ED GILMORE INTERVIEW
Brian Hutchskies: Hello, I’m Brian Hutchskies and following is an interview that was recorded in 1961 between Christmas and the New Year at the Mission Inn Hotel, Riverside, California, between the legendary Ed Gilmore and the then President of the New South Wales Square Dance Society, Jack Lubby. This tape came into my hands shortly after I started calling, and it has had a profound influence on my career. Many prominent people in our activity that have heard the tape have commented that it should be made mandatory listening for all callers and dancers. Even though it was recorded so many years ago, the subject matter discussed regarding clubs and callers will always remain current. If you are listening to this tape for the first or 21 st time, I’m sure, like me, you will get a great deal from it.
Jack Lubby: This is Jack Lubby with Ed Gilmore at the Mission Inn Hotel, Hollywood, California. Ed is one of the leading square dance and square dance teachers in America, and I intend during the interview to get some idea from Ed of how square dancing is organized in America. Now to you Ed.
Ed Gilmore: Well, the general format in the United States and in Canada is square dance clubs, social clubs made of neighbors and friends actually, who get together, even in the big cities, that become groups of neighbors and friends, though they may come from quite widely scattered sections of the city, but it is a social club primarily with successful groups, and this is the general operational method throughout the United States and Canada. Instead of open dance, an open dance program.
JL: That, that means that most of your clubs operate from a married couple point of view, is that right?
EG: Yes, you see, this I don’t have to tell you, the necessity for a regular partner is one of the requirements, in general, for square dancing, and this, of course, to find people with regular partners, a married couple potential is the best method. We, in fact, have refused to accept in our instruction classes for many years, to accept singles unless they made arrangements for partners, because the problem of trying to pair off couples and so forth in classes, even for instruction, we found didn’t work. We put the responsibility on them. And I’d say that probably better than 90% of the people participating are married couples.
JL: Getting back to the fundamentals of square dancing, Ed, you do a lot of teaching
that’s beginners, don’t you?
EG: Well, I have. I am unable now because of our continuous travel to conduct beginner classes, but my wife and I taught our classes. Incidentally, in introducing us you said that we were in Hollywood, we’re in Riverside, California, which is about 50 miles from Hollywood at the world famous Mission Inn, and in this area, in this city and in Redlands, which is not far from here. We taught over 4,000 people to dance. Our largest class was in Redlands; it had 764 people in one class there. Here in Riverside, just a block from this building, in the auditorium, we had 542 in one class. We taught classes and called for clubs in southern California for many years before the pressure of touring and teaching in other parts of the country and calling finally just made it imperative that we do one or the other, and so we are touring now throughout the United States and Canada about 10 months of each year for the past 6 years.
JL: And now there has been quite a lot of controversy regarding the dancing over the last 2 years. that’s with intricate calling and fast directional movements, and I understand that you are more of a perfectionist in square dancing. What is your attitude, generally, towards square dancing?
EG: Well, my opinions have not changed a great deal. I was one of the first perhaps to introduce hash, as such. We used it as a device then to simplify square dancing, because when we began, at the time that I started calling, and in my early experience in calling, the method used was to teach entire dances as memorized routines. These were visiting couple dances. This was about 15 years ago. And this was all over the country. They taught memorized routines. In other words, you learned an entire dance. And you accidentally learned in a routine, Right and Left Thrus and Chains, but it was a part of the routine, the whole dance. And then the caller didn’t change that call, he called it exactly the same every time. Same introduction, same figures, and usually four changes of the same figure for each couple in the early dancing; the visiting couple dances. And the problem arose that, if someone was sick for a couple of weeks or went away for a while and came back, that in the meantime, the caller had taught several new routines, and that person didn’t know these routines and found it impossible to dance. So I broke the thing down into basic figures, primary basic figures, in the hope of simplifying it. That they would listen and do one figure at a time. That they would not be required to do any memorizing, and that would put the entire burden of memorizing on the caller’s shoulders. Well, this worked beautifully because they could come and learn Right and Left Thru and Swing, Promenade, and Do-Si-Do, and so forth, and we had about 10 primary figures and about 14 or 15 miscellaneous, or secondary, figures which were not so frequently used. A total of 24 terms and figures to learn, and then you could do any dance. All you had to do was listen and do one figure at a time, and you could do any dance. If a miscellaneous figure came along in a dance, the caller gave a brief walk through of that miscellaneous figure and then called the dance. Well, then this boomeranged. This came back to me and kind of knocked my pins out from under me because the first thing we knew, it became important to see how intricate you could combine all of these figures and how fast you could call them with a competitive arrangement. This put each dancer in competition with the other seven in the set, in a sense, instead of trying to cooperate with them to do a figure, it was who can get there first, and it set up a competitive attitude between caller and dancer. The caller, I dare you to do this one, and the dancer, you call and we’ll do it, you know, let the hammer down. So this is a thing that dancers go through, and we’ve been struggling along with this for a good many years. A certain phase in the beginner’s experience, at a certain place in his experience, some of the beginners get carried away with this quick timing, a test of physical and mental alertness. How quick can I hear, translate, and execute figures. And the quicker he can do this, he feels the greater the achievement. But then he, and he is never more than 10% of the total, this eager dancer, the average person coming into square dancing to join a class or something, will never get to this stage, because he’ll never be that enthusiastic about square dancing. He’ll be content to go once a week or twice a month and dance if people will let him. While the eager 10% that just can’t wait until tomorrow night because there is another dance, are going to get five or 10 times as much practice, you see. And you are trying to serve both of these people in one group, you see. We can’t score them, or classify them. Well, after a time, this eager person gets a little tired of the continuous go, go, and try to keep up and try to learn more figures and try to do them faster, and he wants to slow down, and he will if somebody will let him. If he can find a place where he can dance and just dance for fun. The basic problem, the fundamental problem underlying all of this, is leadership training. The training of caller teachers who in turn train dancers and develop dancers who understand these problems and recognize a few simple truths, and here are those truths. Number one, square dancing is a group activity. I think you’ll agree with this. You must have a group to have a square dance. You can’t do it with one couple. All right, then what will I have if I have a group of people. If I go out and gather up a group to start, in any neighborhood, to start a beginning group, I will have every degree of ability in mental and physical alertness in that group, and every degree of enthusiasm in that group from the least enthusiastic to the most enthusiastic, so it will be a big spread, you see. I’ll have all this in the same group of people. I will have people who will continue but just, well the fella just doesn’t much care whether he ever goes back again, but he comes, his wife drags him. And then, I’ll have in that same group, the couple that wants to go 5 nights this week, and they just put everything else aside, even family, and they don’t have any other, they become complete square dance hobbyists. Now here they are in the same group, you see. Here are these same people. The one looking for a class, another class to join, another place to go and dance at every opportunity, the one skipping every other week maybe, or ever third week, even more than that, and yet, here they are, in one group for the caller to serve. Now, you can’t score them, you can’t classify them, you can’t test them. You can’t say, well, you’re smart, and you’re dumb, and you’re enthusiastic, and you don’t care, you don’t give a darn, so we’ll put you in separate groups. This has been tried. We’ve, I have called all over the United States for select, hand-picked groups of dancers. We’re going to have a high-level club, and they go around the community like a bunch of horse traders visiting all of the clubs, and looking, and watching, and selecting this couple and that couple. And then they get this little hand-picked group together and what do they have? They still have every degree of mental and physical alertness from the slowest one in that group to the most alert one in that group. And the contest begins again. Now who does the caller serve? Who does he call for, you see. If we continue this, this thing far enough, you see, on the basis of how quick can you hear, translate, and do, how many miscellaneous terms can you remember? How good is your retention, your memory retention? If this is the test, we must wind up with one couple too good to dance with anybody. No, one man or one lady too good to even dance with their husband or wife. Because let’s face it, there’s a big difference in each family usually. He may be quicker, more alert than she; she may have a better memory for terms. So, if we go on this choreography kick, this close ordered drill with girls, which involves grabbing everybody you can by one hand or the other in devious ways to get to the comer for a Left Allemande, if this is the end of square dancing, it can only be a process of elimination, and that is what it has become throughout our country, and we’ve struggled with this problem. I think there is a great trend now, it has been indicated in my experience, away from competitive type dancing. There is more emphasis being placed on fun, more emphasis on good dancing from the standpoint of movement to music and rhythm, timing, flow, natural sequence of figures, less importance on which hands do you grab but how smoothly can you turn, swing, how, how well do you time, are you ready at the proper time. Do you give the right number of steps to each figure and arrive at your comer at the correct time. This is essence of good dancing, graceful carriage, and these are the things that never grow old, because dancing, from the beginning of man’s history, has been one of the important ways for him to express emotion. And it is not just physical exercise. And if the emotion to be expressed is competitive feeling, then it is directly opposed to the whole idea of square dancing which is complete cooperation. Now the proof of this is that whenever a set dances a square and it just falls together, everyone is where they are supposed to be at the right time and it flows and it’s smooth and there’s no stumbling or waiting for anybody, and they finish with the music, in time with the caller, or sometimes even in spite of him, and they finish at the right time, everyone applauds like crazy, and they’re applauding themselves because they did the dance. But, if that same set hassles and has trouble and turmoil and they get snarled up and then get straightened out and dance again, and then tangled again and then straighten out, they don’t applaud very much when they finish that square. And it may have been called well, you see, but they didn’t know how to dance well. And some of them didn’t know how to time properly, because they were too busy learning new terms and new figures which, as a rule, are new names for old figures, confusing names for old figures, they were too busy learning figures, you see, they didn’t have time to learn to dance. Now this is our problem. This is no one’s fault. We don’t blame this on callers because every caller does what he knows how to do, and every caller who takes the microphone and gets up and calls will call what he thinks will make the crowd love him. What he thinks will make the people happy. He never intentionally gets up and does things that he knows will drive people out of the activity. But the fact remains that we have grown so tremendously in the United States in the past 10 years, and especially the last 5 or 6, that thousands of new callers have started with no training, absolutely no training. The majority of them didn’t even know how to dance well. They didn’t even know how to do figures well when they started calling. And yet they are trying to teach other people to dance and call for them. And the dancer coming into this sort of an activity is the victim of a circumstance which is no one’s fault but, nevertheless, leaves him in the position of square dancing for a short time and dropping out. And we have had in this country, a year or so ago, we did spot surveys to determine as near as we could, and it ran around 85% turn-over in 2 years. The callers are recognizing this. This I know because I have been doing a great deal of leadership (telephone ring) training, and the number of invitations, requests from callers associations and callers groups for institutes, we usually do 3-day weekend institutes, Friday evening, Saturday, and Sunday. The invitations to do this type of thing for callers associations around the country has grown tremendously. In fact, in this season, I’ve done 20, 3-day weekends for callers associations, area and even state-wide associations. They are recognizing that something is wrong, we’re losing people. We’re not keeping people. There must be a better way, and they’re seeking help. Now basically, the problem is this. Callers get interested in first their dancers, and they’re very enthusiastic, and then they get into calling and they get carried away with, and intrigued with, the game of maneuvering people. You know, moving people from here to there with various methods. They get carried away with choreography, and they are of the opinion that the dancers are carried away with choreography. The dancers are not because we can prove this very easily. You can take any dancer whose just done a figure, he is in the middle of a dance, and he has done a Right and Left Thru and then a Pass Thru, and you stop him and say what two figures did you just do, and he can’t tell you. He does one figure at a time, you see. So if a caller uses a real clever combination of figures to get dancers from point A to point B, they don’t know it’s a clever combination. Only the caller knows that it’s clever. But the caller gets carried away with this and actually, the callers are doing a very natural thing. I did it when I began. They’re calling for callers. They’re calling for themselves, and they find it pretty difficult to believe how little it takes in the way of choreography to keep the average dancer happy. Now there is that small group and, unfortunately, they are usually the callers best friends, a very enthusiastic, overly enthusiastic people, who want to go 3, 4, or 5 nights a week. The caller sees these people every time he calls a dance. They go with him for coffee, and they go with him to festivals in other cities, and they go to the conventions with him. They’re always present. And these people think almost like callers, and they tell the caller what they like. But the average person who comes in, and they constitute 80% or more if we go from a beginning class on the average person never says boo. He dances until he is embarrassed by his inability to dance, until he’s embarrassed too often by not being able to do what the caller has said, or not being able to get there in time, and without ever knowing why, he loses interest, drops out and says, ah, square dancing. And then, if his neighbor says we’re going to join a class, he goes, oh, I tried that, and so we lose two couples, you see. Every time we lose a couple, we lose two because another couple well mention I’m going to go to a square dance class to him, eventually, and he’ll say, nah, I tried that, it’s no good, they tie you in knots, you have to have Ph.D. to do it, and, now this we know. We’ve heard it from so many people. So, what we’re trying to do is to instigate a training program in every area conducted by the older, more capable, leaders, the ones who have gone through all of these phases. They’ve tried speed and complexity, and intricate choreography, and novelty, and mob hysteria, and showmanship, and telling jokes, and everything else; they’ve tried all these things, and they’ve come to the conclusion that the only thing that can be sustained year in and year out is good, comfortable, rhythmical movement to music and good sociability. Tremendous emphasis on the sociability. The enjoying the company of other people and, 00, these men are qualified to pass on information to the newer man, but the newer man with a feeling of insecurity cannot wait until the day he can feel that he has risen to a level on a par with the older leader. So it is quite difficult to get him to accept the fact that he can learn from someone around who he thinks is an old foogy that the activity has past by. Now our problems here are probably very similar to what they are in Australia. I don’t know if you have problems when we discuss this, but we found this to be true that in each community that I have visited for the past 11 years, I’m almost always told by the people, the callers and the dancers in that community, well now, Ed, you don’t know our town. This is different. We’ve got a situation here. We have this problem, or we have that problem, and they recite the same problem that every other community has every where. Because in, in essence, this is the problem. We are dealing with people, and the problems that we have in square dancing is people acting just like people. They’re going to act just like people. Callers are people, and they’re going to act just like people. And if we throw up our hands in despair and say, all is lost because somebody is acting like people, then the best thing to do is to get out of it and try to find that perfect activity. I don’t know what it is. But if we recognize this, then we do the best we can with what we have. Now I can make certain recommendations, and I do. I’m doing this on a large scale in the United States with callers institutes to the leaders. I am making some basic recommendations. First, you have to recognize this, that every activity is just as strong or just as weak as its leadership, and I don’t think anyone can argue with that. Therefore, we must develop strong leaders. The leader, and the principal leader in the square dance activity, is the caller. He must be the principal leader. He must develop good dancers and good dance leaders who will lead dancers insofar as leading them through the necessary steps to make a dance function, to make a club function. Minimum organization. Minimum rules of order and so forth. Sociability is the important thing. Minimum decisions by the group as a whole. Every time you ask a group to vote, you are having a contest. If you ask a group to vote shall we have refreshments next week or shall we not have refreshments, maybe 80 people in the group vote yes, let’s have refreshments, and four vote no. Those four will have indigestion next week. They shouldn’t have refreshments, I voted against it, you know. They’ve lost and that’s important. But if somebody just says we’re going to have refreshments next week, they’ll say, oh, and no one will have indigestion. So you see, avoid anything competitive in square dancing, and it has a better chance for success. Extend the training period. We used to be able to teach people about all there was to do in square dancing in a relatively short time. Ten years ago when we had a very small amount to teach in the way of figures and terms, I took 30 weeks to do it. We used 30 weeks of instruction on a once-a-week basis, and we turned out some pretty fair dancers. They were not dancers until they had danced a year because none of them knew anything at the end of 30 weeks for the simple reason they had not had practice time. Now you don’t learn the piano by going and taking a lesson. You take a lesson and the teacher assigns you your homework, and you go home and practice these exercises 15 times a day for 6 days and then you come back, and you have played this same thing a tremendous number of times. So it is with square dancing. You don’t know anything until you’ve practiced it. With the number of things required for a dancer to participate in the club activity today in the United States, he needs a couple of years at least to learn. One year minimum before he is ready to come into the average club that’s been going for 2 years or more. So we advocate avoiding class, the word class even, form beginning clubs. The word class, you see, doesn’t suggest fun, it suggests work, and almost every beginner that I ever taught in a class, the question that was upper most in his mind when he walked in the door was when do I graduate? When is the class over? And what he was saying literally was when does the fun begin, you see? Someone had convinced him that square dancing was fun. So if I bring him into a class, he thinks this is a period that he has got to get through because this is not fun, this is work, and after I’ve gotten through this work, then I can have fun. So, he squeezed through 10 weeks and graduated and clutches his diploma in his little hot fist and goes out to some square dance club, and the caller just beats him to death with a bunch of things he’s never heard of, and calls things so fast, that he can’t possibly hear, translate, and do because he has not had any practice, and he’s probably home watching television the next week, you see. A great number of our people never get beyond the graduation night. That’s the end for them. They go out and try a club and are horribly embarrassed and give up in disgust and say I’ll never learn. So we recommend beginning clubs. Let a group of people come together and stay together because they feel secure with the people they start with. They know as much as anybody there. We all started from scratch, and we’re equal. A caller, of course, must make it fun then and teach slow, teach very slow, as to the amount of material and dance the socks out of it, every figure that he does. Its great fun if you’re new in the activity to do a Right and Left Thru. You just thoroughly enjoy this great mystery figure, the Right and Left Thru. And the caller doesn’t have to replace it in 15 minutes with Square Thru. They can do the Right and Left Thru, you see, and do it over and over and over and not wear it out. So to get the leadership to teach people and teach them slowly and while teaching them, teach them to dance round dances, couple dances, contra dances, quadrilles, progressive circles, progressive lines even progressive squares. Now we’ve kind of cooked up a few new ones for callers. But variety and formation, great emphasis on music, great variety in music, these things, and I can guarantee that they will never lose their charm. Variety through miscellaneous terminology is a crutch. I know, I tried it. Variety through speed and complexity is a crutch, and I know, I tried it. I used to call at a 150 to 160 metronome beats, and throw the book at them, and used mob mystery and get real soft and then screamed out a command. This is mob psychology, and it will make people scream. And then 1 day I looked up and said where did everybody go? And I began to think a little bit about why do people come? They come for relaxation and fun. If they find relaxation, sociability, good people, good fun, they’ll stay with it. If they find competition, factions, friction, embarrassment, they’ll quit. These problems will always be with us as long as there are new callers. But as callers mature everywhere, and learn these things, they will patiently develop dancers and clubs that will survive. We have many clubs that are 10, 15 years old, and I think we will have more.
JL: You mentioned a theory there, Ed, that you had a turnover of 80% of dancers in 2 years. Do you mean
EG: That’s a national average, yea.
JL: That, that you’d lost 80% of your dancers in 2 years?
EG: Yes. 80% of the people who came into the class activity left in less than 2 years. Now a great percentage of them are lost, as I said, on graduation night. They never get into clubs. Most of those that get into clubs are lost in the first year of their club experience. Db, this is around the country where callers are getting up and trying to call the things that are being published in the magazines to dancers who’ve danced with about 10 weeks or 15 weeks of instruction and danced less than a year. And they, they cannot do the material that’s being published the way its being published and especially when it’s called by a caller who does not know how to time it, or to describe it, or to teach it, you see. So if they, if they do not dance, they discontinue their participation; they drop out. They must dance if they are to stay with us.
JL: It does appear to me, Ed, I’ve been dancing from New York to Miami, around to Los Angeles, and at all clubs, your name is mentioned. That you are carrying more or less a cross for this rhythmic type of square dancing. Now I also find that you have men behind you like Bruce Johnson, who is recognized as one of probably the greatest square dancer in the world. Probably that’s a rash statement, but it seems to be accepted in America as such, and back home in Australia, we accept Bruce as being a terrific caller.
EG: And I second that.
JL: You second that.
EG: I mean Bruce works with me one, two, we have worked as many as 3 and 4 and 5 weeks together, you know. He is on my staff with me at Kirkwood Lodge, and I am very fond of him. I think he is probably the most talented caller in the square dance business. He has a tremendous talent and a tremendous humility and he is a fine person. And Bruce is working exactly the same You said I was carrying a cross. No, not a cross. I have, I simply came to a conclusion as to what type of dancing will keep people dancing year in and year out and keep them happy over a period of time. I recognize that every dancer must go through all of the phases. And those phases, the beginner phase, include this go, go, go business and this like children going out and picking up all the cuss words, the beginner dancer goes out, and he sees somebody do a fancy little twirl and a kick, he has to do it, you see. The fact that it wasn’t taught by the caller and it isn’t called, it’s something excessive, doesn’t bother him at all. He has to put it in because he thinks it’s cute, and he has a chance to show off. This is people acting like people. Now when they get a little bit more experienced, they learn that those things are just excessive, that they interfere, they’re rude, they interfere with other people’s comfort because other people have to wait for him to do excessive twirls, or kicks, or something. And, they moderate in their approach, and as they mature, every dancer comes along with the same general conclusions that I have. The only thing is that I have had the courage in my convictions, and I made, I just decided many years ago, I was told a good many years ago by some of my good friends, that I was going to have to go along with the crowd. I was going to have to do this, or do that, I was going to call faster, I was going to call more involved things, and so forth that that’s what the dancers wanted, and I Said no, I don’t have to do anything. If they stop inviting me, I can stay home and teach new people, and if no one comes to my classes, I can do something else. I don’t have to call square dances I made more money in several lines before I was a square dance caller, and I don’t do it, I don’t call for a living. That isn’t my purpose in being a caller. I call because I love it. And so I told them, I don’t have to do it. And I will not compromise, I will not do what I don’t believe in because it would make me unhappy, and if I can’t be happy and thoroughly enjoy every minute of what I am doing, I would rather be doing something else. Well, the net result of this has been that the people who have told me that I was going to be eliminated, I don’t seem to see them any more. And my number of, I never solicited dates to call engagements, I don’t ask anybody can I come to your town and call a dance. It’s purely invitational, and our invitation list has grown to where the last 2 years if s been over 1,000 invitations per year. So, if the people don’t want to dance rhythmically and comfortably with great variety in formation, great variety in music if they want the go, go, go and the getting grabbed and so forth, they choose a very peculiar way of showing it by inviting me back year after year after year, you see. So I have to believe that what I am doing must have some value, that I must be on the right track. or they wouldn’t invite me back, and I am very happy that callers, a tremendous number of callers, are at least saying I think you’re right. I think dancing must be comfortable, flowing, rhythmical, properly timed, no clip timing, properly designed, no two right hands in succession, try walking, taking two right steps and then two left steps. Well now, two right hands in succession is essentially the same thing but much less jarring because your weight isn’t on the hand. But that’s the only difference. And yet, callers are, are not concerned with working on this phase, which figure follows another in natural sequence. So what I stand for has not been easy to sell or popular because the caller has to work to do the type of calling I recommend. He has to work at timing, and rhythm, and phrasing, and pitch, and harmony, and post command insurance and pre command insurance, dance design, program design, balance of new and old, all the things that go into making good programming. He has to work at knowing how to get along with people, how to handle people, and it’s work, you have to study. This other thing, all you have to do is pick up the latest magazine and read it, which a great many callers are doing, and not even memorizing it, they read it and then move on to the next, you see. So that’s easier to do. It’s easier to do everything they do in this way. So that will always be the most popular way, you see.
JL: Do you think that this method of yours, have you any way of testing whether it has stopped this drift of square dancers.
EG: Oh, yes, yes. There are people, you’re here, why don’t you speak to,well to Bruce. Bruce has applied this general principle in his own home clubs, speak to Bruce, speak to Bud Melenblakey, and Lou Rudersham. They’ve developed a tremendous number of dancers down the San Diego area, and they extended their training periods several years ago, at my suggestion, with the net result that even though they are in a very transient area, this is the largest naval base, you know, one of the largest in the country, and a lot of aircraft plants with personnel being transferred in and out, they have a tremendous turnover of people in the community, and even so, their turnover in their dancers is less, far less, than the national average. A great number of people around the country, now these are a couple right here in this area and many others, Baxter Low is here, there are several leaders here who have put into practice for the past 2, or 3, or 4, or 5, or 6 years, the methods that I recommend, and you can discuss it with them and find out what their results have been. They have increased their percentage held in the activity tremendously by minimizing the amount of material and extending the training period for a long time so that they will have time to teach people to round dance from the first night on, to teach them to do contras, quadrilles, make complete dancers of them from the first night on. And their dancers will never get up and say I don’t like round dancing because they don’t know that they can sit down, you see. Right from the first night they started round dancing, and they know how, so they say I like it. What people know how to do, they enjoy, and it’s when people say, nine times out of 10, when people say I don’t like this, or that, they mean I don’t know how. I tried to do it, and I don’t know how, and I was embarrassed, so I don’t like that, you see. But if they know how to do it, if it’s dancing, it’s good, if it’s dancing.
JL: What are you offering your dancers, we’ll say a dancer, Ed, after 2 year’s period that has advanced very well at that period, hasn’t he?
JL: Well, nothing can remain static can it?
JL: And to keep the interest of your dancer, you must be offering him something new in some way or other. What are you offering at that point?
EG: We’re offering him continuous growth in dancing ability, expansion of the material that we have, the material that he has already learned, continuous new arrangements of things, continuous changes in the music and fortunately now, we have a continuous flow of good music coming. Not always the material that’s written up with it, but the music is improving. To give him, and I, as you’ve noticed perhaps this weekend, I don’t think I have, you may or may not have noticed, maybe you’re not familiar with the material, but I rarely do a singing call the same twice, or do the same dance to the same tune twice. In other words, I do any singing call to most any other singing call tune, and the dancer doesn’t recognize that, in fact, and this you can prove again for yourself, that the dance, the choreography is so unimportant to the dancer, if he says, gee I sure like the song, so dance, well, here where we’ve taught people to listen and dance, if he hasn’t memorized it or learned to records, or he has memorized a routine, we can say to him, oh well gee, I’ll do that for you, how does it go? I can’t remember the figure. What figure is that dance? He can’t tell you to save his soul. And, I’ve proven this a thousand times over. People request a certain singing call, and they say, are you going to do Everywhere You Go? And, I say, yes, I’ll do that for you. I’m happy to get requests. So I put the record, Everywhere You Go, on and call something to it. I may make up a routine as I go or I may call Old Fashion Girl to Everywhere You Go, and he comes up and thanks me. He doesn’t know that I haven’t done the dance, because, you see, it was the music that he likes, and it’s the music he remembers. It’s not the routine. Not the sequence of figures. Now, as to it ever becoming boring, you know, 10 years ago with just the ten primary basic figures that we had taking only those first ten, and we never attempted to go with a program on the first basic 10 figures, the Allemande Left, Grand Right and Left, Swing, Promenade, Do-Si-Do, Right and Left Thru, Chains, Stars, Do Pass So, Do-Si-Do, were our figures then, basic figures we call them, with those 10 figures, we could do 3,700,000 different combinations of those figures. We added 14 secondaries, making a total of 24 figures, and the number of possible combinations, routines that can be made up from 24 figures jumps to 784 septillion possible combinations. So you see, it can never grow old.
JL: Amazing, isn’t it.
EG: It can never grow old. And then you multiply this by the various formations. You can do dances in a circle, you can do dances in lines, you can do dances in progressive squares, progressing to other squares, every time you change the formation, the septillions go up, and up, and up, you see, in the possible formations. And then you add the variety of music, and its infinite variety; it can never grow old. We permit this dancer to grow as long as he wants to grow, and we do not advocate graduating a group of new dancers into a group of 2-year dancers, 3-year dancers every year, a bunch of new people being dumped in with them. The caller having to pull the entire program back down to the capacities of the newer people, you see. Sooner or later, the dancer who has danced a couple of years and knows how to play, will say, look, I’ve served my apprenticeship dragging beginners through, and now I want to dance. And he will be lost to the activity if he is constantly diluted with brand new people that he must pull and push and help, you see. So what I recommend is to let the beginners stay together and grow together. Let them practice and play together until they are pretty well equipped to dance. Then, let the older, more experienced dancers, from those groups gain new membership. And we have this argument from the people, oh we have to graduate them, we need them in the clubs. Well, if you get them in the clubs and drive them out, they’re real nice to them the first night or two, and then no one will dance with them, and pretty soon, the new people are gone and some of the old people are gone because they’ve gotten tired of pulling the new people, you see. So, this does not work. Now, we’ve tried to make them understand that every new person coming, having matured, will want to belong to a club, many will join two, or three, or four clubs, you see. And this is where your new membership growth comes from. And as he simmers down to where he only wants to belong to one club, and this happens after 2 or 3 years, and dance in one club and maybe visit occasionally in others, then the number has grown proportionately, you see. So, what we said, that you must do what you have to do to get a sufficient number of new people and hold them, do what you have to do to keep them and hold them to make the club self supporting and self-sustaining. If it fails, then you combine two new clubs of similar experience, and you will lose a lot of people because it is a change, and they resist change violently. Everyone resists any change violently. What you do is this. And when dancers can do a figure, hear it, translate it, execute it, and not even know they’ve done it, then they know it. And this point arrives somewhere between, with the very most alert and smartest, at around 6 months, with the slowest 2, or 3, or 4 years, and some of them maybe never. We always have a few in each club that you, you swear they will never learn, and yet they keep coming, and if they’re nice people and they’re good people, they’re passed around to everybody in the club during an evening and protected and loved, you know, and if they’re not nice people, they’ll drop out. So, this is something you can’t do anything about.
JL: And, do I understand that on the first place that you teach your dancers, just the new dancers coming in, the first move to music.
EG: Certainly. The first thing that I do, see here, I don’t know what your situation is in your area, but here our problem is that the average person does not have much respect for hillbilly fiddle tunes. They think of square dancing as they’ve seen it in the movies. A bunch of hillbilly people hopping around violently with musicians playing off key, selftaught musicians playing on homemade instruments, and so they don’t have any respect for square dancing, and they have misconceptions when they come into the activity that square dancing is both hillbilly, ignoramus stuff, that it is violent and rough. So my first move is to completely disillusion them in this respect. When they come in on their first night, I have modem, popular, the best sounding music that I can have playing. Good rhythmic dance music, just playing. It’s background music. And when I get them up to dance, I don’t let anyone sit down; I make everyone get up to dance. The first thing I do is get all of them up and get them moving to one of our most modem sounding singing call tunes. Get them moving to it. Moving by Circling Left, Circling Right, and Promenading and
JL: You’re not calling, you’re not calling.
EG: Yes, I’m calling. But I teach with the music going; I never turn the music off. I never walk people through and then start the music. Because this is a bad psychology. This, the beginner, the new dancer says well, what we do is we listen while he’s talking. But when the music starts, we do the dance, and we don’t listen any more, you see. But if the music is going, they listen all the time. So I do the walk thrus with the music going. It’s what we call dance thrus rather than walk thrus. And, I immediately point out to them that there are three rhythms of the music, the down beat, the up beat, and the phrase, and that there is a further rhythm of the music which is the chorus, 64 steps, and that most of the dances we’re going to do will be measured this way. And, they don’t have to count because the music will tell them, and then I have them say “go” with me at the beginning of each musical phrase, and every beginner, virtually every beginner that’s ever come into a class knows where that phrase is and can say go. He feels it. Why, because from the time he was a child, he has learned to recite Little Boy Blue come blue your horn, the sheep’s in the meadow, the cow’s in the corn. And this is a phrase so far as we’re concerned, this is eight beats. It’s one go in the music. So, he knows that, and he feels it when he comes into class. Now, of course, most callers have been teaching him to recite Little Boy Blue come blow, the sheep’s in the meadow, and the cow’s in, and he isn’t satisfied with this, but he accepts that this is square dancing, you see. So it isn’t difficult to teach him to move to music. To teach him to glide and set the heel down and glide forward on the upbeat. I use the term boom-chuck, boom-chuck, you see. And they glide on the chuck, the chord, the upbeat, they set the heel down on the boom. Boom-chuck, boom-chuck, boom-chuck, boom. And I get them moving and conscious of this. And conscious of every so far in the music it says go. And at that point, we begin a figure. And in their first training, I train them from the first minute, in strongly phrased dancing. Then we teach them to break the phrase later, you see. In self-defense, they must. And then there are places where we must break the phrase anyway, in all dancing, where we have the relation of sixes and eight’s, the people for example, you’re across the set from a person, the first and third couples, if you Do-Si-De the opposite lady, it will take longer than to Do-Si-De the comer because she is two steps nearer you, you see. So, you’re going to save those two steps anyway that you look at of the comer. So, Do-Si-Do the comer becomes six steps. Then the dancer does not need to be concerned, but the caller must learn how to put two sixes and a four together and come back out on phrase, and this is why what I have to teach and what I have to offer has not been too popular. It requires work, and study, and effort. Anybody can get up and just recite words and ignore the music, you see. But it will not be sustained dancing. You see, from the beginning of man’s history, ever since the very beginning of man’s history, dancing has been to music, and every form of dancing in the history of the world is
precisely measured to music. I advise against trying to change any existing dancer who has not been trained this way. Everything that I recommend is to begin with a new dancer and develop him properly. Don’t try to change the existing the dancers and say, here you have ignored the music all of your dance experience, now you must listen. He’ll tell you where to go. And so that’s a heartbreaking cost. But we do hope, in this country, that this trend that’s started, and you were saying that I have helped, I have tremendous growing help. There are, most the national leaders now are of the same opinion and teaching in the general, in the same way that I am. Joe Lewis, Bob Osgood, Jim and Ginny Brooks, Bruce and Shirley Johnson, they, Frank Lane, names a few here, probably, Australia. These people, Don Armstrong, all of them, we’re all dedicated toward just good dancing, smooth dancing, comfortable dancing for fun and fellowship, and a special emphasis on the sociability and the fellowship and the fun. And they’re all working toward the same angle. Of course, we have some people that have absolutely no understanding of what we are doing who condemn what we’re doing, you see. But, if, if a man condemns what I do, if he says I’m wrong, I say to him, do it, do what I do. Then I will let you condemn me, you see. And I have never found anyone who can phrase and time properly and use correct design of the dance and knows and understands the music and the relation of the dancing to the music who disagrees with me. It is only those who cannot do this who say, it ain’t no good. And what they’re saying is, I don’t know how, so I don’t like it, you see. The same as the dancer who says, I don’t like round dancing, meaning I don’t know how.
JL: That’s another point, Ed. I notice that in all clubs you’re using round dancing.
EG: Yes, not all, thank goodness 99% perhaps. There are still a few people round dancing, but we have, there again, the same situation we have in square dancing. Too much, too many, too intricate, too much emphasis on choreography, tricky positions and tricky little steps. This happened in America between 1890 and 1900. They wrote thousands of tricky, cute little two-steps, and the whole activity degenerated to just a straight circle two-step. We lost round dancing then. And there are those who would apparently do the same thing again. You see, we have this growing number of composed dances, and the caller couldn’t keep up with it about 10 years ago. He couldn’t keep up with the growing number of composed dances, learn them, and teach them. And up to that time, every caller taught round dances to every square dancer. But then someone started a class, a round dance class, separate from the square dance. And this divided our activity between the people who had the time, the information, the money and went to the round dance class, and those who did not. And every club that we have was divided right down the center. And we have a sad situation now where we are putting on material on the program that part of the people do not know how to do, you see. And this caused a decline in round dancing to a low of less than 20% a couple of 3 years back. It’s grown a little, it’s back to about 25% participation on a national basis from our records, and our records are not complete. We do a pretty good survey because we keep track, we have them set up the round dance programs wherever we go, and we keep track of the percentage doing each round, you see, the percentage of the total attendance at the dance. And it gives us a pretty good picture of what the average participation in a community is, but not really a good picture, you see, because only the enthusiastic dancers, only the fairly enthusiastic to very enthusiastic dancers will buy a ticket to a touring caller’s dance. So, I don’t even reach the average John Dancer who just goes to his club on Tuesday night, you know, once or twice a month, I mean once a week or twice a month.
JL: But you do favor square dancing, uh, round dancing with your square dancing program.
EG: Oh, I definitely, I think it’s, you see, I believe in a balanced meal. When I go, we’re going to go to dinner almost immediately, when I go to dinner tonight, they’ll have meat, I’m sure, and I’ll have meat. I like meat. But I also have a salad, perhaps some soup, vegetable, dessert, coffee, bread, you see. Why? I want a balanced meal. All right, square dancing is the meat of this program, round dancing is probably second in importance, that would be the vegetable, and unfortunately, some of our people have become vegetarians, you know, they’ve just forsaken meat. They, they, they go off into round dance clubs, and then from that to Arthur Murrays, and from Arthur Murrays to folk dancing maybe, and from that to bowling and or water skiing. Usually there’s a trend. But say round dancing is second in importance, contras might be the salad, quadrilles might be the soup or the dessert, you see. And a balanced program of various formations, you see, variety, great variety in programming, not great variety in the various ways to use combined figures to get to the comer because this is deadly monotony. If you analyze it, the dancer does not know what figures the caller used, first and third forward and back, then they did a bunch of stuff, down the middle, Pass Thru, round one, Square Thru, Right and Left Thru, Dive Thru, Pass Thru, Square Thru, Right and Left Thru, Allemande Left. And the next time, down the middle, around two, four in line, Pass Thru, Arch in the Middle, Ends Duck In, Dive Thru, Pass Thru, Square Thru, so forth, and the dancer doesn’t know he’s used a different method The net result is that there’s been a continuous whole evening of down the middle, around somebody, Square Thru, Pass Thru, Dive Thru, Dixie Twirl, Bend the Line, you know, all night long, all from point A to a Left Allemande with the original comer. This I offer is deadly monotony. But great variety and formation, star patterns, double star patterns, all sorts of formations, threes, lines of three, the unbalanced square, great variety of formation with a formation featured in each call, you see, combined with well balanced singing calls, makes for a good program. And this is easy to accomplish. It’s easy to do with study and effort. But it cannot be done by just grabbing the latest magazine and reading something and saying, well look, here’s an interesting one, it combines a Substitute with a Shuffle the Deck to a Wheel and Deal to a Star Thru to a Dive Thru and a Pass Thru and a Box the Gnat to a Change Girls and Allemande Left. Oh boy. They’ll never be able to do this one. That’s, this is a part of the new caller, beginner caller, gets carried away with this idea. Oh well, I’ll tell you honestly, I still love it, I’m fascinated by it, but I’m smart enough to know that the average dancer couldn’t care less when I’ve been real clever. When he’s happy is when I move him continuously through 3 hours of dancing without him stumbling and being embarrassed, and he’s moved rhythmically and he’s not exhausted and tired and wants to dance another hour. I know he’ll be back next week.
JL: Briefly, if you can, Ed, contra dancing. Now you’re doing that. What do you feel about contra dancing?
EG: Well, contra dancing in Australia should be, should find good roots because most of our contra dancing, I’d say 75% to 85% of it comes from England and Scotland and Ireland, primarily Scotch and English. Their long waves dances, and thoroughly enjoyable. You’re dancing in sets of two couples, or three couples sometimes, a triple minor, double minor, you dance a figure, 64 steps with a couple. Then you move down or up a couple and dance with another couple. And it has all the values of both square and round dancing because there is a step to be taken for every beat of the music in contra dancing. You don’t just meander, there is no pauses, you just go, go, go. And yet it’s never rushed and it must be measured in phrases. It’s nothing unless it’s phrased. So it combines the phrased measured value of round dancing with the cooperative mixing value of square dancing, you see. And it’s valuable as such. Quadrilles are square dances measured in phrased, that’s all. And progressive circles and lines and these things are all the same.
JL: Well, Ed, it’s 6:30, and we should have been at dinner at 6:00.
EG: Well, we’re out of tape. I hope all of this has given you some information about the States.