Murtha, Jack: CALLERLAB Milestone


Jack Murtha

February 28, 1998

Bob Brundage – This is Bob Brundage and today we’re talking by telephone to Yuba City, California, Mr. Jack Murtha.  The date today is February 28, 1998.  So Jack why don’t you tell us where you were born and brought up and a little bit about your life before square dancing.

Jack Murtha – OK.  I was born in Weed, California which is north near the Oregon border.


BB – Yeah.


JM – A little lumber town.  And I went all the way through school, elementary and high school there.  I loved, I got interested while I was in high school in dancing, just at our high school dances and at regular public dances around the area, and it became a very important thing to me.  We had a number of high school kids who all followed a certain band in our area, and wherever they played, why all of us got together almost every Saturday night and danced.  And had a great time even if it meant hitchhiking to get to the dance.  And so music and dance, I was in bands, and choirs and things like that all the way thru, music and dance has always been a very important part of life for me.  I had quite a record collection when I was in high school.


BB – Was your family musically inclined?


JM – My dad played the piano and sang publicly at weddings and things like that.  My mom didn’t do any of those things.  And they tried for years to teach me to play a piano, and I never could learn that.  I never had any luck at all with that, I don’t know why.  I have a hunch now that part of the problem was that they wanted me to play songs that I didn’t know or care about.  And I have a hunch that if they were trying to teach me to play some of the music I liked, why I might have felt differently about it. But at any rate that never did take, and so it’s one of those things that wouldn’t have been connected to music but I found other ways to connect.  High school, where I went to high school was a high school with a principal that didn’t care much about anything except making sure every boy in high school was out for football.  I think we had 70 boys in high school and the team was about that big.  And that made a change for me because when I was, my grandfather ran a big mill for Langdale Lumber Company in Weed so I had some good pay in those days, jobs that I could work at, at the factory and earn money and things like that and I worked doing other odd jobs for them around town.  But when I got to high school and this football thing came up why I decided that I did want to go out for football, and so I took a job at 6:00 o’clock in the morning going up to the high school to help the custodian so I could go after school and play football.  And that turned out to be a lot of fun and we had an athletic tradition in that area that was pretty awesome.  We took on schools much bigger than ours,  and generally beat them.  So all that was part of my period of time growing up.  In 1945 when I graduated from high school I went in the army and served, we were being prepared in Camp Roberts and places like that for the invasion of Japan, and fortunately the war ended before we had to do that.  But I did spend two terms in Japan for about 8 to 10 months each time, going over and being some of the first people in Japan.  And it was a very interesting experience also.  When I got out of the service, why I went to college at Chico State, and went all the way through getting my Physical Education major, and in that process I changed my major objective.  When I went to college my objective was to be a coach but I did my student teaching and did a lot of work with other little high schools around the area and I remembered what it was like for the coach that I had in high school.  You didn’t have time to teach or coach.  All you, you had to get the field ready, and put the lines down, rake the track, and all the time was spent with the PE classes and the coach was getting things ready and then playing the games.  And I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to teach.  So I changed my whole objective from coaching in high school to teaching in the elementary school, and ultimately with the idea that I would become a PE consultant that worked with teachers and worked with schools.  And I set myself a goal of teaching in class rooms for at least 10 years so I’d know and understand teacher’s problems when I started working with them.  And I did that in two different districts plus working, running recreation parks departments in small towns and it was a very, very fruitful way to get in contact with what I really wanted to do with my life.

And after 9 years, why I decided that I had enough background and understood what I was doing well enough, so then I went looking for a consultants job and ended up down here in Yuba City with the Sutter County Superintendent of schools as a PE and environmental education consultant.  And that eventually built into a Director of Instruction where I spent a lot of time setting up in-service programs and teaching teachers about teaching and things like that.  And I worked for them for I don’t know how long, maybe 20-25 years, something like that.  Want to ask any questions or have I skipped anything?


BB – No that’s great.  I’m just interested in how you got interested in square dancing.


JM – While I was still in school, my dad was involved in a folk dance group, and I never, one of my great regrets to this day is that I never did go folk dancing with him.  And he liked that, and from my dance experience when I started in college I was already through my recreation department programs, running folk dance groups and in college got involved with folk and square dancing.  In those days in California there wasn’t such a thing as a square dance club, they were all folk dance clubs.  And at that time we did something like six folk dances and then one tip of squares.   And each person that came that liked to call knew one square dance and they did the same thing every night that they went to a dance, and sometimes more than once during a night:  Take A Little Peak, and  Birdie In The Cage, and Chase The Rabbit Chase The Squirrel.

And so I got involved on that basis, running, involving folk dance groups in my recreation programs and participating in them and enjoying that very much.   And I took a number of caller’s schools during that time.  We went back to Frank Lane’s a couple of times.  We tried to plan for at least one to three callers schools every year for several years. And then when I went to college at the State University of Chico, one of the professors there was a caller and I worked with him quite a bit and he decided that I needed to learn to call so that I could call for my kids when I started teaching.  And so he took me home at night, with all the family sound asleep, and got out his record player and records and we practiced calling in his house at night, one night after another.   And finally that is just what happened.  When we, when I started my first teaching job one of the first things I started was working with my kids and school to put together an instructional program in square dancing.  It was a fascinating kind of experience because just as kids today, many of them are not initially interested in learning to square dance, and you have to work with them.  But I told my classroom, we tried a number of different things and I let the kids know right off the bat that there was no choice, everybody helped everybody else with the things they liked.  If you liked soccer, why then whether other kids liked it or not they all participated and had a time to help you enjoy soccer.  And the kids had the same obligation with square dancing, whether they personally liked it or not, they participated to help those who did like that.  That was their favorite activity.  So we didn’t have any problem at all and we had a very good program while I was there and by the time I moved from there, after three years, to Mt. Shasta, why, then we really got involved because at Mt. Shasta we had our regular square dance and folk dance programs that I got very much involved with.  And I was there for a period of time and then coming, of course I was there for six years, and then coming to Yuba City of course I brought with me a lot of that interest and we were very involved from the beginning in our school programs.


BB – Right.  When did you make the transition into the so called club style, western style square dancing?


JM – That, sometimes your voice is soft.


BB – Oh.


JM – I couldn’t hear that very well.


BB – About what time did you, about what year did you make the transition into so called club style or western style square dancing?


JM – I don’t have an exact date, but my feeling is that that all occurred after I moved into the County Office down here and became a school consultant.  Because I was working a lot with our schools but that whole period in California was undergoing a big transition.  At the time I’m talking about, earlier, every little town had a folk dance club.


BB – Oh, yes.


JM – You could go up and down the state and there was hardly a town that didn’t have one and most of them were pretty good sized.  Over this period of transition because some of us were really more enchanted with the square dancing than the folk dancing we started to break that apart, but in that process, and following that process, we lost almost all of those clubs.  Where there was clubs in fifty towns by the time we got finished, now there is clubs in one or two towns.  And they are small clubs rather than the large ones we used to have.  So this whole process did not help us keep our population or increase it.  It worked against us, and by the same token it did narrow down what we were interested in and then people took that and went way, way, way too far with it.  Unfortunately, that’s really been a big handicap for us that we’ve not overcome yet.


BB – True.


JM – We’ve created too large a gap between a person who has never done this before and those who are regularly dancing in this area at a very high Plus level.  And it has been very obvious for a long time that we have no programs to bring new dancers along in ways that they feel good about to that Plus level and so we’re going down, down, down in terms of numbers.  So that’s why my transition wasn’t specific, but that I have a date on, but during that time, in fact all this time in school I was calling a lot.  And I still worked tremendously a lot with school kids.  I call for thousands of school kids every year.  And I’m working now, and have been for two or three months, with two schools a day almost every day.


BB – Good for you.


JM – And sometimes more than that.


BB – Good for you.


JM – So we’ve got tremendous numbers of kids in our school programs here and had at that time also.  We used to put on a festival for a neighboring county once a year in which they brought all the kids from all the schools to the football field at the high school and filled the football field.  And we put on a dance for them once a year.  That was a big deal for all of them.  So this transition wasn’t just in working with adults, and it was one of those things that came kind of gradually over a period of time as the folk dance programs started to go down and more programs appeared that were limited to square dancing and some round dancing and mixers, and things like that.


BB – Right, OK.  Who were some of your mentors or influenced your career?


JM – Lee Helsel had to be one of the top ones.  I took classes with him and I went to a lot of his dances.  We spent a lot of time together.  And Frank Lane, and Earl Johnston, maybe Al I’m not sure but they ran a callers school in Colorado and I went back to that two or three years.  And that was very influential.  And of course Hal Bishop, the Dr. at the State College.  Another very big influence for me, our physical education organization, AAHPERD and CAHPERD, every year at their conventions, had big square dances for all the people at the conventions.  Well attended, called by people you have never heard of probably and I don’t remember names either very well, Bill Tillich(sp?).  These were all educators, people from universities or teachers, not regular square dance callers in the sense we think of it.  But they put on some terrific programs and that was something I never missed.  It had always a lot of interesting ideas and materials there … so those were very important people.  I’ve been very much influenced by other people in the local area.  Bob Ruff of course was very important with me, we worked together a lot for a long time.  I went down to Asilomar, to the big sessions they had at Asilomar, and the people there.  Of course collecting my history tapes was another opportunity to get well acquainted with a lot of people that were very interesting people to me.  And so it wasn’t so much calling techniques but just the whole idea of square dancing, as a kind of a living growing thing in my life, why that was very important.  People like Jonesy, Ray Smith, Cal Golden, some of those kinds of people made a big impression on me.


BB – That’s a great segue into what I was really interested in talking to you about, and that is your history project.


JM – I haven’t listened to my tapes for quite a while, but I checked it against your list and we have some overlap, and I also have a number of them that are not overlap.  I have always wanted to do some things with them and I started once and wrote an article or two for, I don’t know whether it was a magazine or a local presentation, but it was really fascinating to get a chance to go back and listen to these guys again, and it was fascinating to get to do this.  I started even before Callerlab; I’ve got some tapes back in 1971 where we were at the history sessions at Frank Lane’s.  And that’s where I really got probably interested in this, because before then nobody had been very much involved in terms of my recollection with the history of square dancing.  But Frank Lane, Earl Johnston, and those guys always included a session on the history of square dancing.  And it was a very good session from people who really knew a lot about it.  And I have some tapes of some of those and so I got started and then when Callerlab started from ’71 to ’74 I made a number of tapes of people who were at Callerlab that I could get a hold of and get a chance to come over and make a tape for me.


BB – Right.  Did you get people like Jim York, and Ralph Maxheimer?


JM – I don’t have either of them.  I have some people talking about others.  I have Ralph Page talking about Charlie Baldwin.  I have Dick Jones talking about some of the earlier ones.


BB – Oh good.


JM – So I have contact with some of the ones.  Now I don’t remember if the people you mentioned were at Callerlab or not.


BB – I see.


JM – At that time, why Callerlab was very small.  I think we started with 100 people.  And I was one of the first 100 that was asked to join Callerlab.  And I’ve never missed a convention since I started.  Most of the contacts that I had were through Callerlab and presentations for the Milestone awards or recognition for other things, or just the fact like Tac Ozaki and folks from Japan, and a caller came in from Sweden or Denmark and Orfe Issen(sp?) was there from Canada.   And so people who were involved to that degree at Callerlab, that’s where most of the ones that I made come from.


BB – Yes, well that was really interesting.  I wish we could get together and I would love to see your collection and so forth and hope that we will be able to exchange information sometime in the future.


JM – I think we will be able to, I am just not ready yet because I want to go through and figure out how I am going to get what I originally wanted to do.  I wanted to give a chance for people to meet these folks.  I wanted them to, I can remember, I don’t remember what it was all about but I remember I read someplace about one of them and they were in error with what they wrote, so I took the tape and wrote back to let them know what had gone on.   But I really, really had an interest in having people in square dancing know and understand these folks.  Some fascinating kinds of things.  Jonesy is a person that I had been very much involved with his records in school.  And his whole story was very intriguing ‘cause he didn’t start out to be a caller at all.  And how he got into that was by accident, and then all of a sudden he becomes the leading record producer for most school programs.  And there is probably still school programs using his records.  So that whole thing was just intriguing.  Well that’s the kind of thing I want people to understand and know about.  Some of these guys that helped us get this started.  So as I try to identify more and then try to find time to do something with it why, and I’m sure we can work out some things where we could exchange tapes because you have some there that I would be really interested in.

And work out something but first I have got to get figured out in my mind how and what I am going to do with these things.  Time is a real problem for me right now because I am spending so much time working directly in schools.  But we are getting tremendous payoff for it.  I probably mentioned to you that we now have our, we are going into our fifth year of the second grade jamboree and I have, had 800 kids out last year.


BB – I’ll be darned.


JM – And it is so big now we have to have it on two days.  And we are starting a new one for fourth graders this year that is going to involve, I think, every fourth grader virtually in the whole county.   So, we’ve got lots and lots of schools really interested, and teachers who are terrific, they are really doing a good job with the kids so,


BB – That’s really great.  That’s a tough age group to work with.


JM – Yes


BB – What kids I ever worked with in the past were always 6th, 7th and 8th, around that age.  They are tough enough, but younger than that are even worse.


JM – Well, it depends, it depends on what you are doing with them.  High school kids are pretty good to work with; fourth through eighth grade can be the hardest of all because they make a big deal out of boy, girl contact.


BB – Oh yeah.


JM – And it takes quite a while sometimes to let them know that this doesn’t go in these classes and get that out, erased out of the program and then we can go.  Kindergarten to second grade, my First Steps program is just beautiful.  Really, the kids are great to work with.  But see, we don’t teach square dancing as such.  What I teach is through square dancing.  My kind, my First Steps program, Kindergarten, second grade, has five things that we teach.  And I use square dancing to teach them.  First is right and left.  And we really, I’ve rewritten six dances and records, we’ve produced records just to teach right.  The second thing is listening, so that they learn to listen very, very carefully and very attentively, very quietly.  And then third is following directions very precisely.  If I say I want 16 steps, I want 15, I want 17, and we work to help them understand how important it is to follow directions.  The fourth is my gem, I feel it’s the only opportunity left in school to teach boys and girls how to be courteous to each other, and so we spend a lot of time working on courtesy between boys and girls and gentleness and how to work together without embarrassing each other.   And then we spend time teaching rhythms so that they can dance in terms of music.  And surprisingly we are getting a number of music teachers that are teaching this program.


BB – Good for you.


JM – Because they found it a good way to help kids pick up a sense of rhythm and timing and things like that.  So that’s what we’re after when we teach, and I can go back to the same school several years in a row, where they have a progressive program, like start in Kindergarten and go to second grade and then go to our big Jamboree.  Why you can see on the floor, I can step out on the floor with 400 kids and not even use a microphone.  It’s one of those things that’s really been interesting and fun to be part of.


BB – I’m sure.  Did you, did I understand you to say you had made some records that are pointed in this direction?


JM – Oh I have quite a few records and they are sold all over the United States.  In fact we’ve got a bunch of them in our program in China.  Yes I have some and I rewrote dances specifically on this Kindergarten – second grade program to teach right.  So that its right hand, turn right, use the right foot, touch your right face, or something like that, right knee.  And we use that to get the concept of right and left over.  We’re pretty successful with it.  I need to go further.  I need to put some more records together now because the teachers and the kids know these well.  I don’t even need to go teach them any more, the teachers can do all of that.  But I do need more; because I need to take that transition from right till it’s, I’ve got 100% of the kids that react correctly each time, then I start bringing in left.  And I need to make the transition to that with some more records.  We’ll probably try to do that sometime in the next year or so, right now though the records that I made with Bob Ruff, to instruct square dancing.  Since Bob passed away, why his son has been selling the records but he is not going to sell them any longer.  He has taken them off the market.  So our instructional albums will be gone very shortly and I’m going to replace them with a set of my own instructional records that will more closely conform to the Callerlab progression and to what I want in these different programs.  So I can use, the way I teach is called simulated live calling.  And that means that I want teachers to use instructional records to teach calls but then I want them to have records that they can put on, without teaching, that use only the calls the kids have learned, but use them in different ways.  So they get the experience of having to listen to records they’ve never heard before, and don’t know the dances, but they get that experience of trying to dance them the first time they ever hear them. And I’ve got a lot of that I can do right now pretty successfully, but I need more of it.


BB – Well that’s a great program.


JM – Yeah, it is really turning out to be super in a number of ways.  I’ve, 2 days ago I went down to Vacaville and called all day for the kids.  One of the things that’s part of this, I don’t know if were into the things you want to talk about or not.


BB – Yes we are.  I’m very interested.


JM – When we talk about school programs, why that’s really dear to my heart.


BB – Well I’m sure.


JM – The key thing is that I’ll work with a school district, like a school like this one in Vacaville, which is down near San Francisco.  And send them my records or materials or have them buy them, they are available at several places to purchase.  And they get the records, they teach the program to their kids, and one of the things that I tell all teachers who are involved in square dancing, the first thing they do, before they do anything else, if they are going to really teach square dancing, they sit down and plan a big event.  They plan something that all the kids are going to want to go to.  So now they have a reason for learning to square dance.  And like football, you would have hardly any kids out for football if there weren’t any games.  Kids don’t go because they love to practice football.  They go ‘cause there is a chance they might get in one of those games.


BB – Great concept.


JM – Well the same thing applies to anything like this that you are going to teach.  We need kids to have some big deal that they want to go to and take part in, so they will work and learn and be ready to do it.  Well they bring me in, and I go to many schools after they finish their units and call a dance for the kids all day.  Then we have the kids bring their parents to school that night, and the kids help me teach the parents some dances and we have a good time.  And it was really interesting in this last one that we are talking about because afterwards we had three or four couples come up and say “I’ve never done this before and that’s a lot of fun is there some place I can learn how to do it?”  Well, that’s the kind of thing we like with a lot of people.  We’re not trying to look at the point that these kids are going to learn to be square dancers and there going to go square dancing when they get in the third grade or fourth grade.  But we’ve found a lot of impact on adults, and if there were the kind of classes that I could recommend, I could put a lot of people in them, but there aren’t any.  I don’t recommend the programs our callers around here run at all, they run people away, not into it.  So, I am working on a whole brand new approach to this and we‘ll start the first of March on a whole new approach.  I now have some schools where the teachers and the kids are so interested in square dancing that they are going further than most schools and they do it very well.  And so I had them brainstorm about a month ago, and what I’m doing is working with the principal and teachers and the kids in one of the better schools and we’re going to start a program, a family program.  But instead of having the adults bring the kids we’re going to have the kids bring the parents.  And the kids are going to help me run a four lesson program to my Diamond program, and then if it works out, and we get enough people going


BB – OK.  The tape recorder ran out of tape and we cut you off in mid sentence but, so if you could kind of back up a little bit and start over again I

JM – I’ll just give you a thumb nail sketch of what I’m just, brand new in my work and setting up to start the first of March, next week.  For a long time I have been interested in having kids and adults work together in a square dance thing.  And I do many, many, many evening programs for churches and for clubs and for groups like that where I have both adults and children in the audience.  And yet I’ve tried two or three times to get a family square dance program going unsuccessfully.  It all depended on the parents learning to square dance and then bringing kids with them, and somehow that combination just never clicked for me.  It might have for others but it hasn’t for me.  But I have so many schools I work with now, all over northern California, I’ve lots and lots of schools, and I’m finding some of them are just really fascinated with square dancing, the teachers, the kids, the principal, everybody is really having some terrific times with our square dance program.  So I had the idea at one of my top schools, a while back, let’s turn this around and instead of the parents bringing kids let’s see if we can’t get the kids to bring their parents.  And the kids will be the ones that know how to square dance, the parents don’t.  But the kids are willing to help teach their parents.  So were going to set up a special program, I have a Diamond program, I call my Diamond program is the first 20 calls on the square dance Callerlab list.  And it’s a very, very good list of prog, of materials to work with and I’m planning, that I can teach that in four weeks.  So we are going to set up four weeks of lessons with the kids bringing their parents and teach them those.  And then we’re going to set up a program where once a month we have a big party.  If I could get 10 or 12 of my schools to follow that same thing so that I could go to different schools at different times and teach four weeks of lessons to the kids and the parents that wanted to come, and then have our big party once a month and invite all of them to come, I think we could get the kind of family program going that I’d be interested in.  Were going to limit it at the start to fourth and fifth graders and sixth graders if there is a sixth grade in the school, but fourth and fifth essentially and their parents.  I do get together with younger kids and their parents, but for right now I want this to be oriented more to the older elementary kids.  We’re going to try that, and in fact I’m even thinking about trying a new adult beginners program that would be very similar.  Our first approach would be just to have four weeks of lessons and have them dance the diamond program for awhile and from those, if some want to go further, why then we’ll set up something for them.  Then the whole new approach, but from the feedback that I’ve had already from the school that I’ve already had kids bring parents to sessions before we even started, to my adult beginners classes thinking that’s what they were supposed to come to.  So I think maybe were going to have a chance, if I’m sharp enough to figure out how to attract and keep these people involved, at really putting together some family square dancing that will be a lot of fun for everybody.


BB – That sounds like a great program Jack


JM – Yeah.  It really has good promise.  And we have a lot of excellent records for our school programs.  We’ve had some of the best guys in the country that have made what I call my Diamond record programs.  Flip made one, Frank Lane, Elmer Scheffield, and we’ve got a number of them and we, and Mike Seastrom just finished one for me.  So we’ve got good music, we’ve got great calling, and all limited, our next series is going to be limited, the first one, Mike did the first one in this series, and it will be limited to the first eight calls.  That’s all we will use.


BB – Wow.


JM – I have Deborah Parnell coming up for one of my big festivals with me and so were going to try to make this the kind of big event that by the time we do this in a year or two, everybody in the county is going to want to be sure they come.


BB – Well that is great.  I’d like to move on a little bit.


JM – All right.


BB – Tell us a little about your project in Beijing.


JM – Not just Beijing.


BB – Yes I know.


JM – I’ve been to China now five times and I’m not exactly sure how I got started but I think it was Marshall Flippo suggesting to Nita Page that she contact me ‘cause she was taking people over.  Four times we have been over.  I’m going over in October again.  And so I went over the first time and we went to Guangzhou and I taught at Jinan University for a week and they brought people in from all over China to try.  The people we work with in China are the professional square dancers, not square dancers, the professional performing artists of China.  These are the top ballet dancers, stage performing artists in China.   They’re fabulous dancers and so we have gone around.  And Nita has been over there 16 times I think, taking other people with her.  And has taught and worked all over China, but there was no residual.  In other words, when I would go someplace, nobody knew any calls that I could just call.  I had to start from scratch with each group.  So there wasn’t a residual and I made up my mind that was one of the things I wanted to build, was eventually get to the point where we had groups that learned calls and had some local callers and could work with them.  So we now have that.  In fact the last two tours that I took over there, we had one of the key leaders in China went ahead of us and taught calls to the groups we were calling for.  So they already knew a few calls before I got there.  It’s a very interesting experience to go through because none of these people speak English and their terms for things like right and left are so similar that it is almost impossible for our dancers at first to differentiate left and right when one of their callers says it.  But they worked hard on enunciation, they worked hard on the lists and we’ve got now to the point we’ve been all over China, many cities, and up into Inner Mongolia, and we have people that we’ve taught and worked with trying to help get this idea over of how to call and lead and teach.  Because these people are all top performers they all want to learn to call.  Well I’ve just realized, in the last year or so, that one of my biggest mistakes is that I have gone over and spent all of our time in teaching these people how to call, but I haven’t taught them how to get anybody to dance.  So here we got a whole lot of people who love to call but we don’t have anybody for them to call to.  So now on my next trip we’re going to spend more time on helping learn how to bring people in and get people to come so they have someone to call to.


BB – Right.  Well we need that, we need that here in the US too.


JM – Yes we do.  Well, so the whole thing has been very fascinating and I worked with particularly, the person that I worked with most closely was, the professional dancers association has a nationwide organization in China, and the sec, the number two in charge of that whole organization is a lady who is amazing.  She is one of the most elegant ladies I’ve ever met.  A little small lady, but boy does she know what she is doing.  And she is the one that has really ramrodded this all over China.  And she has become the first caller in China, and she can call well enough for any of our group to dance to her now.  So she now has the first square dance club in Beijing and it’s over two years old and has over 100 members, and she calls for that group.  They tell me that when we go over this fall we’re going to start a new club in Shanghai and they tell me by the grapevine that I have a club going, or something going, down in Guangzhou where I started or spent most of our time.  But I didn’t know we had anybody there.  But these guys are, I think they haven’t said much because they tell me that they’re calling in Chinese which I told them was a no no, they can’t do it.  They have to call in the international square dance language.  So my group can dance with them and they can dance with us.  And so I am going to have to find out what’s going on down there in Guangzhou and see where we are.  They translated the square dance manuals immediately into Chinese.  And I had had a project a couple or three years ago where I got together ten sets of books and films, I had some of them visiting here and while they were here we made a video tape of instruction, square dance instruction in Chinese.


BB – I see.


JM – And narrated, they narrated it in Chinese.  And we put those tapes in various cities where we worked, and my records, and tried to help them build a supply of materials for different groups to learn.  Right now I am working with a company because I want to put record players over there.  Records players in our schools and in China don’t exist anymore.  It’s all cassettes and, all cassettes and CDs.  But I, my material is all on records and it is going to stay there.  I think it’s better and easier to teach with.  You can count on variable speed control, which is not on many CDs or Cassettes.  And also there seems to be some feeling that vinyl is coming back. I find on my orders to the factory for my records, it used to take me a couple of weeks, now it takes me 4 or 5 weeks because they tell me they are getting increased orders for vinyl.  I’m not sure how that works but I do know that having record players is a big deal in our schools and many of them are having to buy record players to use my program.  And we’ll be doing the same thing in China, trying to get something less expensive. We’ve been buying, I took over and gave them a set of Hilton equipment.  They bought another set while they were over here.  But those are too expensive to get very many places doing it.  So at present that’s where we are with the program there.  We do have a number of people involved now that can translate, and we are working with the CITS which is the major travel service for all of China.  And we have one of their top leaders who is very much involved with us.  They have now assigned her to the European, ‘cause she is running the whole European scene, but she still is able to get them to give her permission to go with us when we go over.  So we’ve got top leadership over there that will help us.  So that’s where we are, and it’s turned out to be a fascinating thing to be part of, and the dancing is so beautiful you just, they make do sa do look like a major event.


BB – Right.  Why I, these are the people you were talking about that who were at Callerlab.


JM – Yes that’s true.


BB – And I was impressed by the way that they did the Grand Square.


JM – Oh yeah.


BB – And I was terribly ashamed when we got the top notch callers in the country together to dance with them and somebody called Grand Square and it blew apart.


JM – Well it’s one of those things, and as I say you don’t have to be around for very long to realize these are highly trained professional performing artists.


BB – Right.


JM – One of the guys I worked with most closely over there at one time was the number one male ballet dancer in all China.


BB – Good.


JM – So, well that’s the group, yes those are the folks that were talking about, there all in leadership roles and really, really very interested in square dancing.  See people all over the world identify square dancing as the American folk dance.  Folk dancers around the world all have dances that represent their country.  And we can identify them in our folk dance world as to what kind of a dance comes from Israel or Greece or places like this, different places.  Well to those people we work with, and people in other countries, they identify America’s folk dance as square dance.  And so they want to learn the American folk dance.  And they want to learn to dance it and call it and teach it in their country, and so it’s one of those things that give us an identity with other dancers around the world that is very beneficial.  They’ve got the quality.  Our area, the United States has emphasized more quantity.  We don’t pay attention enough to quality.  But boy, overseas, quality is number one.


BB – Right.  Jack lets get a little profound.


JM – All right.


BB – One of the questions that I’ve been asking people is “if you could change anything in your career would you have done so? Or any regrets?”


JM – Aw, that’s a nice question, but I can’t think of a single thing.  I feel like, I don’t even know where I heard this term first, I associate it with Churchill but I don’t know that it’s his.  But somebody talked about some people as “fortunes favored children”.  “Fortunes favored children” in this sense are those people who earn their living doing the thing they would gladly do for nothing.  If they could find a way to do it for nothing they would have no problem at all with that.  And I’ve lived a life where I’ve pretty well directed and run my own life all my life, and I’ve done all of the things that I’ve gotten paid, and paid well for doing the things that, as I say, I would gladly have done for nothing and do do for nothing.  I do a lot of contributions with these things.  But I also get well paid for it doing them for people who have the finances to pay.  And I can’t think of any place in coming through what I’ve done with my life that I’d have changed, the way I got here or what I did.  I do have a sense that it is always a wonderful thing to get to work with an increasing variety and number of people.  That helps so much in terms of getting your own visions clear and getting to the point where you figure out how to make ‘em work.  There are some things that I have tried that I can’t make work yet.  And I don’t know exactly what the difference is but I do know that it’s not automatic, that if I think I can do something then I can go out and make it work.  My personality, or the way I work with people, I can make a lot of things work that other people can’t make work.  But I also find some things that I can’t make work.  And I don’t know if there would have been a change some place along the way that might have helped with that.  Essentially I don’t have very many spots along the way that I would have, I did pretty much what I wanted to do and thought that I could do, and in most cases it has turned out to be just that way.


BB – Right.   Well one of the other questions that I have been asking people too is “Where do you think square dancing is going”, and I think you may be on the threshold of a resurgence of square dance activity.


JM – Well I feel like I may be, because I really feel like I’m finally getting to where I believe we should be going too.  I haven’t had any luck at all talking to some of the leaders in Callerlab and square dancing.  There is two things going on in square dancing that may not be obvious to everybody.  I have, the regular square dance program we know about as solidified at Mainstream and Plus, and then Advanced, don’t leave out Advanced and Challenge.  That’s the one program nobody talks about changing.  Everybody’s talking about doing something different with Plus and Mainstream, nobody’s says anything about changing anything in Advanced and Advanced 2 and Challenge.  We leave it alone.  Up there is an incentive for everybody to get good enough to be an advanced dancer.  And that’s the wrong direction in terms of getting any size in our program.  So the regular program has set itself so that it can’t possibly grow at this stage of the game.  Now you have to understand square dancing is a folk dance so it will never die.  It will always be here for ever and ever.  What will die are the record companies or the people who make clothes the people whose commercial interests are in putting on conventions, that’ll die, we’ll get smaller and smaller.  As an example in our local area we had 40 square dance clubs in the Sacramento area.  And they had 3400 members in those clubs 8 years ago.  Today they have about 1200 members left in them, and we still have 38 clubs.  So instead of having a bunch of pretty good sized clubs, now we have a whole bunch of little tiny ones that are barely able to exist.  In the LA area they are running into a second problem, they have a number of clubs there that have big dances, they don’t have clubs as such in the same sense we do but they put on dances and parties and they have had a lot of attendance at them and have a bankroll, bank account that has got a lot of money in it.  But two or three people have been doing all this for 2 or 3 years and they are saying the heck with it and they quit, and the club folds.  So we are running into two or three problems that are guaranteed to make square dancing smaller in population, but never eliminated.  But on the other side we already have an alternate square dance program going.  I don’t think most people in square dancing even know it exists.  I found it first, I wrote to Ralph Page and Charlie Baldwin and asked them to help me find some traditional dances back in New Hampshire and New York.  And I went back and they found them for me and we visited them.  And we were very, very intriguing visit.  They call those dances “open dances” and they all share two or three traditions we’ve found every place that this kind of program exists.  They all have live music; they all teach every dance all night long.  I went to one in New Hampshire that had been going on for over 50 years and people were there that had been coming to ‘em for 50 years.  But they taught every dance all night long, it didn’t matter whether you knew them or not.  And in fact after the caller taught it, he got everybody going and he jumped down off the stage and joined in one of the lines and danced with them.  I didn’t know this existed in California.  I found one about two years ago in California over on the coast at Ukiah.  Since that time I’ve found there is a whole bunch of them out here.  Sacramento has got a big number of ‘em.  And I’m trying to find ways to go visit them.  And they are the same as the “open dances” except out here they call them contra dances.  They have live music, they teach every dance all night long. But the thing that would really turn square dancers off is they have no dress code.  And if you think hippies look bad, you should really see some of the people at these dances, bare foot, no shirt.  You know they just come as they are.


BB – Keys jangling off the belt.


JM – But I’ll tell you the thing that was amazing to me.  I went to these dances in New Hampshire and New York and I was looking for some old timers who were trying to save the traditional dances.  But what I found was the halls full of college kids.


BB – Yes.


JM – And that’s who is doing it here.  The halls out here are full of college kids.  Here we are in square dancing, lots of people say “gee I wish we could attract some younger people”.  Well they’re being attracted.  That program is growing, it’s not getting smaller.  And it’s a fascinating kind of thing to be looking at.  And we had another interesting one, and I’m going to it in two weeks from now again.  We were invited to a square dance up in Nevada City, and I went.  It turns out this is a class from 1950 who danced together at Stanford University.  They come in once a year from all over the nation, and one of the guys in the group calls for ‘em, and he calls a way that you wouldn’t believe.  Shoot the Moon, I haven’t heard that for a long time.  And some of the calls that he described to tell them how to do it, boy they are completely wrong from everything that I ever knew.  But everybody comes once a year, from all over the country, this whole group gets together, and they have the time of their lives.  And they’ve invited us to come back again.  So square dancing will never die as a folk dance, as a legitimate folk dance.  And that means that it’s here forever.  But the people who want commercially to make something out of square dancing are not here forever.  There only here as long as somebody wants their products.  And none of these alternate dancers are going to be interested in clothing or even records.  They are after, they have their own live music and they don’t worry about what people wear.  So that’s the kind of program that’s some place in between.  I feel we have to find a place to work and my Diamond program, and what were trying to do in this four week lesson is my first approach that finally gets down where it counts.  I’ve been pushing the Basic program, and really working on that through Callerlab for quite a while now.  I go back several years working with the Basic program and trying to make that the major program we have, but were not having any success with it.  The top leaders I talk to say “ yeah Murtha, you’re probably right you’ll get a lot more people but I’d be bored to death calling the Basic program.”  “I like the all, the Plus and Advanced and all of the different things I can do with it.”  So at this stage of the game, where we are in square dancing is a real desire to change anything they can think of to change, whether it helps or not.  They want to advertise more.  I don’t know how you expect to advertise more and get anybody interested in a product they don’t like.

It’s very obvious we can’t get people to join Plus beginner classes.  It doesn’t matter whether if you advertise twenty times more and at more cost, you still won’t get people joining the Plus beginner classes.  I feel like the other end is what we need to work on, and I’ve been trying the Basic program, but the Basic program is still too much, way too much.  I’ve broken my adult classes into two programs, the Basic program in half; I call it Square Dance America.  And it has a Starter program and a Party program.  The first half is Starter and the second half is Party.  And I have once a week a basic get together, but I still haven’t been able to make that grow very much.  So it’s one of those things we’ve been doing now for four or five years on a once a week basis, dancing, and I’m finding it’s very helpful for a lot of these people, and they come every week for that instead of going to go to other kinds of square dances.  But it’s not enough people yet to make it the size I want.  I want that to be big.  So were gonna to try this new approach and I really feel like now I’m doing what I believe we need to do. If I can go back to four weeks of lessons to start everything, and then have a good terrific party program for that group, and then allow people to come from that group to learn more if they want to when they want to.  And then I can set up my Basic program and set up Mainstream and things like that.  And I think that maybe I can make this grow if I start off so easy and with so much fun that anybody could come with the kids and be successful.  And with the support of a lot of kids; I’ve got kids in schools now I know are going to support this.  That’s what I’m hoping, were going to try real hard.  I give myself ten years to try something like this and see if I can make it work.  We’ll see what happens but I really do feel I’ve finally, in harmony with what I believe in terms of what I’m doing and my actions.


BB – Right.  I hope along the line, and I’m sure that you are, I hope you’re teaching people how to dance.  To stand correctly, and to move to the music, and recognize the phrasing.


JM – All through our school programs and all my adult programs we try very hard … and I don’t have many people who dance the Grand Square like the guys you saw down there.  The people in China are the ones that demonstrate what I believe in.  And that’s why they dance that way ‘cause that’s what I taught them to do.  It’s what I try to teach here.  Now I do have people who are still using an arm around do sa do sometimes, and some of the things that are not by definition.  I have a different way of looking at the term “dance by definition”. People think of that as a substitute for APD, but I don’t.  APD is another concept.  Dancing by definition to me is just what it says, you dance the call the way it’s defined.  And I try very much to make sure everybody knows the definition and if they do something else, then that’s their choice consciously to do something else, not because they think it’s the right way to do it.  So yeah, we work pretty hard on that.


BB – One of the things that’s bothered me, oh for several years, kids today in school are not getting any musical training.


JM – Well we’re pretty fortunate I guess out here because,  as I said, we’ve got a lot of, not as many as I’d like, but we do have a number of schools out here that have both a physical education teacher for the elementary school and a music teacher.  And so they are getting leadership by professionals in both fields and sometimes they are overlapping.  We had a music teacher with the school I was working with yesterday and we have feedback from music teachers who, as I say, are using some of our dances in order help kids learn how to stay with the beat of the music and things like that.  So we may be more fortunate than a lot of others, and of course in today’s world, when you talk about music, what I watch these guys at the Grammy Awards doing is not my concept of what I would like to see done with music.  So it’s one of those things the pros in the field are very uninhibited and have their own way of doing things.  So it’s hard to make a judgment about how much residual there is going to be, but in all my classes and with the teachers I work with, we try real hard to help kids understand how to dance with music and eventually get to the point where they can hear the 8 count and 16 count phrases of music to guide their dancing instead of having to even have a caller.  I check on that. We don’t get it that successful all the time but I usually work with, when I work with schools the teachers don’t know this, but I am more inclined to teach the teachers than I am the kids.  And when I get the teachers to the point to where they finally get these concepts and they carry them through, that’s when we start making progress.  And their kids come to me for the kind of things I do why, much, much more ready to dance.


BB – Right.  Jack we’re getting down to the end of the tape and I want to thank you so very much.  I could talk with you for another two hours I’m sure.


JM – Well.


BB – And hopefully some day you and I can get together and sit down and even tape record some more of your thoughts.


JM – Well, I’d be glad to at any time.  I love talking to people about the things that I enjoy the most and certainly square dancing is at the top of the list.  I retired out here in ’83 from my job, I retired half of it, and retired the rest of it in ninety

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