Edelman, Larry

Photo Edelmann


November 17, 2003

Bob Brundage – Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today, tonight we’re talking by telephone with Larry Edelman up in Denver, Colorado. The date today is the 17th of November, 2003 and so we are anxious to find out about Larry’s life of square dancing. So Larry, let’s start like we usually do. Tell me where you born and brought up and tell me a little about life before square dancing.

Larry Edelman – OK. I was born in Philadelphia on June 15th, 1953. Born in the University of Pennsylvania Hospital and grew up early in Philadelphia and then later on my parents moved to nearby New Jersey – just right across the river – ah, Hatfield and then it became Cherry Hill and I stayed there, went to grade school and went to high school there and left home at 18.

BB – OK, and how did you get introduced to square dancing back, way back when.

LE – Well, like a lot of people in my generation I first square danced in Junior High School in gym class –


LE –  and, ah it was the first time the boy’s gym and the girl’s gym united  – it was very exciting for everybody –

BB – Ah ha

LE – I don’t remember much about the square dancing I just remember about dancing with the girls –

BB – Yeah

LE – being 15 years old and then the next time I square danced it was in, ah well, I was 18 and I was a freshman in college and was volunteering for the YMCA and they got all the these volunteers together and we took a trip to West Virginia for a kind of regional meeting of people who were doing the same kind of volunteer work that I was doing who I don’t know in Jackson’s Mill and he called a square dance for us and I loved it.

BB – You don’t remember his name.

LE – No, I don’t remember his name. I had no idea that I would ever end up doing it again after that night.

BB – Right

LE – I had time of my life though. He called with records which was unusual for West Virginia during that time.

BB – Yes

LE – That’s what I remember.

BB – That was about what year?

LE – That would have been 1971 –either late 1971 or early 1972.

BB – Yeah, yeah

LE – And I played music and I ended up playing guitar in an Old Time Music band – in a square dance band and we ended up playing for callers –


LE – and we would – this was in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that’s where I went to school and so I spent a lot of time in West Virginia and eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania and I played guitar in a square dance band and just kind of out of osmosis you know, paying a lot of attention so really, paid more attention to the dancing from playing music for it and watching and listening to it than dancing and I day the caller didn’t show up and someone had to call the dance and I did.


LE – Now, the callers that I’m ?? there’s one fellow, Howie Richmond was his name, he lived near Johnstown, Pennsylvania.


LE – We would often play with him. He would play the fiddle and call at the same time and I think he was the first caller I ever really played for and ah –

BB – Now were these true square dances or were they Appalachian?

Le – This was Appalachian square dancing.

BB – Yeah

LE – Yep, this was the old style of square dancing – a lot of visiting couple dances

BB – Yeah

LE – Ah, and, you know back then square dancing meant a lot of things, it’s  not like today, where square dancing meant squares, circles, couple dances –

BB – Right

LE – and we did it all.

BB – Did you do running sets?

LE – You know, we did dances that other people might have called running sets but we never called the running sets – you know, when I read the collections of Cecil Sharp and Napier and some other people who – Frank Smith from Berea and other people who, you know collected running sets and named them ah, the accounts varied but they sure weren’t too very far apart from what we did but we never called the running sets, we just called the square dances.

BB – Yes

LE – Ah, so anyway, I got calling just by what that one time I had to call one dance. We waited for the caller to come and I called a visiting couple square dance, “Birdie in the Cage” and ah, that’s the first thing that came to mind.

BB – Yes

LE – And then, you know I’d try one here or there and then I think that I joined the band – we started a band called ‘Devilish Mary” I Pittsburgh and we got to be, you know we, all of us were playing full time, making a living just playing old time square dance music –

BB – Good

LE – playing a little Irish music and we realized that every time we did a gig we each made $25 –

BB- Yeah

LE – and the caller made $75

BB – Laughs

LE – and we said, “What’s wrong with this picture?” and since I was trying to, you know interested in calling and by that time I had started dancing too, the old style square dance – I made a deal a guy in the band that if he would learn to play guitar and take my place when we did dances I’d go learn how to call dances.

BB – Right

LE – So, I took that next summer off and just traveled around West Virginia and western Pennsylvania looking for callers and meeting them and I also went to some dance camps and some of my peers who were a couple years older than the guys you would know – I learned from Sandy Bradley –


LE – from Seattle – spent a lot of time with her – I spent time with Bob Dalsemer – he had been calling a few years by then –

BB – Yes

LE – and Frank Hall from Bloomington, Indiana and ah, that might have been it.


LE – I just started learning as many traditional squares as I could –

BB – So

LE – Early on I had never seen or heard of a contra dance –

BB – OK.  Well, did you ever get involved in Modern Western?

LE – what happened was – I didn’t have a lot of square dance caller models, you know and one of the things because I was a musician there wasn’t a point for me to call or dance without live music –

BB – Yes

LE – because I got into it through the music and that didn’t make sense to me so, I wanted to find dances that were kind of accessible to dances and I started collecting books and I found that dances that I found that were in the books that were written oh, you know from the late 1940’s up until the late 1950’s I just loved the dances and I went out and tried to collect as many 78 records as I could they were recorded as –

BB – Um hmm

LE – and books and then just try to reconstruct the dances as best I could because I really haven’t a lot of models – and then I’d collect more 78’s and then start to get the hang of it and I started to go to some clubs just to  observe and I went to one club and they would have nights when anyone was invited to welcome to come –

BB – Yes

LE – and I’d go to State Fairs and County Fairs where they had, you know club exhibitions –

BB – Yes

LE – and I just got very interested in that kind of period that I would call the Golden Age of Square Dancing. I was practically a baby then but I just loved that dancing that was going on in the late 40’s and 50’s. I thought it was creative and inventive and I thought the callers were that I heard on records were all very skilled and so I probably spent 10 years just trying to learn how to call that style so this was in, you know the early to mid 80’s that I was trying to call like I was calling in 1954

BB – Yes

LE – So I never got into the western dance, you know I learned how to call dances that kind of had the figures up until Star Through and I felt that, you know and when I would call I ended up – I coordinated a dance week at the Augusta Heritage Workshop – I coordinated their dance week for about 7 years and so the same dancers would come over and over again and so they became very good square dancers and I would learn enough club material to kind of give these dancers a taste for it –

BB – Yes

LE – and these were people who did more traditional dancing – the old style and I just loved it bit I guess I wasn’t much of a club person and I felt that a dance should be for whoever came that night and so I Tended to kind of ah – I was trying to get to Square Through and Star Through – it wasn’t for all the willing or for those who, you know spent a lot of time in a club together –

BB – Right

LE – those who had mastered the basics and so I kind of lost interest after that period and after about 1957 or 1958 the dances were just such that you had to be a pretty skilled dancer to do it –

BB – Right

LE – which was beautiful for the folks I observed but it just wasn’t what I was interested in.

BB – Well, that’s interesting. Ah, did you ever do any recording?

LE – Ah, of calling?

BB – Yeah

LE – Yep. You know, I do a lot of camps. I ah –

BB – That was my next question

LE – Well, I do a lot of camps and people record me at camps and –


BB – Yes


LE – and I’ve collected a lot of what people send me but I’ve never set out –

I’ve recorded a lot of music –


BB – Yes


LE – I think a lot of recordings of the music that I play and. you know commercially released recordings but never of my calling.


BB – OK.  What are some of the ah, camps that you have been to?


LE – Well, as I mentioned before I spent a lot of years at coordinating teaching at the Augusta Heritage Art Dance Week in Elkins, West Virginia


BB – Yes


LE – and ah, I’ve been on staff at Pinewoods –


BB – Yeah. I knew that.


LE – you know, a lot. I usually teach a square dance callers workshop there every summer –


BB – Yes


LE – and I’ve been on staff a lot of times at Lady of the Lake I Cordolaine (?), Idaho and I’ve called at a lot of festivals – American Fiddle Tunes in Portence(?), Washington and in the Bay Area of California their American Dance Weeks.


BB – How about Berea?


LE – You know, I’ve never been to Berea – Winter Week or the other weeks. I’ve called a dance at Berea before –


BB – Yes


LE – it’s just that there was a period of time in the early 80’s that I would just go off on travelling ventures –


BB – Yes


LE – I’d go off with a little band and do maybe 25 dances in 30 days, you know just travelling around – driving around the country and in one of those trips I called in Berea – I got to meet John Ramsey but I’ve never been to a week there.


BB – Well, great. OK.


LE – One thing I forgot to mention –


BB – Yes


LE – at that period in ah, around 1984 and 85 when I was really so interested in the older western dances – the club dances –


BB – Yes


LE – at that time I was also really interested in as much as I could learn about the traditional Appalachian dances –




LE – and I had a friend of mine, a fiddler who had a small branch in the Pennsylvania Council of the Arts to collect the fiddle music of Southwestern Pennsylvania and so I would coach him on his ?? and what I would do is I would have to ask the fiddler, “Hey, do you guys play for square dancing?” and so I would start going to the square dances in the very rural areas –


BB – Yes


LE – this is maybe a 50 mile radius in every direction of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and I ended up unearthing dozens of dances that hadn’t gone on some of them for 75 or 100 years.


BB – Good


LE – I videotaped these dances and audiotaped these dances until I ran out of money and then I wrote in to the Pennsylvania Council of Arts to do an apprenticeship with who I felt was the best caller that I’d run into and he was a fellow named Jerry Goodwin. When I met him he was in his mid 70’s and he grew up in Bacanon (?), West Virginia and then he was about 12 his father worked for Ambridge (?), an American bridge company and he moved to southwestern Pennsylvania and then Jerry followed his dad there and lived there and then Jerry ended up working for Ambridge (?) his whole life. So Jerry called in the very old style of square dance calling that his dad and his uncle and his brothers called back in Bacanon (?) West Virginia and I spent a couple of years making videotapes of Jerry and spent time learning his repertoire and history and the history of his dances and so there was that period from about, I guess 1984 to 1988 that I was videotaping just as many of the old style callers in western Pennsylvania that I could find so I have a wealth of a library that –


BB – I was going to say that you must have quite a library.


LE – Well, I do. Unfortunately at the time, fortunately at the time the best video format was ¾ inch and now ¾ inch is all but obsolete.


BB – Yes


LE – So, I have boxes of old ¾ inch video tapes and I’ve edited some of them down but I also have a lot of audio cassettes –


BB – Yes


LE – kind of chronicling the square dancing that was done in southwestern Pennsylvania during that time which was very strong. Just, you know these little pockets –


BB – Yes


LE – of these – there was this one community that still did the Lancers.


BB – Well, I know you’ve been in contact with Bill Heyman at Supreme Audio-


LE – Yep


BB – about your film collection. I’d like to hear a little more about that.


LE – You know, because I play old time music and I don’t play just music from the Southwest, you know Southern Appalachian fiddle music. I’m a fiddler and I also play a lot of music from the mid-west – there’s a great repertoire of music from the mid-west. I’ve found that sometimes when you would say, oh I’d say “Old time music” or “I’m a square dance caller” that some people in mainstream America would chuckle and make fun of it like, kind of like, you know –


BB –


LE –  that you’re a rube because –


BB – Yes


LE – and I’m thinking to myself this is amazing. This is beautiful music, beautiful dancing, it’s a primal, it’s about people celebrate the differences between the sexes, it’s flirtatious, it’s family oriented, it’s everything you want to see and yet some people just make fun of it and I wanted to find out why is it, why it was such a stigma and so I started to look at how Hollywood has portrayed square dancing –

BB – Yes


LE – so the first thing I started doing was collecting just how Hollywood portrays square dancing, you know in it’s feature films and then when I started getting very interested in the Western dance I said, “Wait, I want real stuff, I want someone who turned on their, you know their film projector at a dance in Texas in the late 40’s –


BB – Yes


LE – and so I also started collecting as much documentary footage as I can and I just – and for a while I was real into it and then what I would do is I would kind of edit things together with both the Hollywood stuff – I had a separate question with the television stuff and then also just more documentary stuff of the real thing and then I’d edit it together and then when I’d do dance camps I’d kind of show them, you know and talk about it – we’d talk about how we dance differently with people but in particular we’d talk about why, you know Hollywood would make a caricature out of the thing we love so much and so, I still collect but I’m not quite as passionate about it as – not because I lost interest in the collecting it’s more that I ran out of time.


BB – Yes


LE – Life’s getting busy.


BB – Laughs – Well, I know a friend of mine back in Connecticut, his name is Allan Brozek and ah, he collected clips from various movies and he put them all together. He showed them to me when I interviewed him back a few years ago. I’ll be happy to send you hie address if you’d like to talk to him sometime.


LE – Yeah, that would be great.




LE – I know his name from the ah –


BB – The traditional list?


LE – Yeah, and ah, you know and Bob had, Bob ?? had sent me, Bill had sent me – I had written him an email not too long ago asking him what callers might have actual film footage of club dancing in the 50’s and I haven’t had a chance to get in touch with those people yet but there is surprisingly little that I’ve seen –


BB – Yes


LE – you know, we had video back then but it surprises me that people didn’t pull out their 16 millimeter cameras to take film –


BB – Right


LE – Have you seen such stuff?


BB – I’m sorry.


LE – Have you seen stuff like that?


BB – No, not very much really. We had one come through the archive here not too long ago from Connecticut or somewhere in New England. I’ll research it and get back to you on that. This was actually taken at dances he was calling and showed the dancers and glimpses of him and the band, etc. and he is very proud of this every-Saturday-night dance that has been going on for a zillion years you know.


LE – (Not clear)


BB – The name escapes me at the moment. I think it’s Bob Prentice but I’m not sure. I’ll get back to you on that.


LE – Sure


BB – OK. The other one that I did some things in film, with film anyway is Ernie Kinney in California. I interviewed him several years ago. He’s been prominent in modern western and I guess he was close to Hollywood area or whatever and that may be how he got into it,


LE – Yeah


BB – Of course Les Gotcher was, he was very, he was a stunt man, he used to stand in for Clark Gable.


LE – I was very fortunate, you know. I had a chance to talk with him for about 3 or 4 hours –


BB – Did you?


LE – the year before he died.


BB – Ahh


LE – It was just a great moment for me –


BB – Yeah


LE – to talk about his life and –


BB – Were you in Hawaii then?


LE – No I wasn’t you know. I tracked him down. I got tired of reading all these kind of accounts in old books about like, what Lloyd Shaw was saying about Les and what Frank Smith was saying about Lloyd and I was just curious about what really happened –


BB – Yeah


LE – and I tracked him down and had a great conversation with him.


BB – Ah, that’s great.


LE – That was just before he published his autobiography, I can’t remember what it was called.


BB – It’s too bad you didn’t tape it.


LE – You know, I wish that I had


BB – Yeah


LE – He talked a lot about the early days of hash calling and –


BB – Yeah


LE – the politics of square dance calling back then. You know, it was such big business and so many guys were making a living at it that –


BB – Sure


LE – you know, I don’t need to tell you what it became – you know, it was just a really accelerated evolution as far as I could tell.


BB – Yes. So, well you’re still busy now anyway – still calling dances and now you’re growing a family?


LE – Oh, I have 2 girls – I have a 10 year old and an almost 20 year old.




LE – Yes, I have a family – I play music right now more than I call dances.


BB – Ah ha


LE – It’s very satisfying – I play in a couple bands but I did just get back from calling for 3 weeks in Europe. I think we emailed about that a little bit.


BB – Yes


LE – As I mentioned to you, one of the high lights was getting together with Rickey Holden for the first time.


BB – That’s right, yes.


LE – One of the reasons that was fun – and I didn’t have a chance to tell Rickey this but in the 1980’s I spent a lot of time with Ted Sannella.


BB – Oh yes.


LE – The first time I met Ted Sannella was actually we were in California together – we were calling at the Mendosino Woodlands Dance Festival – dance week and Ted and his wife, Jean came up to me and told me that they thought my calling reminded me of Rickey Holden’s calling.


BB – Oh yes.


LE – At that time I had never heard a record of Rickey –


BB – Ah


LE – so it was just that – and then I learned that Ted and Rickey went to college together – but so, that made Rickey even more, you know because I had a lot of respect for Ted –


BB – Yes, I’m sure


LE – so, it was great to meet Rickey.


BB – Yeah. Yeah, I knew Ted quite well I used to be in the Executive Board of the New England Folk Festival years ago and Ted was very active of course. Well, getting away from square dancing for a moment, do you have any other hobbies?


LE – Playing music – that’s just playing music and spending time with my daughters.


BB – Right. Yeah. One question I’ve been asking other callers – do you have any regrets – is there anything you think you might have changed if you’d have – looking back?


LE – About square dancing?


BB – Yeah, about dancing in general – your, the way you went at it, etc.


LE – You know, what I did I wished I had looked for callers who were in the generation or 2 before me earlier.


BB – Ah ha


LE – You know, I spent my first years calling learning from what I guess I’d call near peers, you know guys who just had been calling just a couple of years before me and it wasn’t until I really sought out older callers that I realized that I think I finally said, “Oh, now I get it”.


BB – Ah ha


LE – I wish I had realized that earlier, you know one thing I did is – oh, it was in 1987 – I had moved to Baltimore and moved just 2 blocks away from Bob Dalsimer – I know you talked to him a week or 2 ago –


BB – Yes


LE – and we were neighbors and we went to go see Marshall Flippo who would come to Baltimore every year –


BB – Right


LE – and Bob danced and I videotaped –




LE – and just, was just, you know  – It was such a pleasure to watch someone do what Marshall does as well as he does it –


BB – Yes


LE – for a long as he does – it was just such a pleasure and I wish I had found that kind of wealth of that earlier.


BB – Right


LE – One guy who I would have died to have met was Joe Lewis – I had so much respect for –


BB – Oh, sure


LE – his recordings –


BB – Yes


LE – and what he’d written – what he wrote, you know I collected a lot of his ?? newsletter –


BB – Yes


LE – and to me I guess I just have a lot of reverence for where this stuff comes from.


BB – Right


LE – My only regret is that I was too late – I think I was born –


BB – Laughs


LE – about 2 decades too late. I should have been born in about 1930.


BB – I see. Well, you’ve been doing OK for yourself and it looks like you’re holding up to tradition, etc.


LE – Yeah, I’m trying to.


BB – Yes


LE – You know, it’s interesting because for a lot of years I ended up calling mostly for what today you would call contra dances.


BB – Yes


LE – I think, you know when I met you – when I saw you in Albuquerque it was at a contra dance.


BB – Yes


LE – that’s where I was calling –


BB – Yes


LE – and I just lost the trick of doing that –


BB – Ah ha


LE – and right now I find myself – the dances I call are community dances – I’m much more interested in calling, not for dancers but just for people who want to dance.


BB – Right


LE – People who would never call themselves dancers –


BB – Right


LE – whether they call themselves square dancers or, you know contra dancers –


BB – Yes


LE – ah, you know calling at community festivals, calling at churches, calling at  – this fall it seems the band I play with  – we ended up playing at a lot of public schools, you know PTA type of dances for parents and kids and teachers –


BB – Right


LE – and right now that’s my favorite thing to do.


BB – Well, that’s great. So, well I think – unless you can think of anything else – I think we’ve pretty well covered things.


LE – Yes, I just love this project that you’re doing.


BB = Yeah, well it’s been a very ambitious – I’ve made over 90 interviews now –


LE – Well, it’s going to get to you – you must have near 100, yeah.


BB – Yeah


LE – Well, what are you going to do with them?


BB – Well. I’m gradually getting them transcribed – I just finished transcribing Bob Howell from Ohio –


LE – Ah ha


BB – and, you must know him –


LE – Just by name


BB – Yes, OK, well he’s a great guy but – and I’m just plugging along and every once in a while I pick up an interview or 2 – I interviewed Bob Dalsimer last week I guess it was and so, you know there’s a million guys out there that I could talk to and I’d like to – it’s just that I’m kind of confined to my little apartment here in Albuquerque at the moment but – are you coming down this way anywhere?


LE – Don’t have any plans right now –


BB – Yeah


End of Tape







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