas. There are still a much smaller number of women calling than there are men – we know that. But I never felt like I was going around blazing any trails. I was just me doing what I was doing because I love the activity. I’ve continued to call for the Rutgers Promenaders and I still do and they’re still in existence. Still a Mainstream club but we’ll get to that.
BB – Excuse me. Is Beula Samec still calling or working?
BG – No, Beuhla had a stroke a few years ago and it affected some of her memory and she is no longer able to call. She was around up until a few years ago you know and she is still remembered fondly by a lot of dancers that I’ve talked to. Anyway, what I wanted to move into was the caller’s school. My first caller’s school was sponsored by a dancer’s association – the Northern New Jersey Square Dance Association in ’73 – 1973. The summer before Roy and I were married they decided that they needed to train callers and there was no caller’s association active at that time in Northern New Jersey. So the dancers association talked to different people and they had actually 2 schools run by 4 different callers. One was in Northern New Jersey and one was on Staten Island and they had my dad and I work on Staten Island with these callers. We turned out, without really planning it, because of our different personality types we turned out to play good caller-bad caller. My dad would rip the people apart into little shreds – he could teach that this was bad – this was not good – he didn’t change this – da da da – he went on and on and I was there with – you had to move this around and you made a recovery here and we went back and forth. Out of the people that we trained the first year, one of them was Frank Levickio who is still working – another one was named Al Moses who worked until he passed away in and started 2 square dance clubs in Brooklyn. Without Al I don’t think there would be square dancing in Brooklyn. Another one is named Bob Merkler. He never actually turned into a club caller. He found a niche doing beginner parties – one night stands and he could present an excellent program there which of course is a great way to publicize square dancing to the general public so it was very exciting. The first one was Morey Clifford and I’ve lost track of him.
RG – He moved to North Carolina.
BG – Ah, he moved to North Carolina. I don’t know if he’s still calling or not. All of these people worked for a good number of years and some are still calling. Anyway, we did our first caller’s school there and, of course it gave people a chance to hear and see me in a different way. There’s still one couple who came out – they were dancers – they were like dancer guinea pigs for these callers. They still remember that school and how my dad took them apart and I put them back together. So that was the first caller’s school that I ever worked on as a teacher. OK, so now we’ve moved ourselves into the mid 70’s. In ’75 what I was dong I was looking for different ways to expand my calling and respect what I knew. I started working with contras. I had always danced contras. I understood them but I had never really called them to a large group. So I started working with that and in ’75 at the National Convention I called contras for the first time. I was petrified and I was especially petrified when I recognized in one line Bill Castner was dancing and in another line Jim Mayo was dancing and this kind of made me totally weak in the knees. But, experience pays off because I was able to continue and finish the contra. Of course once you start working with such things you – my choreo – not everybody but I had choreography ideas. I wrote a contra – I wanted to include the call ‘Flutterwheel’ in a contra because I thought it was a nice dance feeling thing and I wrote something called ‘The Flutter Wheel’. So Bill Castner looked it over for me and he got great joy out of the idea that we could write – he worked with me to write a totally smooth contra with a modern figure just as he could kind of frustrate is not the right word – just so he could kind of show Don Armstrong that it could be done. Basically Bill was looking for the venue for this contra that I had the idea for to show Don Armstrong that modern square dance figures do time and phrase in a contra. I think that was the fist time that a Flutterwheel was used in a contra. Now it seems to be an accepted thing but that was one of the first times – that’s the first time I can remember. I think I’m the first person who did that. We continued to call and cue and I was working locally and starting to get some – some more regional bookings. People would hear me say, at a National Convention and they’d hire me. These jobs were basically taken for the publicity value because I wasn’t well enough known to get a tour together so I’d drive from New Jersey to North Carolina and back and by the time it gave me I wasn’t making a lot – making any money – I was lucky to break even but it was exciting because people were beginning to hear me and I felt like I was really beginning to make myself known. I went to my first Callerlab in – let me get it right – ’76. We were still in our house trailer. It was just before we moved to our house. I came to Callerlab and I had all of this dancing background and all of this experience but I really looked at the leaders of Callerlab and I thought, you know a cat can look at a king and I came in there with that idea and I found that the search for equality that equals had generated was amazing. I also realized by talking to people because they treated me as equals I could talk to these well-known festival callers and find out that yes, they were on top and were known by the dancers and were hired but they only knew square dancing and I knew some of the folk dancing and the contra dancing and now the rounds that they didn’t know and I discovered when I came home from Callerlab I realized I had a lot to offer different dance pictures. Really I had never ever realized that. It was just – I didn’t know that everybody else didn’t do it the same way. It was just the way I grew up.
BB – Right
BG – Of course I came back and I was taken down to earth very quickly. Roy picked me up at the airport and on the way home – actually he took me out to dinner and on the way home he told me that the sink had been stopped up in the trailer and he needed me to hold the stopper down on one side so that he could put the drain cleaner down on the other side and of course he hadn’t done any dishes since I’d been away so the sink was stopped up. So I came to reality very fast.
After that as we moved into the 80’s we started dancing Advanced. My father was very much against the Advanced dancing. He was very traditional in his ways …
BB – I remember that.
BG – … and he didn’t feel that it was dancing whereas I had the – once I had some of the experience of some of the callers who can make it smooth and dancing I thought it was just another branch. I see the activity as a continuous sort of picture. There are various points where people can stop but that is the part of the activity that suits them. I don’t see each separate item – the contra dancing or the Basic squares or the Mainstream or the Clogging as a separate thing. I see that these are the choices that people have as a continuous pie or something. You can eat as much of the pie as you want. Maybe some people will only want a little piece and some people will want three quarters of it but that’s how I see it. So I would say at this point in time because – back in the early 80’s – because that’s the way I thought. I had no idea also why somebody couldn’t like contra. Why not everybody could like contra dancing and Advanced or contra dancing and Challenge. I actually did impart some of this attitude to some of my friends who I taught to dance. I trained dancers who, I’m happy to say, am proud to say dance more than one program. You know, they may dance Advanced but they don’t look down on just Mainstream. Our home club, the Rutgers Promenaders we’re still a Mainstream club. In northern New Jersey we still have more Mainstream dancing than in a lot of areas but a lot of clubs have gone to Plus and they dance what some people might say a shaky Plus but Rutgers dances Mainstream and they dance it from as many different ways as we can create. I tried to explain this to a gentleman who comes out to the club sometimes. He’s an older gentleman. He supports us faithfully. He and his wife round dance. They’re wonderful people. He just has no concept of how these people think. He came up to one night at Rutgers about 2 or 3 years ago. He started kind of giving me a lecture about – I should workshop one Plus call every night at this Mainstream club so when they went on a raid to a Plus club they wouldn’t break down the floor. I kind of thought and I looked at him and I looked at the couple behind him who are then in my Challenge lessons and the couple behind them a little bit off to left who dance with my Advanced club and the couple behind them off to my right who dance at a higher level of Challenge that I will never think of dancing and I said, “No, I don’t think you understand. They know that if they want to take Plus lessons they can go to where the Plus lessons are offered and they really honestly come here and dance Mainstream. This is their home club and that’s what they want to dance. I really don’t think they want that. I knew that I could never explain to him that some of these people dance Advanced and Challenge and still came to the Mainstream club because it was their social and their home club. He would have no idea. It took me at least 10 years to understand that. I couldn’t understand it to save my life.
BB – Very interesting.
BG – In the 80‘s I continued to expand in various directions. We learned Advanced and we learned Challenge. We were dancing with a man by the name of Bruce Bush who – actually we first danced with Lee Kopman who of course invented half the figures on the face of the earth. He actually used us for guinea pigs more than once in his home club. I still look at a call and go, “Oh, I learned that at Colonial Squares. I can’t remember the call I just remember I learned it at Colonial Squares”. Then Bruce Bush moved into the area. He was originally from Wisconsin and then he moved to Maryland because of his job and then he moved to New Jersey. He was kind of the rival all of a sudden of Lee Kopman. They were entirely different calling styles. The rivalry was only in certain people’s minds but those people really worried about it. Bruce was very helpful. When I learned to call Advanced or was going to learn to call Advanced, Bruce heard about it and I had wanted to go out and listen to his lessons and what he did was he offered me the idea that every lesson he would have me teach a figure or I would do the review tip or something but every week I would do one tip that would allow me to teach and learn at the same time and therefore I would not be like the blind leading the blind and teach a set of lessons all alone. What I would do would be to teach and be guided and that was immensely helpful. We met a man in the elevator today who set me up in 1990 – ’89 or something. The convention was out in Seattle. He actually knew my breaks because Bruce Bush sold the teaching tapes he’s recorded and he sold them to various areas. I called for some programming glitch and I started to say, “Hello, my name is Betsy Gotta” and this guy says, “Oh, I know you Betsy Gotta. This is Rollie and I heard you – and I like, “How did you know me?” “Well I hear your voice every week from Bruce’s tapes” and I never had any idea that this man would know my name. So, through that – actually, my name was being transported around the country even when I was really unaware of it.
From there I started calling my own Advanced group. A man thought you know, there’s Lee Kopman in north Jersey and Bruce Bush in central Jersey but down toward to the shore area there was nobody calling and it was a good hour ride or more for them to come to Bruce so this man actually set us up in a club. He got his church. He invited us to come down. We got some you know, we sent out the flyers before we ever had dance number 1 he retired and moved to North Carolina. We still dance in the church that he got us and the minister and I – the man passed away but the minister and I still remember this. Some very nice people have come out of that. It’s amazing what square dancers will do for each other.
So I’m expanding in the 80’s calling wise in lots of different directions. In order to continue trying to publicize things I made a record. A man by the name of Ralph Trout then was doing a set of – a series of records (coughs) and I called one record for him. Before I ever got involved in making another record – I was teaching a part of a set of lessons – it was a little complicated but basically the man who was teaching a set of lessons retired and moved away half way through. He hadn’t planned it. He was kind of forcibly retired. So he didn’t finish the lessons so he called me and I only had every other week free. I don’t remember what I was doing on the off week but I only had 1st and 3rd or 2nd and 4th so he had me do those I had and someone else do the other set. In this set of lessons was a couple named Ralph and Marilyn Nybart. Ralph is an attorney and he traveled a lot so he missed a lot of lessons. They bought some teaching videos that were out then and they helped a lot but Marilyn especially told me that she thought,
“ Betsy is such a good teacher. We could do better in the video”. So they came to me at the end of lessons with the idea to make teaching videos and that’s how I got involved in the teaching videos. Roy and I had thought about such things but we’re busy people so we would never have gotten the project off the ground without this other couple. The first thing we did was research. We bought the videos that were then out. There was one group. We looked at them and decided what we did not like and what we did not like about those particular videos was that a full square was always on camera rather than the number of people used to do the call. They did a lot of normal dancing with swings and Grand Right and Lefts and Promenade which you didn’t need to highlight the figure so we focused on highlighting the figure. If it was a Star Through that I was going to teach only 2 people would be on camera to demonstrate initially while we did the walk through. Marilyn set up the script that came from the Sets In Order books that were out basically. We revised the script so the definitions were correct. We had the Callerlab definitions. They were coming into full focus then after umpteen thousand revisions. We revised the script so that it would be as technically correct as it could be but still words that I would say. Sometimes the technically correct words do not connive my mouth easily, you know, I have my own way of teaching. We had to take out some of my own jokes. They knew someone who worked for a recording studio. They booked the studio and we selected dancers based on a variety of age. We wanted to show that there were younger dancers in the square dance picture so we had different ages – they were based on – that they worked well together and danced and moved well. The dancing sequences were rehearsed just enough so that they got familiar because I wrote sequences that were as much all position as possible to show what was possible without totally mind-boggling people. Although some people have told me that the first time they saw the videos while they were in lessons it was a little bit mind-boggling. After they danced for about a year or two then they found they understood some of the things I’d done. We went into the studio. We had a director and real cameramen and we learned a lot. We learned all kinds of technical things but they learned too. The people in the studio did not believe that you could make a one-hour video in one day’s shooting. They told me this. Look at the Mainstream video, which was the first one we did, especially in the beginning I looked totally petrified because I was. I was convinced that whatever investment I had put in there was gone and not forgotten because they convinced me I could not make a one-hour video in one day’s shooting and we couldn’t afford two day’s shooting. By lunchtime we had turned the tables and we had convinced them because Marilyn had set up a schedule. Since we had the script and everything we had kind of, she had a time frame for everybody and we were on time. By lunch break were still right on where we belonged. Roy was our technical director which meant that he sat in the director’s booth and watched the camera monitor as much as possible for any technical glitches. There were still a couple that we missed. There’s a good shoulder bump on some men someplace on one of the 3 videos – I don’t know which one – we only caught it later. If we had to redo it then we went back and redid it. So, we finished the video. The first one was Mainstream then we did Plus and then we did the second half of Basic and from them we found out what fame was like just a bit because people started coming up to me and they had the video and they came up to me to tell me it did them good which was wonderful to hear. They came up to me and told me all kinds of things like, “You come into our bedroom every night” which surprised me a little and I said, “Well, this is what movie stars actually feel”. There are people they’ve never seen feel like you are their close friends because they see you all the time. It was a very interesting experience. Because these people had heard me and they liked me and they knew my voice they would come to dance with me in the National and I started getting hired by people. What happens is when you train dancers, after a certain point they start dancing and they continue to dance then they move up in the club structure until they become the people who hire the callers. They remember the folks whom they enjoy. If you’ve trained them and they enjoyed you then you get hired so I started getting hired in more different places around the country. Of course the more people hear you, if you continue to do a good job which is something you work on constantly – I try to – then you get hired more so my career kind of moved from the working a few regional spots to regional with a couple of festivals now and I really feel like I’m being able to be hired in a lot of different ways and do what I like best.
BB – Well, getting exposed at the National doesn’t hurt either.
BG – No, it doesn’t hurt at all. A couple of years ago just so that I could get a name as a, you know, in the challenge field I worked and called as a non-staff dance at the National Challenge and that allows me to be heard in a different place because those dances didn’t always overlap the current one. So, the videos really have allowed me to be seen even more than in the National and National Challenge. The videos are where the people got to know me. We’ve been successful in that they gave what I wanted for me which is to make people to know me. They also paid for themselves and I believe the other couple, Marilyn and Ralph had made the profit that they wanted to because we recently we started talking about another project which is to do the first half of the basic program starting with Circle Left and Circle right. People have called me and asked whether I had that especially for some of the groups getting started in Europe. We know the European videos are different but there is a way to convert them and I know that some people in Europe have seen our videos. So what we want to do with the beginning part of square dancing is make it accessible, make it useful and make it something desirable for teachers in schools and people in Universities, something that is of the quality that the teachers in Universities will be able to use this to teach the Phys-Ed teachers so that their teachers will be able to use this to teach square dancing in a good manner. Then they can use the modern records that are out and – like Jack Murtha’s Diamond Series – and I know there are other series that are being produced. We could even perhaps include – and this is a thought that I have – like a listing for those people so they can have modern dancing. If the children get a good dancing experience in school maybe they’ll want to get into the activity. We’re looking for ways to get people in any way we can manage. Give them a good dancing experience and let them see how it is.
BB – That’s great.
BG – Now I need to go back a little bit and talk about caller training. What Bruce Bush did for me of course he gave ma a great idea when he allowed me to learn by doing an Advanced. I had been working one on one with a couple of callers for several years at the Rutgers club. We started when we were doing lessons. We had the building and we were supposed to be over at 10:30 but nobody came, the building, you know, they closed the building but we could still go out. Nobody could get in but they didn’t care if we stayed until 11:00 so we could – you’d see volunteers to stay after lessons and my friend, Dan who is now a member of Callerlab and an active caller and well known regionally, he would practice on them and I would critique him and from him we did others. Of course, after Bruce did the teaching thing for me I thought, “What a great venue”. I’m still teaching lessons for Rutgers twice a year, once every semester. So there were several callers that I did the same thing for beginner lessons. I said, “OK, you’re going to teach this figure “ and afterwards we’d critique them. Of course, I could pick up anything that they left out right in the next tip because I was there. So that was how I got started in continuing callers training. Of course I did my first school back in ’73 but I hadn’t done any formal school until I was involved with the Caller’s Council School in the early 80’s. In the meantime however I had been working one on one with different callers. When Callerlab started to do the Caller/Coach Accreditation I thought, “Well, gee, that would be really nice but I don’t teach caller’s schools. I teach privately”. So I looked at the list of what the requirements were and in – get it right – in ’83 I went to Caller/Coach School and there I looked at the list of requirements and they had – you could do caller’s schools or you could work a one on one apprentice program. From there I started getting my credits together to qualify as a Callerlab Caller/Coach because it’s so – I think some of the most exciting things are to teach new people to dance and to teach people who are interested to succeed at calling. Because there are some – when a dancer takes that step to become a caller, when they start to take that step there are so many parts of calling that they don’t have any idea exists because the good callers make it look easy. The good callers make it look like you always follow the music and the choreography always works. We know that that’s not true but we can fake it. In fact, I think it’s easier to be a caller than it is to be a round dance cuer. I can get out when my mouth betrays me. Roy has – Roy has some quick thinking but even so it’s much harder because the figures don’t always work.
BB – Right
BG – So, I took the caller/coach test and found that I – actually I took the sample test and found that I could pass it so I took the main test with John Kaltenthaler at Pocono Pines and then we set up the orals. Randy Page had also qualified with the written test and John thought that it would be a good thing to do two at one time so he set it up so that John and I met in Northern New Jersey and I left my car in the parking lot Then he picked up – drove up to Connecticut, picked up Randy Page and in the meantime Jim Mayo drove down and we met about half way at a restaurant and that was where we did the oral examination. Of course, as soon as John Kaltenthaler got both Randy Page and I in the car he started asking questions. I was talking recently with Tony Oxendine who just finished his oral. He said they asked him some question, he excused himself while he went to the restroom so that he could think for a second because he knew he knew the answer. I said, “Well what do you do when John Kaltenthaler’s got you in the car at 65 miles an hour? You can’t get out and go to the restroom, you’ve got to answer the question”. I found it very exciting because they – it was a different venue for them to ask these questions. They played us off one against another. They would have a subject and have a sign that either the pro or the con happens to be which was very exciting. I felt like – again like my first time at Callerlab – I felt like all of a sudden I realized my own potential and I knew that what I had to offer was again a whole array of background that a lot of people don’t have. As you call of course, your ego is involved and things don’t always go smoothly. You reach plateaus. You improve and you do something and a lot of people hire you and then all of a sudden they don’t hire you and you wonder what you’ve done wrong. So these times when you realize that your peers respect you are very valuable because it brings it home to you and it reinforces your sense of the fact that you have something to offer the square dance picture. I’m sure you have experienced the same thing. So, that’s where we are now. I also have been on the Board of Governors for 2 terms and am now in my 3rd term. We were discussing – again, when I saw Tony Oxendine at Roundalab we were talking about why people run for the Board and it was that same sense of the fact that I could tie different people’s viewpoints together that originally made me want to run for the Board. I was the only person who was running for the Board who could talk to the contra people and try to explain what they wanted to the Challenge people and talk to the Challenge people and try to explain what they wanted to the Mainstream and Plus people and understand the Mainstream and Plus people because I do that all the time also. At that point in time I was probably the only person that could do that. There are now people on the Board who do Mainstream through some of the high Challenges and there are people on the Board who understand contra and possibly through Advanced but I’m probably still the only person who has that entire understanding. Now they’re talking to each other and I no longer feel like If I, you know, if I were off the Board I don’t feel like the same misunderstandings would occur because now the people have changed in their more universal viewpoints and understandings there.
BB – That’s great. It’s a wonderful thought. I see what you’re
driving at. So, do you think that’s about it?
BG – I think that’s about it.
BB – Well, this has been a very interesting conversation and I certainly look forward to putting it in the Lloyd Shaw Foundation Archives. So again, this is Bob Brundage. We’re broadcasting here from San Antonio, the 45th National Square Dance Convention and looking forward to many more years with you Betsy. So thank you very much for your time.
BG – Thank you Bob.
END OF TAPE