Lisa Greenleaf – September 11, 2008
Bob Brundage – This is Bob Brundage and today is, oh, a day that lives in infamy as a matter of fact, September 11th, 2008 and today I’m having the pleasure of talking with Lisa Greenleaf up in Bolton, Massachusetts. So, we’re here to learn a little bit more about contra dancing in New England since I left there, and a little bit more about the previous life of Lisa before square dancing. Lisa, why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you were born and brought up?
Lisa Greenleaf – I was born in Indiana and I grew up in Indianapolis. Then I came out east for college and then went back out to the mid-west to Chicago for graduate school and then came back out here to the east and have been there ever since.
BB – Right there in Bolton?
LG – No, I lived in Rhode Island and outside of Boston and even in Maine for a while, but I’ve been in Bolton for the past, oh, about 26 years.
BB – I see. OK. So, how did you get….where did you first learn about square dancing?
LG – Well, my first introduction to dancing in general was… actually I was at a summer camp up in Vermont. It was a girl’s camp and there was also a boy’s camp and I was on staff. They would get the two staffs together and we would have… I now know he was a modern western caller. Unfortunately, I don’t remember his name. But he would come in and do his basic one night stand material and I loved it and I did that for two years. I mean, just this one night stand in the summer. Then, one summer, right before my Senior year in college, we had two young men on our staff who came up to me and said, “Would you like to learn how to swing the real way?” (Both laugh)
BB – OK.
LG – And he came up to a friend and me and we did that and I thought, “Oh my gosh. I want more of that” and they told me it was contra dancing. So, I discovered contra dancing and it really took off for me when I went to grad school in Chicago, because there was a young organization there that had started the traditional dancing to contras. What they did back then was the southern squares, mostly the visiting couples.
BB – I see.
LG _ And it was always to live music and most times it was a string band, but they also had a basic New England style band with a piano, a fiddle and a bass. That’s where I learned to do it. Back then, in the late 70’s, there was an interesting thing going on because the balances, the forward balance and swing, the balances used to be side to side and in Chicago we used to balance on the left foot then we kicked the right foot. The problem is, once you started to travel, in New England they balanced on their right foot first, unless you were from New Hampshire apparently. Then, because people traveled so much, they finally morphed it into a forward and back balance so nobody gets kicked. But I remember that that was a mark of distinction about my dancing in that people knew I was either from New Hampshire or Chicago because I balanced on the left foot.
BB – (Laughs) OK.
LG – I absolutely loved it and I also did a lot of international folk dancing and English dancing, and even some Scottish dancing when I was in graduate school. Then when I moved to New England I, I really got into the contra dancing. You know, that was Ted Sannella and Tony Parkes and it was really wonderful. It was a wonderful scene.
BB – Right. Well, did you ever get to know Ralph Page? Probably not.
LG – No, he had already died by the time I started. I was just on the end of the Dudley Laufman revolution. So, I remember that was just about the time when a lot of bands were becoming independent from Dudley and starting up here and there and the music was starting to spread all over the place. And that was right before the music really started to change. Back then the music was very rhythmic, it was slower than they play it today for example. Not so much variation. There was improvisation but …. and of course, the wonderful thing Dudley did was, he introduced all these wonderful new Scotch/Irish tunes. Then people started to write their own tunes so the music has always been great, but it’s interesting for me to track it because I know it’s changed so much over the years. But that’s one of the things I always loved about it. It was live music, and that just to me was wonderful. The other thing is, when I moved to New England I noted that they didn’t do the visiting couple squares. They didn’t do the Appalachian style squares. They did the quadrilles. That’s where Tony and Ted Sannella were just wonderful with that. You know, those are out of favor now for the most part although I think they are really great for beginners because… and they’re good for beginner callers because they’re phrased. It’s a lot easier to start off with a phrased square. But they were … back when I started, the squares were really big and you get a couple of sets of them in an evening or you get three sets of them in an evening and now that’s not quite the case. (Chuckles)
BB – Right.
LG – I started calling in, I think around 1984 and I was really handed a gift because I used to be a high school English teacher so language has always been very important to me and I do love to teach. When I discovered this dancing I thought,
“Oh, I want to do this. I want to be a caller” but – my friends are shocked when I say this – but I was actually a little shy back then and even though in the Chicago area, they were trying to grow new callers. I just never felt that I had enough self esteem to do it but then, when I moved to Rhode Island, I was actually on a Morris team and I was teaching the beginners how to do the Morris dancing and we had a full-fledged band play for our Morris dance. They were also a contra dance band but, back in those days the band would be paid $100 to share among themselves and the caller would get $100. So, this band, they came up to me and they said, “You look like you’re a good teacher. Would you be our caller? We’re starting a series”. So right off the bat, my first dance that I called was at my own series. I mean, that doesn’t happen any more. And they said, “But you’ll have to share to money with us” so that became my little trade mark – ‘Oh, she’s the caller who shares the money‘. Now, of course, for the most that happens all the time.
BB – Right. Well, let’s go back to your modern western days.
LG – Those are….those are younger. (Laughs) I started in about in 19 ….in 2000 but I first did it at Pinewoods camp in I think the early 90’s or late 80’s and Bob Dalsemer was….it must have been the late 80’s. Bob Dalsemer was on staff and he got up and he said, the first night and said, “ OK, I’m going to do this week long course in modern western dancing” and he was great because he said, “ I know what you’re thinking” and all of us were in our twenties and we’re thinking , “ Oh no, the poofie skirts. This is terrible”. He said, “I want you to try it but… and, if you come the first day you’ve got to stay to the end and you just can‘t join in the middle because it‘s cumulative”. So we all went and we were all very jaded. Well, within ten minutes I thought, “Oh my gosh. I really like this”. (Laughs) And it didn’t go quickly enough for me. He only had to teach us I think Star Through was the only thing we didn’t know or maybe Square Through at that point we didn’t know. From that, he based it on all the other traditional figures that we knew with the Stars and the Chains and all of that. But I loved it and I kept that in the back of my mind but I didn’t think of trying it again until 2000 and that was because… I did it because for calling reasons, not that I wanted to be a modern western caller but I thought… I was really exploring squares, traditional squares and I just wanted more information. I thought, “I’ll become a better caller and a better dancer if I … if I go learn this”. It turned out I had a lot of friends at MIT Tech Squares and so they sort of encouraged me but I didn’t learn from Tech. I actually learned … and I’m really glad, I learned from Tom Rinker from what was then the Bay Path Barn, the Bay Path Promenaders. And I really enjoyed that because, of course, MIT’s class is very accelerated, it’s 14 weeks to go through plus and Tom did the standard Mainstream/Plus program and I enjoyed that from a teacher’s perspective. I enjoyed watching him teach. And that was great. I loved it and then I joined Tech Squares. I know some of my other friends are chagrined now but I’m actually a C2 dancer. I’ve gotten into Challenge dancing. So, I absolutely love it.
BB – Right. So. Gosh, I never knew Tom Rinker. I knew Chet and Barbara Smith, the previous owners.
LG – Oh really. Hmm.
BB – Oh, I called there many, many times.
LG – That’s a great place.
BB – Yes, it is. It really is. So, well, then I’m surprised at what you’re saying because I thought you were probably in modern square dancing and then evolved into contras but actually it’s the other way around.
LG – No, I’m trying to be evangelical about squares. It’s interesting, it’s probably indicative of what’s happening in modern western all over the country but it’s hard to convince my friends that taking the class is worth it. And even when I tell them “look if you go to Tech it’s only 14 weeks and than it’s over and then you’re set” because a lot of these dancers like no-walk-through contras. They don’t want to be bothered with teaching. I said, “If you put the 14 weeks in, every dance you go to after that is no walk through. You don’t know what’s going to happen. But it’s still kind of a hard sell. Although I have gotten a lot of the Tech Squares dancers into contra dancing which has been great. So… and contra dancing is thriving in New England right now. We’ve got a lot of teenagers and twenty year olds doing it.
BB – Right. I’m trying to remember… exactly where is Bolton? Is it just outside of Boston?
LG – Yeah, it’s about 35 miles west, due west.
BB – I was thinking it’s closer to Worcester
LG – It is actually. It’s sort of half way between
BB – Oh yes. OK. That’s the way I pictured it.
LG – Which is why I picked Bay Path because it was the closest square dance club near me when I went to learn.
BB – OK. Well, what’s your family situation Lisa?
LG – I have a husband. His name is Michael. We actually met dancing. We met at Pinewoods at English/American week. But he prefers English dancing to contra dancing and even though he’s an engineer and would absolutely love modern western I don’t think I could get him near it. (Both laugh)
BB – Right. Well, that’s interesting. OK. Well, tell us about some of the contra dances around New England now. Do you have a regular group that you call for?
LG – I organize a regular dance but I don’t always call at it.
We have, about seven times a year, we have an advanced, challenging contra dance. We purposely only do it about seven times a year so it’s a special treat and not the expected norm because, of course, what we love about contra dancing is that it’s available to everybody. But I also am on the Thursday night dance committee, contra dance committee, which is a committee of NEFFA, the New England Folk Festival and we put on a weekly Thursday dance. So I actually book the talent for that and I call at that about four or five times a year. And then there are Monday night dances at the Scout House that I call at frequently and also out in Greenfield, Massachusetts. But also, I mean I go all over the place. I just came back from a summer of … a dance camp in California, two weeks at Pinewoods, and before that I was in England doing a dance weekend. There are a lot of new contra dance weekends out there now so I’m getting asked to do a lot of those.
BB – Yes. Well, you say there is a quite a bit of contra dancing in England?
LG – Yes. They’re actually trying to change it a little bit. There’s the more traditional style which, when you ask them to balance, they balance twice which takes up eight beats and they do it the old step/swing style and they stay with the same partner. About … I don’t know, ten years ago maybe, some organizers and dancers came over to a dance weekend in Atlanta and realized, ‘oh my gosh, this American style of contra dancing’, and they call it zesty contra, and that’s now the code word in England, that if you go to a zesty contra it means the music is going to be fast, you’re expected to change partners and that you’re going to be doing the contemporary style balancing and more of the contemporary figures. So there are two paths there. They’re having a hard time getting some of the younger folks in because Ceilidh dancing is so big there, their English style Ceilidh dancing. Their dances have a much looser structure and you can have alcohol there.
BB – Oh yes.
LG – But there are plenty of wonderful festival weekends in England and I’ve called at a few of them. I’ll tell you, the British are great. It’s like calling modern western crowd. They listen. They actually stop and listen. The contra dance crowd are not always very good at listening. That’s part of the skill set that you have as a contra dance callers to get their attention.
BB – Ah, so you didn’t get to Europe?
LG – I’ve been to Denmark. Denmark has a thriving contra dance scene and again, a number of them have been over, mostly to Pinewoods I think. So, that their dancing has changed and they’re dancing more to live bands. They tend to have a system of … it’s sort of half way between a modern western club and a contra dance in that they have adult education classes that you would join somebody’s club to go learn the contra dancing and those are usually done to tapes.
BB – That’s interesting. I didn’t realize that but …
But it also means they have a very sophisticated list of figures that they can do and you can throw them all these old traditional squares and they have no prob… They have learned Cross Trail Through. They have learned Square Through. And I mean, they could all do Basic and a little bit of Mainstream without even knowing that that was what they were doing because they’ve just been taught all of this in sort of a class-like structure. Whereas, when I throw those things into traditional squares I have to spend some time to teach what they are.
BB – Do you get up into Canada?
LG – Yeah, I’ve been ….. Toronto has a great contra dance scene. Ottawa has a small one and Vancouver has a very nice ….has two very nice dance weekends so I’ve been up there quite a bit.
BB – Do they … do you go for the French Canadian type music.
LG – They usually don’t. They’re more of the Anglo style. They’re New England style but about 15 years ago or 10 years ago French Canadian music became all the rage in New England and then it has spread.
BB – Is that right?
LG – So when they first came down I was working at a dance camp at Augusta in West Virginia and we had a French Canadian band. The problem is, they can add and delete phrases at will so that was one of the first things we had to communicate with them was, you know, this is strictly 32 bars and now of course, any band that comes down to play for us they play 32 bars. But that’s been a huge influence with the percussive feet and the very cheery nature of the music.
A lot of bands are now playing ….there’s certain big hits of French Canadian tunes that a lot of bands across the country know.
BB – Well, I always liked that French Canadian music. Are you active at New England Folk Festival?
LG – I sure am and I’ve been doing that for many years. I first started off as the Morris dance coordinator and then I think my second year there I was made President so I’ve done that and the last, I don’t know, 15 years or so I’ve been doing the programming for the American side which is mostly contras and squares. I’m also on the Grants Committee, that’s true.
I love NEFFA. It’s a great product and it’s a really wonderful Board. It’s a large Board but, because we have this product
which we all believe in, mainly the festival, it’s just, it’s great to work there. And, of course, they also sponsor the Ralph Page Weekend and the Thursday night dance and other things so….
BB- Right. Well, I don’t know if you knew that I was on the Board of Directors of New England Folk Festival at one time.
LG – I did know that. I know I think it’s great.
BB – Way back in the 50’s. (chuckles)
LG – Well, you know, I think it’s interesting too because one of the ethics we have or what’s on our agenda for dancing is that we know that this is one of the places that we can introduce newer dancers to some of the more traditional style of American dance so that you will have a tribute to Ted Sannella and maybe an hour long session on his triplets. Actually I think Tony Parkes recently did an hour of Ted Sannella squares. Then we also offer the chestnuts, or what we call the chestnuts. Things like Money Musk and Chorus Jig. But also we just think squares are important because squares are …. traditional squares, that’s a hot topic right now and unfortunately a lot of the younger dancers who are coming in think they don’t like them. And those who grew up dancing love them, but the newer dancers don’t quite get it and so there’s still some friction there that they don’t think that squares should count as the American dance program. (Laughs) We’re trying to educate them. Just as many people who say, “I’m not sure about squares”, especially at NEFFA, people love them and we offer all the types. We offer the traditional, we offer… well we don’t offer the modern western but we offer the more contemporary, traditional style.
BB – Yes. Well, of course the days that I was associated with them I was working at the University of Massachusetts and I knew Ted Sannella, and Connie and Marianne Taylor at the time were very active. And Ralph Page of course, at that time was a big part of it too. Did you know that he couldn’t stand bagpipes? (Both laugh) He would…. you know in those days, I don’t know if you still do it but, they always had a Grand March led by bagpipes open the festival.
LG – Oh, my gosh. No, I didn’t know that.
BB – And he wouldn’t even be… he wouldn’t stay in the hall. He’d wait until that part was over before he’d even come in. (Laughs)
LG – Well the he would have a hard time with some of the changes in New England contra dance music because they’ve added a lot of winds and some of those winds are saxophones and there’s an instrument called the Bombard which is basically a bag-less French bagpipe….
BB – Is that right?
LG – … a racket. Yes, that’s become very popular in a few bands. I mean, it takes talent and it takes a lot of wind to play it. So maybe there are only two that I know of, but the dancers love it because it makes them sit up and pay attention. But, yeah Ralph wouldn’t have liked that. (Laughs)
BB – No. that’s for sure. Right. Well, of course in those days too they used to have the band where anybody could sit in kind of a thing, you know.
LG – We still have that. It’s called the festival orchestra and we offer it four times throughout the weekend. And I’ve been lucky because I’ve actually been able to conduct that in the last couple of years. I conduct one of the sessions. It’s just so fun. We’ve even started a youth festival orchestra and you have to be under the age of 25 to play in it although the conductors have always been over forty because we can’t find any young ones who have the skill quite yet to conduct all that.
BB – Yes. How many pieces do you get when you….how many instruments?
LG – Oh, for the festival orchestra? Oh my gosh, the stage is packed. The stage is pretty small at times but you probably get…. you get well over 20. And then you have people hanging on on the side, sitting next to it and so at some of the popular sessions you probably get over 30.
BB – Yeah. Dulcimers and everything.
LG – Oh yeah. Everything. That reminds me, whenever I think of the festival orchestra it reminds me of the first recordings that Dudley put out, of the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra and just that sound and that was so popular when I first started dancing. Those records were just the most popular thing because again, he was propagating all these new tunes that people hadn’t heard, which were really old tunes but they were new to us. Yeah, it’s fun.
BB – One of the things that’s so much different about contra dancing is that there is so many young….younger people. What’s your feeling about that because ….contrasted to modern western.
LG – Oh boy. Well, as I said, I think the difference is that our doors are always open and you can always join in. Many dances offer beginner sessions but in 15 minutes you can teach then everything they need to know and they don’t even need to go to the beginner session. I think that is the huge difference and I think that has a lot to do with technology and people being used to, you know, changing channels so quickly. They don’t want to have to put in the time to go to a class and learn. And also, the mobility factor that we have, especially in New England, I mean you have so many dances that you can
choose from and these teens and twenty year olds they do.
They choose which dances they’re going to so they don’t have to think that they just have to go to one place to do this or to learn this.
BB – Yeah I… well…
LG – Although interestingly though, we are seeing some generational …. we’re having generational issues here in Boston but we’re going to be working on it because, you know, we used to be the hot young twenty years olds who were changing the dance scene and I think a lot of people have forgotten that we used to do that. When these other younger folks have come in they’ve got so much more energy than we do – (laughs) – and it’s a matter of teaching people to adjust to each person you come along to in line. And also, we’ve had a huge influx recently because all it takes is one teenager telling their class, “ Hey“, their high school class, “come to the dance” and that’s enough to tip the balance in the dance hall. But, we’re trying to let everybody know that, “Hey, this is for everybody and adjust to the people you meet“ and I’m sure, also for these younger dancers it’s a shock to them that they’re dancing with people their parents age and calling them by their first name. You know, that’s just part of our culture so there’s culture clash for both sides. It’s a good sign and we also have a lot of young musicians coming up which is what we really want to make sure continues.
BB – Yeah, that’s great. Yes. Well, are there any groups around which are like the old staid and proper dancing or….
LF – There are a few in New Hampshire where … yeah where the program is still fairly set and they’re doing the old style of dances. There‘s dwindling to be honest….. actually, Tony Parkes is about to start a series here in Boston, a monthly series, which is great and he’s going to feature, you know, the New England Quadrilles and other styles of dance. The way the dances used to be, the way Ted Sannella’s dance was, I think, with a mixture of some international couple dances and things like that. We’ll see how well that goes. I doubt that will attract a lot of young people but, you know, all it takes is one ring leader to come and say, “Hey, this is fun. Let’s bring our friends”. So…
BB – Yes, that’s true. Yep
LG – But as I said that’s why it’s so important for NEFFA to make sure that we offer the old style of dancing or the more traditional so that people understand it. And the other good thing that NEFFA has been doing – I mentioned the Ralph Page Legacy Weekend. They were losing people for a while and, you know, that’s a weekend that celebrates the style of dancing in the day of Ralph Page and then somebody had the brilliant idea of, why don’t we make this a popular place for younger callers who need to learn about history and that has really started a nice revival so that callers all over the country know that, ”Oh, I’ve got to go to the Ralph Page Weekend”. There are lots of events for these callers and, of course, then they bring their friends so we’ve had an influx of energy there which is great.
BB – Right. I’m interested in this place you went in California you say this summer?
LG – Yeah. That was called Mendocino. It was an American Week as they called it. I actually did a contra dance callers class there as well as did some calling.
BB – How about the dance up in Greenfield? I hear a lot about that. Tell us a little bit about that experience.
LG – Oh, Greenfield is the hotbed. It’s in the ….it’s a small Grange. I think the first dancing was started by David Kaynor, the musician David Kaynor who is also a very fine caller, and then it has just boomed so that there is now dancing there every Friday and Saturday night and sometimes on Sunday.
Every dance has a different flavor and David was very smart because he got dancers onto the….to join the Grange so that they’re now helping to run the Grange which I think is really, really wonderful. Yeah, it’s just become a Mecca and I think that happened probably about 10 or 15 years ago because real estate is just too expensive near Boston so people moved to western Massachusetts to live. And then a lot of musicians live in Brattleboro and now there’s a dance in Brattleboro so that is just a great place to be dancing.
BB – Right. You probably bump into Ralph Sweet there.
LG – Oh, Ralph. I love Ralph. Yes. I’ve had lots of interesting cantankerous conversations with him about squares. He’s been another great font of information for me. Ralph is great, yeah. He dances at all those dances. I just saw him recently. I just saw him last Friday kicking up his heels at the contra dance.
BB – Right. Of course, he grew up with modern western too.
LG – That’s what I meant about the cantankerous comments. Yeah, he still runs his own barn dance, which is great.
BB – I know it, yeah. It’s a great place. It’s a beautiful barn.
LG – Oh, it’s a gorgeous barn. He still makes flutes. He and his son make flutes. Oh yeah, he’s a wonderful treasure. Oh, and of course, I think was it ten years ago, he came out with his singing squares CD? Oh, it’s wonderful because I grew up dancing to all those squares and so it’s really great that they’ve been preserved. Some of the younger callers are taking those on which is really nice.
BB – Well let’s see. What am I missing, anything? You think of anything you want to tell us about?
LG – (Laughs) Well, I will say that it’s interesting that when I started modern western dancing a lot of my friends said, “Uh oh, and how are you going to become a modern western caller” and, of course, they had no clue what it takes to be a modern western caller and I said, “Ah, I don’t quite have that mind” and plus that would … you’d really have to do a lot more schooling for that. I’ll be honest, I’m not interested in doing that although I have thoroughly enjoyed going up and being what I call the human chess piece at some of the caller’s schools. So, I think the first one I went to I just went to for a day and I think Jim Mayo was running that and that was great and I love Jim because he has that wonderful singing patter style that is so close to what I associate with good, rhythmic square dancing, the more traditional style. Recently I went to one that Mike Jacobs was doing out in western Mass. and it’s just fun. It’s just fun to see what you have to think of and what they talk about with stage performance. So I’ve really, really enjoyed that, that’s just been fun. And getting to meet people like Joe Casey and Culver Griffen and talking to them about…. ”all right, tell me about the old stuff. I want all those old squares” – (laughs) – “they used to call because those are popular with our dancers”. You have to teach them well but those are really popular and I love calling them. I just think they’re so much fun.
BB – Well, you’ve given me a fresh new perspective in your thinking that, you know, in order to be a good contra caller you’ve got to do some modern western.
- Well, let’s see. Now there’s an interesting question, it was for me as a square dance caller that I thought I needed to do this.
(Tape ends abruptly – End of side A)
(Lisa Greenleaf continues after a brief loss of content) – that one’s not doing so well. But who knows, that may change, that may still come into the dancing. But, I just think it’s important that if you want to call squares and call them well in the traditional style you’ve got to look at the whole spectrum of square dancing and modern western is certainly a part of that.
BB – Well, I’m sorry to say my tape ran out a minute ago but I’ve turned it over and we’re recording again. One of the questions I’ve been asking all the other people that I talked to, who are primarily the modern western type of people is, where do you think square dancing is going in general? Well like, I don’t know. Maybe we can slant it toward contra dancing.
LG – Well no. Keeping the modern western alive is important. Tech Squares is not having a problem but, of course they lie outside of the mainstream of modern western. But they’re thriving and it’s partly because they offer it as part of the PE credit which is really smart, it’s a club imbedded in the school. In fact, that model has been so popular that somebody else is now doing contra dancing for PE credit at MIT – (laughs) which I think is also really smart. So, I don’t know. There has to be something to get people interested in it again. And I actually …. I have a theory that I think somebody should look into which is, I think if they made a teenage movie around the teenage competition squares, I bet that that would revive it. But they need to make a Hollywood movie with a romance story and, you know, get some hot looking caller up there – (laughs)
BB – That’s a great thought.
LG – Yeah, you know, get some twenty year olds or do it at the college level or whatever but we’ve danced at some of those teen competition tapes. You know, they’re not easy. They’re not easy but I can just imagine….either that or to make up a film…. a Hollywood film around the Colorado Rocky Mountain
Dancers because what they do is spectacular and again, that’s not easy choreography. That’s learning a lot of interesting figures. So, I think that would be a great way to spread the word out about modern western and get it … get people in it. Now, the powers that be…. I think Callerlab would then have to be open to the fact that if you got that influx of teenagers, as we have in contra dancing, that’s going to change things a little bit and that you’d have to ride that wave with them. But otherwise I just don’t know. I just don’t know. I mean, for my friends I know there are a lot of things they don’t like about modern western besides the classes. They don’t want to … don’t want to have to wear the outfits and all of that kind of thing. But….
BB – Well, I think that …. I’ve been an advocate for competitions all along. I used to call for a competition out in New York State and it culminated at the New York State Fair every year.
LG – Wow. How exciting.
BB – And it was really…. I thought it was a tremendous boost for the, you know, for the young people in New York State. It was conducted through the 4-H clubs and the Future Farmers of America and the Granges, so, you know, it was a strictly in the agricultural end of the economy but I still thought, in all these small communities …. these kid were really competitive.
LG – Oh yeah.
BB – Boy if somebody made a mistake the other seven people were down on him.
LG – Yeah, that’s right. I’m thinking of this because, you know, a few years ago there was Hollywood movie people…. with young people learning swing dancing and swing dancing became popular. And then there was one about salsa dancing and salsa dancing became popular and I thought, “Wow,
there’s a great story line in following a teen club“. Again, especially if you throw in the Hollywood romance part, because dancing in general is very popular right now. So they’d just have … but again, teen competition dancing looks very different from going to a basic/mainstream/plus class and that’s the difference that think people would have to be willing to accept is, if they come in expecting something hot and furious and fast, then you have to be able to delver it to them. And, as much as contra dancing is growing with all these young teenagers coming, we’re still getting people in their forty’s and fifty’s too. And again, because you don’t have to take a class, you just show up whenever you finally get the gumption that, “OK, I’m going to do it tonight”. So, our dances have been very well attended, especially over the summer.
BB – Well you’ve probably have a few dancers that are even older than I probably.
LG – Well, how old is Ralph Sweet? As I said, he’s still kicking up his heels. (Laughs)
BB – I think he and I are about the same age.
LG – He’s there all the time. He loves it and they love him. That’s what’s so great. They know him very well. In fact he calls, he calls contras now. Oh no, he’s a very respected member of the community.
BB – I guess he dances with his daughter mostly.
LG – Right. Right. But he has friends who give him a ride up from Connecticut to Greenfield so that’s good. But I mean, I’ll be honest that if I had not had Tech Squares I probably would not have continued with the modern western. Now it turns out that the club that I learned from dissolved fairly rapidly after I took my class, just for whatever reason. Maybe because I am a contra dancer and I like things to be a little bit faster. Challenge level is not faster but it’s faster for the mind. (Laughs) There’s a lot of looking at the tiles and trying to recall what figure was just called and also at Tech Squares they dance…. they tend to dance a little bit faster. So I know for my friends that’s what makes it interesting to them.
BB – You know, this morning I just had an hour and a half conversation with a young caller out in California who is …
I think the first call he called was like at C1 or something like that
LG – Oh my. Yeah, that’s what happens.
BB – But we got talking about timing and phrasing and what is appealing about square dancing. etc. and I… do you have any comments along that line? What I mean is. Modern western dancers primarily are not dancers. In other words they don’t dance to the music particularly, primarily because the callers aren’t giving them the chance to. All they’re doing is solving problems, solving riddles I mean. Do you have any thoughts on that line?
LG – Well again that’s why I’m very lucky because Tech’s caller, Ted Lizotte is so musical so that whenever he hits that….about 90% of the time whenever he hits that Allemande Left it is somewhere in the music where it just makes sense.
BB – Is that right?
LG – So, you not only….you get this little zing of pleasure from, “Ooh look. Here’s my corner” but you get it because it fits in with the music. And also, Tech Squares, like a lot of gay clubs, has, you know, a lot of these very funny flourishes but they have to be done in time. There’s one for Weave The Ring which this whole clapping sequence and you’ll hear people saying, “5, 6, 7, 8” to cue themselves into the clapping sequence so it’s a very musical club in that regard. I know for traditional squares that’s totally key for any of the traditional quadrilles or breakdowns that people do, but that’s why I found it a little bit harder when I started to learn old time, southern style and some of the westerns, but even when I’m doing the traditional westerns it’s just like hearing Jim Mayo call. It’s still…. there still is a phrase there that you want to be with. And of course, I can take liberties with what I call because I can call an eight-count swing and I know they’ll actually take the eight counts instead of the just going two times around. I also know that they will take 8 counts for the Ladies Chain which, you know, in modern western it’s more like 6 counts.
BB – That’s true. Right.
LG – But to me, that’s important personally and I love it when modern western callers, like Jim can do that and make people dance. We’ve had… I’ve had great conversations with him about that. He said, “You can encourage them to dance that way. You can encourage modern western dancers to dance that way”. And actually I have even done some challenge level dancing …. Vic Ceder is great at that. He’s right on the music. He’s got a great voice and Ben Rubright is great at that too so that’s, boy, you’re just sailing along and doing it right to the music and it’s just wonderful. I think dancers notice that ….that when it’s like that. I think they notice that “Oh, we’re just sailing along here”.
BB – Yes, right. It’s interesting that when I was traveling quite a bit, back years ago, I had one tip that I called my Challenge tip and it was an old New England Quadrille….Rod’s Right and Left it’s called.
LG – Oh, I love that. Yeah. I know exactly which one that is.
BB – I recorded that you know.
LG – I did not know that.
BB – It’s on Folkraft, yeah and it was written by Rod Linnell.
LG – Oh, Rod Linnell and all his wonderful….oh man, his quadrilles. Oh, aren’t they great.
BB – Oh, I’ll tell you.
LG – I do those at Challenge level dances too just because it takes more people.
BB – But I … I knew … I was at Maine Folk Dance Camp with …. no, I’m sorry, Recreation Leaders Laboratory that Lawrence Loy used to run up in Maine, and Rod Linnell showed up one time and I fell in love with him. He had written this quadrille but he never put a name to it so, when I recorded it I said,
“Well, I’ll name it Rod’s Right and Left” because that’s what it was.
LG – Oh, that’s great.
BB – (Laughs) Yeah and I’ll tell you, the higher the level of the club that you called this to the worse it is.
LG – Yeah, I can understand that with Challenge level dancers. But, you know, the first time I saw Challenge level dancers I was actually at a Plus dance and it was at Tom’s Barn, at Baypath Barn, and so he had the main hall out front, which is where we were but he also had the back room and Tom himself was calling. I don’t know what level it was, C2 or something in the back, and a guest caller was calling in the Main (hall) and I went out to look at this Challenge level dancing that all my MIT friends were doing and what I saw was Tom giving the name of the call, everybody suddenly looking at their feet, shuffling around, ending in waves and then looking up. It looked very Pavlovian and I thought, “That does not look like dancing”. (Laughs) And of course now, now I am one, but we’re lucky because we have tapes from people who actually help you sail along, as I said. You know, speaking of an interesting challenge, recently I think we got these tapes from Jim Mayo. I was at Clark Baker’s house and we’d gotten these tapes of callers, I think it was the early 60’s, and it was fun because there were…. there were two squares of us I think, and most of us were contra dancers as well but we were also Challenge level dancers or Plus level dancers and, to me it was just a fascinating marriage of modern western and traditional because those people who were dancing who hadn’t done any contra dancing, they couldn’t do some of the figures. And then vise-versa but I loved it. And some of them were pretty darn hard and these were taped at a regular convention. Part of that was because some of those figures are not done any more like the Cross Trail. But I fell in love with Gloria Rios Roth. Oh my gosh, what a voice. And there she was, a woman, doing this and then there’s Al Brundage doing things. I can’t remember who the other one was…. Earl Johnston. Oh, my gosh. I just thought, I want to do more of that. (Both laugh) But, unfortunately, not all of that can be translated to the style that I call because the figures are a little bit more difficult but boy, was that fun. And it was all very rhythmic
BB – Right. Well, you know, I mentioned a word a little while ago…what do you find appealing about calling?
LG – Oh, what I love about it is being I think, being a natural born teacher, I love the contra dancing, the language of it and it’s the language of teaching because that’s what really sets it up because, since people may not know these figures when they walk into the hall, you have to be able to describe them in a very succinct, clear fashion. I love getting new dances and then figuring out how do you teach them and what’s the most efficient language and understanding how body’s work and what people hear when you say things which is sometimes a surprise when you say things and they don’t do exactly what you meant. And I love to be a guide for somebody else’s good time. Of course, they’re all just performance things. I think I’ve always been a performer and I enjoy that and I enjoy working with a live band. But I’m very aware that my golden moments are those two minutes of the walk through because, once I start cueing and prompting the dance I don’t want my personality to come through because that’s when the band is supposed to shine. I just love being a guide in other people’s good time and coming up with a program that’s interesting for them and it has to be interesting for me too.
BB – Right. That’s very interesting you talking about the language of teaching. I don’t know if you ever knew Don Armstrong?
LG – Oh yeah.
BB – Did you? Well you know, I used to go to the contra dance weekend at York, Pennsylvania when that was still going on and he had the masterful ability to say exactly the right thing to get everybody to do what he wanted them to do. He was a past master at that.
LG – Yeah, and I think that’s a real skill and when I’m asked to do caller’s courses that’s basically all I do is that I have them….we talk about what language is effective and we mostly do walk-through’s which is the teaching part of contra dancing. They get a little frustrated because they want more mic time with the band and I’m saying, “Hey look, anybody who can count to eight can prompt a contra dance“. It’s the teaching and then there are other things like the programming and certain leadership skills just because you’re in the community. But it’s the teaching that really separates the callers apart.
BB – Sure. Right. And of course, he (Don Armstrong) wasn’t ashamed. When he called he had a music stand in front of him. He had his notes right there, a great big notebook and he had it on that music stand.
LG – Oh, good for him, well now we all have laptops. Have you seen the Challenge level callers, it’s all in their laptops (laughs) along with the music.
BB – There’s one funny story along that line. It happened at the New England Folk Festival. We initiated a Sunday afternoon workshop. Each year we’d pick a different folk….
a different folk dance I mean. English one year, Irish a year.
LG – Oh yeah.
BB – And one year the English teacher was, I can’t remember who it was, I wouldn’t probably mention her name anyway, because she got people out on the floor who had not done English style before and she got them into a ….she said something like, “Make a triple” and nobody knew how to make a triple and when they finally got that arranged, in fact I think it was Ted Sannella that was pushing people around to get them arranged she said, “ OK. This dance starts…. you do an Up a Double” and everybody looked at each other, but nobody knew how to … and she could not say, “All you do is Balance Forward and Back Twice”, and it was terrible. She said, “You do a Set and Turn Single” and everybody looked at each other and she said, “You know, you do a Set and Turn Single” (Both laugh) But anyway….
LG – But for contra dance callers it’s particularly important because we welcome beginners at every dance so you have to … you have to know how to break down these moves. And it’s fun for me. That’s one of the first things I do with new callers. I’ll have them go through a Ladies Chain and I’ll have them say what’s actually happening here and there’s things happening that they haven’t even thought about.
BB – Sure. Right. Well look Lisa, I think I’ve kind of run out of steam unless….
LG – OK
BB – this has certainly been an interesting conversation and I’m really, really happy to have the chance to talk with you.
LG – Well, I’m very flattered. Thank you so much. Are you still ….are you still working at the archives?
BB – Well, the archives moved.
LG – Oh, they did, where are they now?
BB – They’re at the University of Denver. It’s really bad. Well, they boxed everything up and they sent it up there and everything is still sitting in the boxes and they’ve been there 3 or 4 years. That’s why I changed my affiliation, my efforts, if you will for my little project to the Foundation in New England. And Anna Dixon, etc.
LG – Oh Anna’s great. I’ve been up to that library plenty of times.
BB – Yes. I understand you’re a life member now,
LG – I’m a life member. It’s true.
BB – That’s great.
LG – She’s very persuasive that Anna Dixon. (Both laugh)
BB – Right.
LG – She saw me looking at those Sets In Order and she said,
BB – What’s your impression of the library and museum in New England?
LG – Well, I mean I love the fact that they had all the outfits up there. It was really fun and, as I said, I just was drooling over all the Sets In Order. I just think we’re really lucky to have it. That and also the Ralph Page Library that the University of New Hampshire has which isn’t that far away. Together, that’s great and I’m always sending new callers up there and saying, “You may think that this is just boring, historical stuff but you’re going to discover things that you’re going to use“. It’s great.
BB – Well I’ve never been to their …to the University of New Hampshire’s library. I hope I can go some day. You’d be interested to know, I just finished an interview with Anna Dixon….
LG – Oh you did, oh good.
BB – ….and she mentioned quite a bit about the University of New Hampshire. You might pipe into that. I don’t think it’s online quite yet but….
LG – No, it’s not. Yeah, and that was one of the efforts of Marianne Taylor who just passed away unfortunately.
BB – Yes, I knew that.
LG – She was on the original committee that got the Ralph Page Legacy Weekend going and boy, we’re all just very grateful for that now because it’s a really great weekend and I don’t think that people quite appreciated it a while ago but now they understand this is important stuff because we’re changing so fast.
BB – Do you subscribe to the traditional discussion group on…
LG – Oh yeah.
BB – Yeah, because I never see your name in there. (Both laugh)
LG – I’m pretty busy.
BB – You’re what they call a lurker.
LG – Yes, I’m a lurker. Occasionally I’ll correct things or I’ll pipe in but not to often although I certainly enjoy reading it.
As long as they don’t get into that thing ….every five years they get into the discussion of the difference between modern urban contra dancing and modern western and we go through this cycle again.
BB – Yes, I know.
LG – “Why don’t you just try it”. Oh dear.
BB – Well, why don’t we call this a day then?
LG – OK. Well, thank you so much.
BB – I really hope I have the chance to meet you one of these days…..
LG – I agree.
BB – ….if you ever get back out to the west again.
LG – Well you know, I was just out in Albuquerque in May. (laughs)
BB – Were you really?
LG – Yeah, Doc Litchman and I were down at the May Mad…. Folk Madness Dance Weekend and also, I was also spending
time with Kris Jensen who I know out there. And actually, Kris just came to my caller’s course for contra dance callers in Massachusetts.
BB – Oh, good for her.
LG – Oh yeah. She’s great.
BB – She really gets around.
LG – Oh yeah. She drove me right to the square dance building and I was so jealous. (Laughs)
BB – Well, I wish I’d known you were here. I did meet David Millstone. He was at the same weekend, wasn’t he?
LG – I think we were a year apart, yeah.
BB – Oh, I see. OK.
LG – That was probably ast year. It was the same weekend, yeah.
BB – Right. So let’s call this a day.
LG – OK. Thank you so much.
BB – And thank you very, very much .
LG – All right.
BB – Stay on the line and I’ll talk to you a little more.
LG – OK
BB – Hold on. Bye, bye,
LG – Bye.
(End of side B – End of interview with Lisa Greenleaf)