April 23, 1997
(Bob Brundage) OK, so this is Bob Brundage again, still in Los Angeles at the CALLERLAB Convention. The date again is the 23rd, and this afternoon we’re talking with Martin Mallard, from up in Canada way. So Martin, let’s get into your past experiences.
[Martin Mallard] Well,
[BB] Where were you born and brought up, and
(MM) (in a joking tone of voice) Well I was just waiting to hear you say Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. All right. I was actually born in that city. I didn’t live there all my life, but I moved, when I was eight years old, to Medicine Hat, which is in Alberta. And was raised by my aunt for a few years. And she was quite a woman. She liked to have her son, as I was called at that time, as far as she was concerned, on stage, so from the age of about two or three I was doing song and dance on the stage ’til I moved back home. So, I actually had a lot of, shall we say, preliminary training as a young person, very young person, I had no fear of the stage. That was one of the things that was very convenient for me. When I moved back to Saskatoon, of course, I was back with a new family, and brothers and sisters that I really didn’t know and I had to get re-oriented.
But by the time I got back into high school, I was back on the stage again doing operetta and that type of thing, so that again, that type of thing was second nature to me. I enjoy music, I have always danced, always sung, that type of thing.
(BB) Yeah. Play any instruments?
(MM) No I don’t, as a matter of fact. I, I started with a guitar when I was about fourteen, and I got fairly proficient, but about the same time as I started with guitar I found out about girls, and it was a question of which was the most important.
(BB) You got it.
(MM) I was married at nineteen and started raising a family. I have a very, very supportive wife, that’s one thing I will say.
(MM) If I could marry her again, I think I’d marry her a bit younger. We were fortunate in that it was her that actually got me into the square dancing game. We were living in a housing development, I guess you’d call it. Renting at the time, because it was, our city was very, very, growing very, very fast.
(MM) And we were in this development, and the next door neighbors had started square dancing about a year before. I came home one noon, and she told me we were going square dancing that night. And, of course, being a, I guess I’ll use the word male chauvinist, in control of the household, so most of us men think. But she told me that I had to wear a long-sleeved shirt and all the various things. I told here what I thought about square dancing, and I had the old opinion that it was out in the barn, and the liquor, and all this sort of thing. And I went back to work. And that night I came home and she says, “Well, get” right after supper she says, “Well you better have a bath so you don’t smell too bad, and get into your shirt. We’re going square dancing.” I got a little mad, she started to cry. I had my bath and changed, and we went square dancing. Needless to say, you don’t win a battle with your wife, very, very seldom. But we went out, and I was quite surprised. I was very, actually, pleasantly surprised. We had a very good teacher, a fellow by the name of Gerry Holly (note: uncertain of correct spelling). Historically, he was one of the early callers in Saskatoon. Started in the early forties, and he did an excellent job. He made me very interested in it. The first night I went up and paid my deposit to learn to square dance in the fall. Now this was in the spring of 1995. And
(BB] OK, Not 1995
(MM) No, fifty-five (’55), 1955 We’d better correct that. And we went from there to a beginners class that actually the first of September, had six weeks of lessons and were put into a club. Well, after the six weeks of lessons, four weeks of dancing in the club, he announced he was having a callers school. And needless to say, I was still having trouble with Do Paso. Terry says I was one of the most stupid people to learn to square dance. But I told her, I said, “I think I’m going to join that.” Again, it was the music, it was the fact of stage presence, it was the fact of the people. There were so many facets of it that made me love it, right from the very beginning. And I went over there, and it was interesting, because he had two different classes made up of people who had been square dancing with him for four or five years. And, of course, I am the kid on the block, twenty-four, twenty-five at the time. And the only thing I knew was “Trail of the Lonesome Pine” and “Red River Valley”, two singing calls. Well, of course, they asked me to call. Well, I did “Red River Valley” and the rest of the guys were calling things that I, we were dancing while they were calling, and they were calling things that I had never heard of as a beginner caller. But things worked very well. Actually, I was very pleased at what I was learning, and Jerry did an excellent job. He “tolerated” me, I think is the word I would use-in later years we were in business together and we became very close friends. But during that period of time anytime that I could do something that was simple, he would make sure I got the job to do, which was very good on his part. And he coached me very thoroughly, but at that time we didn’t have sight calling, we didn’t have all this, it was all memory work. There were no aids, as you might say, except the printed sheet which you memorized. And I have been fortunate, because I have a semi-photographic mind. I can read a thing, and if I want to I can store it, and it’s there. I’ve lost that as I’ve got older, though, unfortunately. I guess that comes with the area, but during the years I was learning to square dance, it was a great asset. And I feel that I’ve had a lot of singing training too, because during my high school years, a fellow by the name of Jenkins, was the music coach there, and he gave me private singing lessons for four years, which helped my voice, really good. Even today, I do the things that he told me I should do to keep it going. I think my first, shall we say “continuous” job that I got, and this was in early December of 1955, I got a phone call from Jerry and he says, “I have a job for you up at the University Hospital.” He says, “It’s up in the rehabilitation center there, and they want somebody to come up once a week and do some square dance calling.” So, I said fine. I didn’t own a car at the time. I had a little three watt amplifier and a turntable, and it all folded into a nice little suitcase and away I went. I had about ten or fifteen records. I got up there and found out that it was a psychiatric ward. And they were people who were on recovery from various trauma incidents in their life, and so forth. Every week when I went up there, they not only didn’t know what I had taught them the week before, but they didn’t even know who I was. So it was a matter of reintroducing myself, reintroducing square dancing and re-teaching. And I did that for, actually, two years. I maintained that class and then finally, the University changed its plans, and then I was let go. I don’t know what they did for that type of thing. But it was probably the best grounding a person could ever have in teaching the very basics of square dancing. Even today I use the things that I learned there. So, from there, actually, in 1956, one of the clubs in town was starting a beginners class, and it was one of the old, what we call the old time clubs that had started in the early fifties. And, their caller had gone on in years, I mean he’d learned late, he was an old time caller, and decided to retire. So they were restructuring the club. Another guy and myself that had gone to Jerry’s club, class for callers, we both got the job. He, unfortunately or fortunately, whichever way you want to look at it, he got the dancers, and I got the beginners class. Well, it turned out, in the long run, that was the best thing that could have happened. The first year we had about six squares, and the senior club took all the money and paid me the magnificent sum of five dollars a night which just about covered my records. And I was still traveling on the street car, getting right across town to do this. Later that year we did buy a car, so it made it a little easier to get around. We got some out-of-town dates, and a few things that made me feel good about square dance calling. The following year, the following summer, we went to Banff, that was 1956, the summer of’ 56, and we ran into Ed Gilmore, Lee Helsel, Bruce Johnson, people like that. We went, actually from 1956 through to the first part of 1962, I think, the last time we went there. These guys were really the ones that put me on the road to calling. Ed Gilmore (I could have killed him a couple of times, with some of the things that he tried make us do), but I realized since, that there was something about that man that you had to admire, and if you listened, you would learn. And, from that, I would say, that was the basis of my calling the way I call today. But this club that we started, this may be a little disjointed. We were fortunate. The senior club paid all the bills but they were only three squares. We had six squares in the beginner class. Well, there was no contact between, you know how square dance clubs can be. The senior club was up here and we were down here. But at the end of the year, the president of the club finally came down to visit with the beginners. That was the first time we had seen him, other than the time they hired me. And he said, “Well, next year you’re dancing with us, the senior club.” And they had not had a Christmas party, well they’d had one, but not because the seniors had wanted it. They’d not had a wind-up party, and again not because they had all the money but no bills were paid. I mean, we had a Christmas party, we put it on. So, they said, “No, we are going to stay as a beginner class.” The whole group of them said this. And they went out and they got another four or five squares. We had a big club for that hall. It was ten squares, while the others were still dancing their three squares, and, of course, they were a little annoyed with me, but they kept me on for another year, and, of course, we matched these people together and they became a very good club. At the end of the year, they said the same thing to them. Two weeks later this gang of ten squares called a meeting and formed, what is today, the Hoop and Hollers. And that club has been with me ever since I started. And, about the same time we had another group, started by a recreation center, called the Suzie-Q’s. They are still with me. And we still have people dancing with us since we started. To me, it’s warm feeling that these clubs that I started at the very beginning of my career are still dancing, still have the odd person, I mean some of them are gone now because of age, and other reasons, but the foundation is still there. We actually have clubs that we started over the years still dancing with us. The Happy Wanderers, we let a singles group go that we started in 1958, and the only reason we let them go is it were just becoming too much of a load. They are still in existence. A caller that learned to dance with us in that club is now calling for them. So there has been a changeover there. During this period of time, as I say, we went to all these various schools with various people. I learned a lot. Two of the other men that I think were very, very instrumental in my career were Dave Taylor and Bob Page. We became very close friends with them over the years, and used to visit with them in their homes, and this type of thing. It was the conversations, the attitudes, the whole feeling of how they thought about square dancing, I think, that was the biggest influence. We firmly believe that square dancing is a family thing. We had one little club, I don’t know how familiar you are with our politics up north, but Diefenbaker, former prime minister of Canada, was one of our most well known Prime Ministers. He was raised in Prince Albert, a town about a hundred miles north of us, i.e. Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. But he went to school just outside of Saskatoon, a little farm school called Halcyonia, and I won’t even try to spell it! But, that’s where he went, and those people who lived in the area wanted a little square dance club, but they specifically said they wanted a family square dance club. And we used to go out there every Tuesday night for years on end, and the whole family would come from three year olds to grandma and grandpa. And it was “Old Time” dancing as far as modem square dancing is concerned, but it was fun! It was real fun! We did solo dancing, the threesomes, the old quadrilles, the contras, the whole issue was there. Anything that was simple, we used. And for me it was great.
Are you familiar with Rockwell’s drawing?
(BB) Yeah, I went to a museum back in Ohio.
(MM) Did you see the one with the kid sitting in the middle of the bedspread with the purses all dumped? Did you ever see that one?
(BB) Oh, yes, yeah.
(MM) Well that actually happened in this club, because the youngsters used to go out in the cloak room and sleep in all the clothes, and they got into the purses and did that out there. So that’s the type of thing that we had. We had a lot of fun there. But, even today we have run into those young people and some of them have come back square dancing with us because of the experience they had then. So to me, when you find something like that and you work it, it does payoff in the long run.
(BB) Well, that’s very interesting.
(MM) That’s the early years.
(BB) OK. You have already answered a couple of questions that I was going to ask you about who was an influence in your career, and so forth. So, when did you start getting into the National Scene, per se?
(MM) That was actually accidental, in a way. We have a thing called “The International Square Dance Convention” which floats between Canada and the United States, in the Minot, Bismark, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, that area. We call it the central part of Canada. We call it that, but the easterners wouldn’t call it that. But anyway, it’s around the Saskatchewan, Manitoba border area. And it had been going a couple of years. This again is another man that was a lot of influence in my period, Earl Park. He was responsible for, not so much influencing my calling, but he had a large influence on what happened to me. I think that’s the way I would put it with Earl. I used to spend, because my wife’s hometown was only about fifty miles from his place, we would go out there for the weekend, and of course the family there was a big family, and I was sort of the guy left out here. So I would take an afternoon and drive over to Earl. He ran a jewelry shop in Yorkton, which is where he was at, and we would spend the evening just chewing the fat, or the afternoon, whatever time I was out there. He was very concerned about what direction I was heading. I think that’s the way I would put it. And he did influence me a little bit in how I called, He taught me “slotting” which was new at the time, a method of controlling your choreography and it was a great thing to me. I mean, I learned to use it. It was great. I still use it today. And, he was instrumental in starting this International, but they excluded Saskatoon from it, and I was a little bit upset. I was in the position of being, shall we say a leader in the area, I was recognized because I had, at that time, eight clubs in the city, and the callers and the dancers would say “Oh, there’s Martin”. I mean I was president of the Caller’s Association, and of the Dancer’s Association, and what have you. I was very concerned that we couldn’t have this Convention in Saskatoon, because we did have one big dance at the end of the year, which was sponsored by one of the clubs. The people in the southern part of the province were a little bit envious of it, because we would get two to three hundred squares at this thing. And that was a big dance in our area at the time. Now twenty-five squares is a big dance in our area. They decided that they would have this International Convention which would be the equivalent of what we had there, and there would be two big dances in the province. In that view, I have to agree with them. I look back over it, and look at what happened at that time, and I say, “Yeah, they probably had the right idea.” But Earl wanted me to be part of this International, so he sent me a speaker to test. I didn’t like it, of course, and he knew I wouldn’t like it. I was using a Hilton style speaker. I was into electronics, and I built my own equipment at that time.
(BB) You and Lee Helsel
(MM) Yeah. Well I built that same, Rebels, I think was the name of the original enclosure. And, he said, “Well, if you’re not going to use it, bring it to Winnipeg. That’s where the International is” And I thought, “You son of a gun.” But, anyways, Terry and I decided we’d go. Terry is my wife. Off we went with this speaker. Well, when I was there, being a person who was hungry for knowledge I subscribed to all sorts of caller notes. One of them came out of Winnipeg, but to get the caller notes you had to be a member of their caller association, and you could be an associate or a full member, and I had joined as an associate. There was a fellow from Ottawa by the name of Bert Quinn, now that probably doesn’t mean anything to anybody, really, but Bert was a prime dancer leader in the Ottawa area. We had a dance there of all the callers who belonged to the Manitoba callers associations and I was invited to call at that particular dance. And it was, how can I put it, it was a hot, humid, angry dance. That’s the only way I can describe it. Each caller that went in tried to outdo the one before him. Within our family, I don’t know if you want to put this in print. My mother was sort a psychic. She could sometimes see things that were going to happen. Unless you believe in these people, there is, I look at it and I am sort of shaky about it myself. The sad part of it is that I have that ability too. I said to Terry, and I said it quite bluntly, “We are going to Ottawa this fall. We will be doing that dance.” She laughed. Well, the first week in September we were coming home from work and I said, “Has the mail arrived today?” She said, “Well, it’s on the table. I haven’t looked at it.” I said,” There’s a very important letter in that pile of mail.” There was a letter from Bert Quinn telling us we had a date that fall, because a caller had cancelled. So we went down there, and we had a wing-ding of a dance. I still have the tape. It was to me, one of the highlights of my career. Even today I look back when I listen to that tape, and I say, “Whew, I wish I could do those things again.” I had learned to dance from Lee Helsel, “Light in the Window”, the old Western Jubilee record we were talking about before we started the tape. It became my signature. As a result of that dance people, when I went down there, I toured actually from 1963 to the early seventies. I went down every fall and did a two or three week tour of Eastern Canada and came home. But a job change stopped that. I was not able, I did work for a living. All the time that I was calling five and six nights a week I was working for a living too. And, so that, my tour did stop, but that’s what started me on what you might call the National scene, that whole area, touring in Eastern Canada. We were fortunate; we always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. I can’t say that it’s anything that I did, definitely, because, to this day, I have never written for a date. Never, ever have I sat down and sent out ten carbon copies to various clubs saying, ”I’d like to make a tour in your area, and so forth”. But I was always, I always traveled. We’d been fortunate over the years. The people that we’ve contacted, that have heard us call, they asked us back. I was going to say something about the eastern Ottawa area was at that time a very different square dance than I was aware of. The people bought a place on the floor. If you were number one couple in number three square, that’s where you danced. Art Wilson, who was very, very influential in that area hired me to call for his Wagon Wheeler Number Three which THE CLUB in Ottawa at that time. We went out the night before to dance with Wagon Wheeler Number Two. Now I was not aware of this business of how they set their squares up, and what have you, but he had a beginners, which was One, then Two and Three. And you didn’t go from one to the other without the caller’s wife actually inviting you to come and dance. So, we went out to Number Two to see what this club was like, nobody had told me anything about it, and I grabbed Gwen, which was Bert’s wife, during the break, and we went out and squared up. Well, when I came off the floor, the couple whose place we had taken just tore a strip off me, and then Art asked me to call a tip. So, it was an embarrassing situation all around. But, I learned very quickly that there were other types of square dancers in the world than what I was used to. Which was a good thing for me! It worked out very well. Oh, there are so many things and memories that we got involved again. Earl was responsible for this. He was teamed up with Dave Taylor to do a State Festival in Hawaii in 1972, I think it was, and something happened that Dave couldn’t go. I think Dave was putting a tour together to pay his expenses. I don’t know just what it was, but Dave backed out of doing the thing. Again, Dave recommended me. And Earl said, “Fine, I’ll work with Martin.” So Earl phoned me and said, “Can you put a tour together.” This is when we started traveling with tour groups. So we bashed a gang together. We had forty couples come with us, and Earl had forty couples, so we had a mass of people going to this convention. Again, I learned an awful lot in a big hurry! Traveling with people became a part of our lifetime. We probably now have about fifty different groups that we have taken to various places around the world. And, again, we had a tour of New Zealand, because one dancer from New Zealand had come over and danced with us, talked to Art Sheppard, Art Sheppard’s wife, actually, was born just outside of Saskatoon. And she was a Sheppard before she married a Sheppard, which was interesting. Art asked us to come over and do a weekend, and then we had a Birthday Dance with a group up in Auckland. They were just one year old, and they asked me to do that weekend for them. So we had two dances. We went over and got a taste of New Zealand, and it’s a beautiful country. We have been back three times since, on the strength of those first two dances. Not, we didn’t write, it just, the club that we did the first anniversary for two years ago asked us to do their tenth. And we went back and had a ball. We’ve had a wonderful time. Been in Europe calling, called in most of, in all the provinces in Canada, most of the states along our area. It is hard for us to go down into the States, though, because of the work permit situation, and what have you being a problem. And because r worked for the Federal government, and had a responsible job, I didn’t dare take the chance of crossing without a work permit. Even today, I don’t like the idea.
(BB) I almost got myself in trouble going the other way.
(MM) You can. It can be very expensive if you don’t have the proper permits.
(BB) Yeah, they asked me at the border, you know” “What are you planning on doing? “Call a square dance”. “Do you have a work permit?” “And I said,
(MM) What’s that?
(BB) No, I don’t, but, in that it was a one shot deal, they didn’t pursue it.
(MM) I once went across into the States as a traveling preacher.
(BB) Yeah. The problem with that particular date was they paid me with
(MM) Oh, boy!
(BB) And, well, the difference was not all that great as it is today. So, well, did you get down into the New England area at all?
(MM) I have never called in that area much as I would like to have. I know Jim Mayo very, very well. Jim was another influence. Jim and John Kaltenthaler. What actually happened, about 19, I guess it would be the early sixties again, I was influenced by a caller out on the west coast, a caller by the name of Fred Willing, a very good friend of ours, and he had gone to a “Sight Calling” seminar down in Las Vegas, with Bill Peters and Bill Davis. And he said, “Martin, you’ve got to go to it.” And he was going down again that year and he said, “Well, come.” Well, we couldn’t. It was our first National Convention in Canada, which we held in Edmonton, and I was still working, and he said, “Come with us, we’re going.” And I said, “No, I can’t do it this year.” But the next year I went. And, I was shocked! I mean, I think I had a little bit of an ego problem. I’ll be very honest with you. I was the leading caller in our area, and I was very popular, and I was being, traveled around the whole province, think nothing of coming home from work and drive 200 miles, do a dance, drive home, and go to work the next day. I was busy every night of the week, and most Sunday afternoons and evenings. So, I felt I knew everything there was to know about calling. Well, I went down to Las Vegas, started to call, and I’ll never forget Bill Peters. He stopped me in the middle of a routine that I was doing, and he put a couple of lines in and said “OK, go ahead.” and I said. “What the hell am I supposed to do with this now? You’ve just ruined my whole setup!” “Oh,” he says, “you don’t sight call!” So, it became another tool that I learned. But I have always felt that I learned it too late. I do sight calling now, but I still use all the tools that I had before, and I still probably use the other tools more than I use the sight. I learned, as I used the sight, that there was more to that than the resolution, that the whole picture of what you want to use, as a caller, from a choreographic point of view, you had to know where your dancers were at all times, and what was coming next. So, I became more of a “sight engineer” than a sight resolution caller. I would think very carefully about what I was going to call, what situations I was going to use, and my programming changed because of learning to be a sight caller. My whole concept of what I would do for a dance now became, “I want this situation, I want this situation, I want this situation, I want to use this move, this move and this move.” So, I would work very hard with my checkers, and everything else, to get the situations I wanted. Thank God for computers now, you can do it a lot faster, and sometimes a lot truer. The computers still make mistakes, like dancers do. But, all in all, my whole choreographic structure changed. I was able to, without long memorized things, I was able to use the more non-standard waves, the more non-standard lines, and this type of thing, and be very comfortable with them. Know what was going to happen next It changed my whole outlook, and it changed my dancers’ outlooks too. They were guessing me at times. I could see it on the floor. I would go into a routine, and they would say, “Oh, here comes that old thing again.” And they would plow along, but they were quite happy. And sometimes, even today, I wonder, when I look back at what has happened over square dancing, I wonder whether we haven’t complicated it more than we needed to. I think there is a degree of complication that we need, a little degree of challenge, the satisfaction of doing something that was a little different, I do think we need that, but, I sometimes wonder if we haven’t gone too deep. Well, I was just saying it is very easy to clobber the dancer. If you give them something unexpected, you’re going to drop the floor. So the factor of judgement, I learned that very quickly. I always knew what my dancers were capable of, and I was able to judge a floor very well, but when I learned about this sight engineering, and everything else, boy, I pulled the plug so many times that I had to really take care what I was doing. It was a hard lesson to learn, and I wish now, that I had learned it earlier in my career, because it would be a lot easier to handle now.
(BB) Yeah, that was not quite Ed Gilmore’s philosophy, about how you can throw the floor. He said, “All you have to do is mumble!”
(MM) No, well, I mean, it’s, there’s so many things that we use in today’s choreography, that if we had used it years ago, we’d have clobbered them right, left and center. And even today, some of the funniest things, I mean, if you tell a group to do a Right and Left Thru and Lead to the Left, you’d better be prepared for some fingers. Yet, we can say Right and Left Thru and Lead to the Right, and the body flow is terrible, but they’ll do it. These are the things that we have ingrained in our dancers, and I sometimes wonder whether we have done the right thing ’cause in the early years we didn’t really look so closely at that body flow, as we do today. I think
(BB) Although, we talked about it.
(MM) Yeah, we have always talked about it, but when I see our new callers now, I’ve heard records, some of them, I wonder about some of their choreography. But, yet, the dancers are doing it. So, you say to yourself, “What is this square dancing about?” To me, it’s people. To me, it’s the friends they make. We have run beginner classes every year since I have ever called, and we have seen life-long friendships made in those beginner classes, we have seen people travel together, we have seen people marry because of, we have actually married off a hundred and sixty-eight couples in our career.
(BB) Is that right?
(MM) From our singles club. Matter of fact, right now we have a girl coming from Australia to marry a fellow in Winnipeg that we introduced.
(BB) I’ll be darned!
(MM) And, I nearly had to give her away. That’s April 18th. But that’s a long story, and I don’t think you want it on the tape. But she’s a caller. A fairly good one too. She got into it late in life. She should have gotten into it earlier. Now we are sort of winding into the twilight of our career, and wondering what we’re going to do. Terry and I have made our life our square dancing. Our son has a saying, now that we are both retired, we retired in ’91, I said to Terry I finally became a full time caller, but I am not calling any more than I did before. But now I have an income that I can live on that I don’t have to work for, so, again, that’s because of our son. He’s an investment man, and he did very well for us, so we can retire comfortably. But, I don’t know, I don’t think I will every really quit. Because it’s the people. I think if we were to quit, and stop entirely, the people would be gone from our life. That would be wrong, as far as we are concerned.
(BB) Yeah. Do you get a chance to dance now?
(MM) Sometimes. Really, calling four and five nights a week, not as much as I’d like. We did, we have started, since we retired, we take the month of January off, that’s what we call the low season in our square dance year, because we have a lot of “snowbirds” in our clubs. Now, people who have reached retirement age, and they go south for two or three months in the winter time. So our clubs are at a low level. And we told the clubs that we call for that we are going to be away during the month of January. And that’s our dancing time. We go away. This last year we spent the month in Mesa, and danced to some of the country’s finest callers. Had a wonderful time. And it was sort of nice to be a dancer, from the point of view that all you had to do was dance, didn’t have to worry about a program, and Jerry Junck, whom we’ve have become good friends with over the last few years, I got him one day. I said, “Jerry, you know what, I’m a dancer now and I can bitch if I want to.” So, it puts an entirely different perspective. I have been calling stuff that I never danced. And it was very interesting, because we went to a dance where I had been calling Advanced 2. I’m not what I would call a high-level caller. I mean I use these things from standard formations and arrangements, and what have you, but I went to dance this Advanced 2 that I had been calling, and I decided we would go to a class rather than go out to an open dance. So Terry and I spent about two weeks attending classes and getting ourselves oriented, because they were about halfway through their classes at that time and it was difficult. The caller would call something that I knew, but my mind would say, “Now you have to do this, this, this and this,” and everybody had already done it! So, it taught me a little more sympathy for the person who is learning. Let’s put it that way.
(BB) Right, OK Getting away from square dancing for a minute, how about other hobbies? Are you involved in anything?
(MM) I have several hobbies that are there. Because of my work, I got involved in computers, and now I have a desktop publishing business, shall we say, that is really a hobby. It doesn’t bring me any money, that’s for sure. And I tutor a little bit, as far as computers are concerned. I like woodwork. I have done aluminum etching, copper tooling, leather tooling, things of that nature, but they were hobbies that interfered, I guess is the word I would say, and I still can do them. I haven’t touched the copper tooling or the leather work for years, but, Oh, I don’t know, Square Dancing is a hobby.
And it’s a very demanding hobby.
(BB) Yeah. Which brings up a, you touched on it a little bit earlier, but, what do you find is the big appeal for calling?
(MM) Why do I like it? Oh, golly, If you were to ask that of my wife, she would give you a real answer! I’ll give you what she says. I don’t really agree with this. She says, “Being married to a caller is like being married to an alcoholic.” And I think she got this from Shirley Bates. Shirley and her are fairly good friends. Shirley says, “Where else can a person go, and tell people what to do, and get a standing ovation for it at the end of doing what they did, every three and a half minutes?” And then, at the end of the evening, get paid for it. I think there is that feeling inside. I wouldn’t call it power, but it’s the ability to share something with somebody and see them enjoy it. And to me, that’s the biggest thing. We used to, as far as the beginners are concerned, I would far sooner teach a class of beginners than to go out to a class of seasoned dancers or a group of seasoned dancers. I don’t know whether I want that in print.
(BB) I’ve been there for pretty much of my life.
(MM) Because those people who come out are usually very shy, They are not group conscious, they have never functioned in that type of social atmosphere. They maybe are dancers, but they’ll go out with two or three friends, have a couple of drinks, they’ll get out on the dance floor and dance, and they can mix in their little group. Our area is very strong mixing. We think nothing of swinging our comer, and off to a new square, between a patter and a singing call. And they’ll dance with anybody on the floor. This is the way they are trained. But, sadly, when they go out of Saskatchewan, that isn’t the case. I made the mistake several times, I’ve been calling in strange places, calling, “Swing your corner, and off to a new square,” and they stand and look at you. And I’ve realized, you don’t do that when you are away from home. So, anyway, that to me is part of it. I love music. I often wish that I played an instrument. And again, there’s a story in there. My wife did buy me an organ once, to learn to play, and I struggled with it. I was getting along pretty good. The music teacher I had, I guess, as she said, I had talent. I don’t know whether I agree with her or not, but, (?) I could play a couple dozen tunes, and I was really enjoying this, you know the organ has these two manuals and all these knobs, and it had all the rhythm beats on it. She bought a good organ. And it had all these dang foot pedals, and I was getting so I could beat away with one foot. She came in and said, “OK, now we are going to start giving you some real work to do,” and I had to start doing some counter-beating with my left hand, some counter-beating with my foot. I remember coming home after that lesson and saying to Terry, and this may not be polite, ” I feel that if I stuck the broom up my (?) I could sweep the floor at the same time.” I was really frustrated. That’s the word I would use. Really frustrated with this. All I wanted to do was learn to play for my own enjoyment. Well, it so happened that night was our beginner class night, and there was one person in that particular class who was really a trying element. We all get these. But, because I had been frustrated that afternoon, the frustration was still in here. And, I was getting more frustrated with this person. Her name was Molly, and every time a man let go of her, she would turn around. And I would say, “Allemande Left, Molly, turn around, Right & Left Grand, Molly, turn around,” and I was saying it very sharply. Terry came up to me and says, “Hon, you know, all these people want to do is learn to dance for the fun of it.” And, of course, it hit me just like a sledge hammer. She used the very phrases that I had used. And, again it made me, she has taught me a lot of valuable lessons over the years. Very valuable. We actually started a round dance club in 1956.
(BB) I was going to ask you about round dancing.
(MM) And, we loved it. We really loved it. It became a real part of our life, but again, the desire of the dancer to climb the ladder, the higher level rounds came in during the ten years that we had that club. I guess it was ten years, and I found that I was spending a whole evening preparing for the next night’s dance. Round dancing, for me, took a lot more work than the square dancing did, to make an adequate program. I had to do a lot more programming for the round dance. I see now that the round dance leaders are reading their cues, and this type of thing, which as a round dance leader myself, I thoroughly detested. There was made me madder than to see somebody up there reading a cue sheet. I didn’t allow it in my calling classes, and I sure as heck didn’t want to see it as a round dance leader. So, I had to memorize, and I had to make sure that I knew it thoroughly to teach it. Terry, of course, was busy raising our family, a boy and a girl, and she couldn’t spend the time that I had to spend on it. And she would come down, fortunately she was a very competent round dancer, and she could follow very well. And, we finally had to give it up. But not before I had trained somebody. This was the, this has always been a motto. If I am going to let something go, there had better be somebody over here that can pick up (?), because, if you don’t do that, you are going to lose something. The girl that I taught is still, that club is still in existence. She is still teaching it, she is the author of “Eidelweiss”. I don’t know whether you know a Ruby Coleman, wrote the dance “Eidelweiss”, She’s got several other recordings out now. She’s a very competent teacher. Very, very good cuer. She is recognized in Canada, the western part of Canada, at least, as one of the top round dance leaders. I am very proud of her, and she did an excellent job. At least I can say that I did my job, there. We taught her to square dance, taught her to round dance, she’s now cueing. So, grew out of it. Over my career I have taught and trained probably a hundred to a hundred and fifty callers.
(BB) Oh, great.
(MM) And I don’t know how many thousands of dancers.
(BB) Mind boggling, actually.
(MM) It is.
(BB) One of the questions I’ve been asking everybody I’ve interviewed, is, “In your estimation, or in your territory, or in your career, where do you think square dancing has been, where is it now, and where is it going?”
(MM) I think we’ll always have square dancing. I don’t think it’s ever going to die. But it may go to low ebbs. In our area, we’ve seen it, I would say, three times, go to a very low ebb and come back up. But every time it has taken that low ebb, we have lost one or two leaders. We have lost the people who were in the upper echelon, shall we say, of calling, or the upper echelon of dance leadership in the clubs, this type of thing. You see, all our clubs are dancer run, in Saskatchewan, except, I now have the first caller run club in Saskatoon. And that’s our Suzy Q’s. They got tired of trying to find an executive, and they said, “Would you run the club?” Well, sure, fine, no problem. We can run it. And that club was at a very low ebb when they did this, three squares, we took it over, and it has come back up to seven squares. And that is not from people who have been stolen from other clubs, we don’t believe in that. We have to train our own dancers to exist, support our clubs. But we also tell a dancer – “Dance where you want. Dance where you are happy. Don’t necessarily dance with us. If you are not happy with our club, or if you are not happy with me, at least dance. Don’t let me down that way. We’ve taught you what you know.
- BB) We were talking about where square dancing is going.
(MM) Where it’s going. Right now, I would say, for the last ten years, we are in a fairly flat period. We are losing dancers, Snowbirds going south. We are having trouble recruiting new dancers. Our attrition rate is low, yet, but it’s going to get higher soon. Weare going to lose a lot of senior callers in our area. Our youngest caller, right now, is fifty-two. Our oldest caller is seventy six. That’s not me! Just reverse the two. You’ve got me. And I am seriously thinking about retiring some time down the road. I do feel that I don’t want to go out of this world with a mic in my hand, or a cue sheet in my hand. I would like to taste some of the other wines before I go. Square dancing has been a dawn to bedtime thing with our lives. I think that square dancing will always be with us. I foresee, though, that we are going to hit a low ebb. We may even have to take it down to a low ebb for a generation, ’cause our society has changed so much, particularly in our area. When square dancing was at its peak, we had twenty-six clubs. Most of those had 15 to 20 squares. We could fill a full-size arena, easily, for a big dance, just from Saskatoon. We probably had 5000 dancers in our hey-day. Right now, we probably, in Saskatoon, have around 600 to 700 dancers. Which isn’t much for 220,000 people. When we take a drive for beginners, we have three callers doing beginner classes, we have seven squares. I can recall beginner classes of twenty squares. But we didn’t have bars, we didn’t have televisions, we didn’t have two people in the family working, we didn’t have that rat-race of “keep up with the Jones’.” People were looking for family oriented or couple oriented recreation. Now we see families going off in all directions. The husband goes golfing, she goes curling, they get together occasionally. I sometimes wonder why, but they don’t have that same family life that we’ were involved in. I guess that’s the nuclear generation, though, that’s when you think about it. We bought our first home at $11,000. Now you can’t buy a home in Saskatoon for under $175,000. And that’s a cheap home. So, when you look at what they are facing, through their life, and what they have to do, to exist, I can understand why square dancing is at a low priority. But I think it will change, I really think, that, sooner or later, people are going to ( ?) this thing. It’s like a pendulum. It swings right, and it swings left. And we have seen it over several years of our calling career. We have seen it go down, I’ve seen all the clubs that I call for currently, down to at least two to three squares. And they’ve all come back! Right now, every club that I call for is in the seven, eight, ten squares region. So, we are growing, but I don’t know why we are growing. People have come back, who have been away for four or five years. There’s a critical period of time in family growing, 14 to 18. Those four years, particularly if they’ve got boys. They get that “rangy period”. I know we had a son that drove us crazy for three or four years, and then he turned right around and I couldn’t be prouder of him today! Our daughter was the other way. She was just a little doll all the time. But I’m finding out now that she wasn’t! She was just more secretive than out son was, and not so outspoken. I don’t think it will ever disappear, but it may drop to a pretty low edge. One of the biggest influences, as far as square dancing has been, you know I am a member of the Board of CALLER LAB, I was invited to CALLERLAB at its inception, by Earl Park, he was one of the people that was (?) during its first thing. I was never more impressed, that time I went there. I could tell you a whole raft of stories of things that happened during the first few years. I don’t know whether you’d want them on the tape. But to me, it has been one of the biggest influences in what I have done, from the square dance point of view. I have seen and met so many people who are lifetime devotees of square dancing, and I understand why they are, because I have talked to them. In some cases, I have tried to make my life more along the lines that I have seen them develop. We evolve, I told you about the first caller school I went to and what a shock I got. I came back to Saskatoon, and at that point in time I realized, “Hey, I have learned something very valuable. We have to teach the callers in our area.” I was not qualified to teach it at that time, although I was teaching callers to call. So we decided, another fellow and myself, that we would have a caller school. We went to our Caller Association, and they turned it down flat. So, we dug into our pockets and established it. We held that school every other year, and even today we are still running it, Al was one of them, he came up for one of them. We always had two caller coaches. We never used anything but accredited Caller Coaches, and the teaching that our callers received over those years has probably, I would say, as an average for a province, we probably had the best callers in Canada. I won’t say that there aren’t better callers in Canada. What I’m talking about, if you take the overall mean of the callers that we have, they are all very, very equal to each other. They’ve got good voices, they’ve got good grasp of choreographic, they’ve got good grasp of club management, and it’s all because of the fact that CALLERLAB said, “Here is the qualification for a caller coach.” And these guys are good at it. I became a caller coach very late in my career, and again, it’s one of those things I’m sorry that I didn’t go after it earlier But I had to retire before I could do it, so I became a caller coach in 1991. And, that’s quite an experience too. The training of callers is very essential, just as the training of dancers, but, the recruitment of callers is getting very tough. You scare the blazes out of a dancer that comes up and says, “I’d like to learn to call” Usually, I just give them a few singing calls, and say, “Learn these and come back. We got a party night coming up. You can call there.” Or, “We have a goofer night.” I think the biggest surprise I got with one person, he was in my beginner class, and at our Christmas party he came up and asked, “Do you mind if I call a tip?” And I said, “No, not at all.” He said, “Well, I’ll use such and such a record,” and I didn’t know that he’d even had an interest. I didn’t even know that he could sing! And he couldn’t. But he got up and did one of the nicest strings of patter that I’d heard in quite a while, from a new caller. The only thing that threw him was trying to say, Pass the Ocean. He couldn’t remember what the phrase was, and he had the people going back and forth, he said, “Grab a wave, dammit!” And they all Passed the Ocean. But, he never became a caller, unfortunately. But when he went to do a singing call, I found out he couldn’t sing, but he had perfect timing, absolutely perfect timing. He talked through it. And that could have been developed, and have been very effective. There are a lot of callers today who do not sing, and they use the prompting method. And it works very well for them. But I do feel that for square dancing to continue, I think we are going to have to take a look at the overall picture of what we are teaching, where we are teaching it, and why we are teaching it. There are a lot of callers, I do believe, call material for their own glorification.
(BB) Oh, I believe it.
(MM) Very tough, the tough caller. There is a place for him as there are people who play chess, and people who play bridge, there is a place for the serious dancer. A lot of them know more than the caller that’s calling for them. There is a place for those people. But it’s a very small package of what we are doing. I think if we are going to make square dancing a recreation, which it truly is, we have to put it in a form that a person can come, dance, go away, come back and dance.
(BB) The occasional dancer.
(MM) Yeah. We have to have a place for the occasional dancer. And out of that occasional dancer will come the more serious dancer. That’s really where it was in the beginning. I can remember our tape groups, and the fun we used to have in the basement when we’d get four callers together when Les Gotcher’s record came out. Boy, we’d buy it and sweat blood until we could dance it. Those things are inherent. I wrote an article for one of our square dance magazines on the things that are inherent to people in relationship to square dancing. We all have that desire to achieve. Achievement for some is being able to have a new house, and all the things that the neighbors have. Keep up with the Jones’, but we also have that aspiration to learn. To me, a person that quits learning, quits living. I never went to work a day that I didn’t learn something. I’ve never gone to call a dance, or dance at a dance, that I haven’t learned something. And I think that is inherent in us all. We have that desire to learn that little bit more in life. And that’s what happens with square dancing. We become very proficient in what we’re doing and say, “Well, there must be more than this to it.” So we look around to see what it is and see, “Oh, Joe over there is doing something different. Let’s go dance to him.” So, that’s within us. And we have to have a place for those people. But then, there’s the other couple that come out dancing, because they like the music, because they like the sociability. They are the people who play kitchen bridge. And there is a lot more of them that there are of those people that are up there playing the challenge, tournament bridge.
(MM) So we’ve got to find how to get those people how to bring them in and keep them there.
(BB) Do you have any regrets about your career?
(MM) Yes. One of the biggest regrets that I have is that some of the things I am doing now I regret not doing sooner. Family-wise, I had a thing happen when our son was about 12, 13 years of age which just about brought me to my knees. I was loading the car for the first dance in the fall, and Brian was always good to bring out equipment and help me load it, and everything else. He said to me, he says, “See you next spring, dad. I, well, that shook me! Believe me, that shook me! But, our kids survived it. We had a fortieth anniversary put on by the dancers, and our daughter, I wish you could hear the speech that she said. She said, “Our home was always full of leaders. I learned so much from those people.” She is different from Brian. Brian has always said, “I felt deserted at times. I was a square dance orphan.” But Leah, she was always, sort of, part of it. It’s two different personalities dealing with the same thing, see it in different ways. I have the tape, and I have listened to it several times. it’s actually a video tape, and I never realized that she was such a good speaker. But she was also stroking ego. She knows what to say to get what she wants. She’s always been that way all her life, but, yet what she said was so true. I mean, those kids lived under very different circumstances. They saw things that nobody else would ever see. Well, a good example, Expo ’67 was in the city of Montreal. This Bert Quinn was the fire marshal for Expo ’67. He was a big wheel in that thing. We lived in his apartment, we went to Expo. Because he was who he was, we never waited in line to see a thing, we spent four days and saw everything. Came in through the VIP doors. Well that was an opening that they would never have seen otherwise. We would have had to spend weeks there to do what they did. And they saw a different side of living. They really did. They were used to the good things of life. Square dancing has been good to us. They have traveled world over with us, and have seen these things. Our son, today, I think is what he is, partially because of what happened, square dance-wise. And the same with our daughter. The people that they learned to associate with were always nice people. Our friends were, and Leah says that, “They were the best”. And Brian had said that. Today, Brian’s business is serving about half of the square dance community in Saskatoon with investments, and a lot of them are retired now, but they are retired comfortably because of what Brian did. So Brian can’t say that square dancing didn’t help him. But, yet, regrets, I’ve often said to terry, “I wonder what would have happened if we never got involved in square dancing?” And she put it in a nutshell, She said, “We’d probably not be married.”
(BB) Is that right?
(MM) I worked in an atmosphere, I worked in a government lab. I was on a team that developed Colso, which down here doesn’t mean much. It’s a vegetable oil that’s become a major crop in Canada now. We developed it from early Argentinean rape seed, which was a marine lubricant at that time. We’ve developed it now as a major crop in Canada, as the result of the work that I did as a young man. I went into management, I had to do a lot of learning, a lot of training, and I spent a lot of time in the San Francisco area learning electronics and this type of thing. But I may have gone back to university. I may have taken an entirely different tour than I took. But square dancing has made Terry and I very close. I wouldn’t want to lose her. To me, it’s made Terry and I what we are today. We can sit for hours and talk about the people we know, the things we’ve done, the places we’ve been, and be very comfortable with each other. But, we see so many other couples that don’t have that. And the friends that we’ve made, I mean, I come to CALLERLAB and there’s people from all over the world here that we know, and we appreciate, and we call friends. We wouldn’t have that if we hadn’t done it, and I wouldn’t trade any of that. So
(BB) That’s certainly a great philosophy. Well, Martin, I really want to thank you for taking the time today to sit down, and put these thoughts down on tape.
(MM) There is one thing I do, there is a big regret that I have, and I think I should put
it on tape, so if anybody is listening to this, they’ll know. In Vancouver, I was given the Milestone Award. I am given to some very deep emotions at times, they don’t show, but they will plug me up just like that. I was unable to talk for nearly an hour after that. I couldn’t say, “Thank-you”, I couldn’t say a dam thing. And I do regret that. Because it is one of the biggest things that ever happened to me.
(BB) We are proud to have you as a member, as they say.
(MM) Well, I’ve enjoyed it.
(MM) And I think I would do it all over again.
(MM) It’s been a privilege.
(BB) Well, thank you very much.
(MM) We’ve heard a lot about you two. I know AI, but it’s the first chance I’ve had to meet you.
(BB) Well, yeah, we’re on different sides of the continent.