RALPH & JOAN COLLIPI
October 26, 2000
Jim Mayo: We’re starting an interview here with ROUNDALAB’S Silver Halo winners this year, Ralph & Joan Collipi from Salem New Hampshire and, because I live ten miles down the street in Hampstead NH I have been asked to conduct the interview with them as part of the oral history project that Bob Brundage has been carrying out for the Lloyd Shaw Foundation. Ralph & Joan, first of all let me congratulate you on being selected for this honor. Can you tell me what the Silver Halo is and how it came to you?
Ralph Colippi: Well Jim, the Silver Halo is ROUNDALAB’S second highest award. And understand if you go back and read the criteria for someone to be recommended for Silver Halo I think the main thrust in there is that the person you are recommending should have contributed greatly to the round dance program. As to how it came to us, we have no idea. It was a complete and utter surprise.
Jim: Did they tell you who recommended you or does it just come?
Ralph: Yes, they told us who put in the recommendations and, ah, beyond that we have no idea who the committee is that makes the decision because
Jim: Oh, it isn’t your Board of Governors or …
Ralph: No it isn’t. It’s a secret committee and its chaired by a gentlemen by the name of Dick Buman? Out in Mesa Arizona and he has three members
Joan Collipi: No, he has twelve –
Ralph: Oh, I’m sorry, he has twelve teacher couple members that review all the material that is sent in and they are sent bio’s on the people that are recommended. They review them all and then they make the decision whether or not to …
Joan: It has to be 100% approval.
Jim: It has to be 100% so anybody that wants to blackball you can.
Joan: Yeah, this is true. The answer would be no.
Jim: The CALLERLAB Milestone award is awarded by the Executive Committee. That’s pretty obvious that it changes with each election.
Joan: The only person that knows … The committee changes every couple of years except the chairman doesn’t change but the only person who knows who’s on this committee is the chairman of ROUNDALAB that year providing they want to know.
Ralph: And the chairman of the committee …
Joan: And the chairman of the committee, of course he has to choose his committee members, but basically that’s it.
Jim: So essentially it’s a secret process.
Joan: Very secret.
Jim: Well, it clearly is an honor and we’re pleased that it came to you. My own personal association with you says you surely deserved it.
Ralph: Thank you.
Jim: I’d like to start with you, at Bob’s request and cover sort of how you got to where round dancing began. Uh, where’d you come from and what did you do before you got into round dancing?
Ralph: Well, we had a family. At that time our kids were kinda young at the time and we started square dancing in 1968.
Jim: Have you always lived in this area?
Ralph: Yes we have. We’ve lived in Salem now for forty years. But a couple whom we knew from PTA came and dragged Joan out of the house one night to go square dancing while I was working overtime. She called me and asked me to pick her up at the school. I said why and she said never mind just come. And the next thing you know we were square dancing.
Jim: You both worked for …
Ralph: We both worked for AT&T.
Jim: At Western Electric?
Ralph: Originally at Western Electric and then when it became AT&T we worked for AT&T and we retired before it became Lucent or whatever it is today.
Jim: Did you work for somebody before them? Did you go to Salem High School?
Ralph: I went to Dracut High School in Massachusetts and Joan went to Lawrence High School in Massachusetts.
Joan: I graduated 1950 and Ralph graduated in 1949. He had 32 people in his class.
Ralph: I don’t think that’s necessary information.
Joan: I had 433 in my class.
Jim: Did you do any dancing in school?
Joan: I was an avid dancer. I went to all the big bands. I think I’ve seen them all. Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Glen Miller, uh …
Jim: So ballroom style dancing is not a new experience.
Joan: Oh, that’s always been my ….
Ralph: I think when we were dating we were dancing four nights a week, ballroom style dancing.
Jim: and you still are.
Ralph & Joan: and we still are, right.
Jim: Interesting. Did you get into the military at all?
Ralph: I was in the Army as a machine gunner for two years and I spent eighteen months of that two years in Korea.
Jim: You hit that war too, eh?
Ralph: Yes I did. It was supposed to be a police action.
Joan: But you weren’t a machine gunner.
Ralph: Yes I was. Well, I started out that way but I became Company Clerk.
Joan: There you go.
Jim: You could type.
Ralph: I could type. And because I could type I got a medal. They call it a green weenie. It was a commendation for meritorious service. I never knew why they gave it to me.
Jim: That’s how I got to not go to Korea. Because I could type. And so you finally got enough free time to get dragged off to square dance class and how did that hit you?
Ralph: Well, the first night I walked in Joan had already been there for a while. And the next thing you know I’m in there holding hands with a bunch of people going around in a circle and I said to myself “This is insane. I don’t know why I’m here.” Within eight weeks of that day Joan says to me “I don’t feel that good. I don’t think I’m going to go to class tonight.” I said “Fine, there’s plenty of women there. I’ll see you when I get home.” And the next thing you know we were hooked.
Jim: I see, isn’t it amazing how that happens.
Joan: The club that we were going into which was the Track Town Trotters in Salem, NH had, uh, barely two squares. In our class of beginners Stan Kandrut was our caller, we had fifteen squares.
Jim: In your class.
Joan: In our class.
Jim: This was’68.
Ralph: ‘68, ‘69
Joan: So naturally this became the club. So Ralph and I, when we graduated that year we became the following year’s class chairman and another fifteen squares. That’s – we worked hard. That summer, very hard. ‘Cause you don’t – that doesn’t just happen.
Jim: Even in 1968 that doesn’t just happen.
Joan: Even in 1968 it didn’t just happen. We worked very hard at doing that. But it was like running a dance every week with fifteen squares. It was not an easy task. But it was a lot of fun. It was very enjoyable.
Jim: There’s a refreshment load for fifteen squares.
Joan: Exactly. Plus attendance plus you had to go out with them on – when they were able to go out to class dances. We went to all class dances with them. At the same time supporting your club dance. At the same time supporting your club banner raids.
Jim: So you were back to dancing four nights a week.
Joan: At least.
Jim: When did you first get to round dancing.
Joan: It was in ….
Ralph: It was the spring of 1969. And the leader made an announcement that she was going to do a ten week crash course on basics.
Joan: Yeah, Polly & Jim Floyd.
Jim: You had barely finished with square dance class.
Joan: We had just graduated..
Ralph: And so we jumped into that ten week course and that took us through the summer.
Jim: Was that there with the club in the same location?
Ralph: No, it was privately run by the Floyds. At their facility in …
Joan: Well, in Andover at the time.
Jim: I’d forgotten they had a facility there before they moved to Brentwood.
Joan: That’s right.
Ralph: And then came fall and
Jim: This is your first year in the square dance/round dance activity?
Ralph: Right. And then came fall and we were not ready to redo the beginners again because we had already finished that but we were really not in a position to jump to her next level class so she invited us to come an hour and a half early each week and what she did was catch us up to her class.
Joan: Which was very nice of her.
Ralph: Which was very nice of her. And, uh
Jim: The advanced class.
Ralph: The advanced class.
Joan: We went from basic to advanced.
Ralph: At the same time conducting the class for the Track Town Trotters.
Jim Well you were …
Ralph: We were class committee chairmen.
Jim: Square dance class.
Joan: So then she moved away.
Ralph: She moved away in 1971, the last part of 1971. Yeah, the last part of the season which would have been in May of 1971 and we were convinced by other people that we learned fast so why shouldn’t we teach and so we said “Well.” I didn’t want to invest that kind of money if I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not. Somebody said “well, if I can get you equipment reasonable would you do it?”
Joan: For $100
Ralph: And I figured this’ll never happen so I said yes and the next thing I know it was at my front door.
Ralph: So we waited until everybody started their class. We didn’t start until January of 1972
Jim: Teaching a round dance class.
Ralph: Teaching a round dance class.
Joan: Which we had no business doing. We didn’t know what we were doing.
Ralph: We really didn’t know what we were doing.. But there were no teachers left in the area so ….
Jim: You were not teaching for a club.
Ralph: We started our own.
Joan: We waited until January, uh, that way all the … In September or October is when they usually start. That way everybody would have been in a place where they wanted to be. And we figured nobody would come to …
Ralph: We didn’t influence anybody away from anybody else.
Joan: In 1972 in January because we were new. We got seventeen couples at our first class.
Jim: Is it true that round dance leaders often start by cueing at a square dance club before they teach a class or is your entry by starting a class the usual way.
Ralph: It used to be that way. It used to be that they started a class. Because in those days you weren’t known unless you were doing a class.
Jim: So you weren’t hired to cue unless you had a group of your own.
Ralph: Right. In the last five to seven years, uh, ROUNDALAB has really enticed people in by establishing a member category for cuer only. This has now afforded people who only wanted to cue to just cue and not have to teach in order to belong to the ROUNDALAB organization.
Joan: Also, Ralph and I proposed that they have what they call
Joan: apprenticeship. We never had it and before you couldn’t get the books as a teacher unless you were a member of the organization. Well, how can you become a member of the organization if you haven’t had any training. So we proposed that they have this apprenticeship program which they did put in about four or five years ago. And that gives the person a whole year to train and then they can become an associate member of ROUNDALAB. They have one year to do that training. If they don’t then they’re dropped.
Ralph: Back when we started in ‘72 it was strictly a gutsy move on behalf of the person doing this, the couple doing this. If they felt they wanted to try it they would try it. I had, neither one of us had any training in educating other people. It was not something that we did. I was an accountant, she was a executive secretary.
Jim: So you had seventeen couples as your first class.?
Joan: Yes. It was a miracle, I thought.
Jim: What did you do with them?
Ralph: Well …
Joan: Believe me, we shook a lot. (Laughter)
Ralph: The only thing I knew to do was to emulate what our teacher had done to us
Joan: In our ten week course.
Ralph: And that we did. We started by teaching routines. Teaching the round dance figures that were in that specific routine.
Joan: so we taught dances. We taught dances..
Ralph: Dance routines
Jim: As opposed to teaching figures.
Joan: Which is what you do today.
Ralph: We changed that in later years. You know, as we became more and more educated to the instruction…
Jim: What came next after that first class?
Joan: The first class, uh
Ralph: The following year we took the people from the first class and moved them up a level. Uh, we took them from beginner to intermediate – easy intermediated and started with another beginner class. So that opened up another night for us.
Joan: Another fourteen or fifteen couples. You gotta realize, we don’;t keep all these people that we’re telling you that we started with.
Jim Oh, I realize that full well. I’ve had some experience with that myself.
Ralph: You start in September
Joan: and by Christmas you’ve got eight couples.
Ralph: The mortality rate was unbelievable.
Joan: Especially with us being such bad teachers.
Jim: That’s interesting because, at that time in square dancing, up until that time, it was very rare that we got a dropoff in class.
Jim: The people who started the class generally finished it?
Joan: In square dancing
Jim: In square dancing.
Joan: Yeah, that’s true. We didn’t lose, like it was “where is so and so if they didn’t come.
Ralph: As I reflect on it now, I look back, in a square dance class you’re learning with six other people in a small group as opposed to a round dance class there is you and your partner who will probably disagree more violently if there’s just the two of you.
Jim: Is that why round dancers always mix people when they’re teaching?
Ralph: Ah, year, but I don’t find that to be a good method.
Joan: We didn’t do that because our teacher did that , move up one, move up two
Ralph: and we didn’t like it.
Joan: And the reason we didn’t like it she always gave us the poor dancers and they would step on your foot.
Ralph: Apparently we were easy learners, I don’t know.
Joan: And the other thing was some people didn’t have very good ah, what do I want to say,
Ralph: Personal habits,
Joan: you got it, personal hygiene. So we said we would never ….
Jim: Now that you’re a teacher do you give the lecture?
Joan: Of course, but what good does it do? Nobody thinks it’s them. It’s never them.
Ralph: You have to understand that when we first started we danced in a room off the end of…
Joan: small, small
Ralph: off the end of a barn at their property and there were horse stalls in the barn. And one of them had a horse in there which sometimes smelled better than some of the people we danced with. (Laughter)
Jim: Well then, let’s move on to the next phase of your dancing experience. What happened next?
Ralph: Well, I think next we joined a local association. Uh,
Ralph: The ACCORD association which is the Area Coordinating Council of Round Dancing. That’s Boston and north. And that seemed to be a good move at the time because we met all the other round dance leaders in the area and we learned what the programs were in different areas and how to be consistent with other people in the area.
Joan: And to exchange ideas
Ralph To exchange ideas.
Joan: Exchange education
Jim: Before you joined ACCORD had you danced with other leaders or did you pretty much stick with Polly & Jim?
Joan: Well, for a long time Polly & Jim.
Ralph: We did workshop with them and then we would go out and dance on – at square dances and we would dance to other cuers.
Jim: You didn’t see other cuers classes.
Joan: No, we did not.
Ralph: We didn’t get to see that, get to see how other leaders worked in the teaching aspect until we joined the local association.
Joan: And then what we did was every year at the yearly ACCORD Festival they used to teach. They would take the names of the teachers and put it in a hat and draw a name. That’s when you could watch different teachers teach. Once we got at a certain level, Flo & Andy Hart who were advanced teachers from Rye NH. They were wonderful teachers of dancers. The came to us and handed us a piece of paper and said “We don’t give this out to everybody but we think you and Ralph should come to this.” And it was, uh, DanceACade in Maryland with Joe & Es Turner, Phil & Norma Roberts who were wonderful teachers. “We think you should try this” We said OK
Jim: This was after the Hamiltons had, uh
Ralph: Yes, this was after the Hamiltons
Jim: They started it with Joe and Es Turner.
Ralph: This was after the Hamiltons had either retired or given it up. Joan: so we went to our first DanceACade and when we got there, uh, they introduced a dance Friday night, Rhumba Maria. And we said “Look at this, we came all this way and we can we can do this dance almost on cues.” Well that’s the last thing we understood that came out of their mouths for the whole weekend.
Joan: They taught the dance called Tilt. Ralph & I had no idea what they were talking about. We knew then that we were very ignorant round dance teachers. That we needed schooling. Well, there were 100 couples there and on Sunday morning Ralph & I were the only couples sitting down.
Ralph: Because we were ready to kill each other, that’s why.
Joan: So we went up to Flo and we said “Flo, what night do you have your class?” She told us and
Ralph: We started with her and we danced with her for about five years.
Joan: We danced with her for five years. Then we attended clinics with Eddie & Audrey Palmquist.
Ralph: We went to “Cades” every year, sometimes twice a year.
Joan: Charlie and Nina Ward, Phil & Norma Roberts, uh, all kinds of leaders. And that’s … see, they didn’t have schools. So that was the only way we could get our training and then on top of that we went to a ballroom coach for twenty-five years.
Jim: There weren’t any schools for round dance leaders.
Ralph: There might have been some out in the Midwest. I think
Joan: We never knew
Ralph: Clancy & Betty Mueller ran a school out in Colorado somewhere but we were not aware of it and we had no concept that anything like that was going on.
Joan: We probably could not have afforded to go it anyway.
Ralph: Well we were still working. We had two kids. At that point we had a son in college who put a drain on the pocketbook on one side. So, uh, we got our education where we could. At that point in time.
Jim: So where did you go from there?
Joan: Well we joined ROUNDALAB.
Ralph: We joined ROUNDALAB and
Joan: We joined URDC
Ralph: We were working and we were using all of our vacation time to work in the business. We were doing some weekends so we would devote Fridays and Mondays to going to and coming from the weekends. Uh, We devoted a week to go to the “Cade” dance vacations to learn. So all of our vacation time was pretty well used up. Therefore we couldn’t attend the ROUNDALAB meetings. I went once when it was in Philadelphia myself
Joan: I couldn’t get out of work.
Ralph: She couldn’t get out of work.
Joan: I didn’t have as much vacation as he did.
Ralph: And, uh, when we finally retired from AT&T in 1986 we started attending the ROUNDALAB Conventions every year. And we have gone every year since then. We haven’t missed any since then.
Jim: Let’s go back to what happened to you in the local area and what you were doing. How your working in the round dance field built up from
Joan: Well, I have to say
Jim: You went to the DanceACade in the early ‘70s somewhere?
Joan: I have to say our dance coach, Marie Darnell Noel, she’s a Blackpool Champion.
Ralph: She did a lot for us.
Joan: She did a lot for us.
Ralph: She improved our dancing and teaching techniques.
Joan: She realized that we were there to learn dance technique. Not to learn how to ballroom but, you know, all dancing is the same. It doesn’t matter, we’re all under the same umbrella, the same tree. It’s just that in round dancing the figures are so similar and what we wanted to know was how to put out the best student we could. Not how well we could dance but how well we could train. She knew that was our goal. And we were lucky that we have her because she understands.
Jim: Is she in this area?
Joan: She retired.
Ralph: She was in Manchester.
Joan: She’s semi-retired now. She just sold her studio a couple of years ago. But she still gives us lessons privately. It’s tough to get her. She comes to the house. Because I don’t think any other ballroom teacher would really understand what we want. They want you to go for medals. They want you to try this and that. We want to be trained …
Jim: What was the transition from Flo & Andy to Marie? How did that happen?
Ralph: Well, we went to both for a while.
Joan: We did both.
Ralph: Then Flo started to cut down on her classes. And we got very busy.
Joan: We got busy. And then she, uh, she had a heart attack and died. But we needed more than what Flo had because – Flo, we wanted to be able to take something from Flo but we also wanted to be ourselves when we taught. So what we wanted to do was develop our own way of teaching. Develop what is the best way that Ralph and I can teach because Ralph and I are big people. We have to adjust to a lot of the figures. Flo & Andy were not big people. So what we were hoping was that if we looked good doing it, a figure, that our dancers would look better. That’s only way that I know how to put that.
Ralph: I’d like to take a little different route in this if you don’t mind.
Ralph: One of the things, I think one of the biggest catalysts to our career happened purely unknown to me. We were at a weekend at a campground in NH. They were having a round dance weekend up there that weekend. And the leader, one of the leaders who was doing this weekend came to me and said “Would you like to cue a couple of rounds on Saturday night?” I said “I don’t know, this is your round dance weekend..” That happened to be Chuck Silloway. Yes with, I think it was the Silloways and, oh who was the other guy. I can’t remember. Silloways and another couple. He said “I’d like you to do it.”
Joan: I thought it was a square and round dance weekend.
Ralph: It wasn’t. It was a round dance weekend. No it wasn’t, I’m sorry, you’re right. It was a square and round dance weekend. And he asked me to cue a couple of rounds. “ I said “Well, no, I’m not really … He said do you have two that you’re comfortable with and I said yes. He said would you do those and I said sure. Finally, I agreed to do it and I did two easy rounds. I think it was Lovers Song and Mexacali Rose or something like that. OK? Uh, unknown to me, Chuck was getting ready to take a sabbatical from cuing for the Lowell square dance club, Tracktown Trotters?
Joan: No, it was Town Travelers.
Ralph: I’m sorry, it was Town Travelers. He wanted to see how I did and if I did well he was going to recommend me to them to cue at their dances. Well as it was apparently he like what he heard and I got recommended and they called and hired me to cue at their dances when he went for his sabbatical.
Jim: Was that the first club cuing that you did?
Ralph: That was the first outside club cuing that I did, right. And the advantage to me was that the club held dances twice a month so therefore I got to cue a dance, an open club dance, twice a month for that whole year from September to whatever
Joan: Plus cueing weekly at his class.
Ralph: Plus cuing weekly at my club. That was a big plus for me.
Joan: That was a big…
Ralph: Nobody can imagine what a big plus that was. Because it gave me the confidence to stand up in front of people. I remember the very first night I went over there the caller’s name was a Mr. Jim Ford. A guy from Vermont. OK And he had a Newcomb machine and when he finished his first tip, I came on the stage and he said to me. “Your turn.” I put the record on and I picked up the tone arm and I hit the record about fifteen times and he finally came back up on the stage and said “Let me put that on for you because I only have one needle.” That was pure nerves. And it went from there. And I was with the Town Travelers for years after that.
Jim: That’s the only club that you cued regularly for, wasn’t it?
Ralph: For three or four years I was the club cuer for Track Town Trotters.
Joan: But that was your longest – it was only after Polly didn’t want it any more.
Ralph: What it did … They were advertising in the local square dance magazine, the regional square dance magazine. Because of that we got a lot of calls to cue for other clubs. And it got to the point where I was cueing sometimes four times a week other than my own round dance club. I cued Thursday, Friday, Saturday nights and sometimes Sunday afternoon.
Joan: Besides working your job.
Jim: I see.
Joan: And besides, were you going to college at the time?
Jim: Which night? (Laughter)
Jim: So, you were cueing for the Town Travelers and teaching your own two
Ralph: Two nights a week
Jim: levels of round dancing and in the process trying to learn. When did you get into the weekend business, and festivals.
Ralph: Well, we were doing some.
Joan: Wait a minute, the first weekend, we started cueing in January and in May,
Ralph: Herm Parker.
Joan: Our club was having a weekend with Herm Parker. We had signed up for $20 at East Hill Farm and Herm Parker called
Ralph and he said “Beverly” who was his wife, Beverly, “doesn’t want to do all the cueing. Will you help do some of the cueing?” So he said “Yeah, OK” So then he called back a couple of days later, he said “Beverly don’t want to do any of the cueing. Do you want to do all the cueing?” We said “Yeah, OK” So OK we go and we
Jim: Did they give you back your twenty bucks?
Joan: So listen to this. We go do our first weekend. We said “What do we do on a weekend? We’ve never been on a weekend.” Oh, OK. You teach two dances and I’ll never forget we taught My Love, the classic. See how stupid we were, a hard dance like that. And, ah, Rhythm of the Rain. Those were the two dances.
Jim: That wasn’t an easy one either.
Joan: It was easy, like a phase 2 but My Love was not easy.
Ralph: That’s a three rhythm dance.
Joan: We said “This is so easy. How come these people can’t learn this dance?” (Laughter)
Ralph: When I went into the place, the facility, on Friday afternoon I said “ Well now, how much do I owe you?” He said “No, you already gave me a deposit and you’re going to cue rounds so you won’t have to pay the balance.”
Joan; So it only cost us $20 for our first weekend.
Ralph: On our way home I said “This is great. We had all that food. We had two nights lodging and all we
Joan: and it only cost us twenty bucks.
Ralph: All we had to do was cue a few rounds.
Jim: You’ve come a long way. (Laughter)
Joan: The following year, of course, he paid us.
Joan: We said “You’re gonna pay us?”
Ralph: And we picked up a couple of other square dance weekends, locally and we were asked to do the Maple Sugar Festival, up in Vermont and we went and did it. We had no conception of what a festival was because it was out first one.
Joan: We’d never been.
Ralph: In the course of doing that a man approached me and said he was the vice president of the dance federation for the state of New York and would we be interested in doing the Flaming Leaves Festival over in Lake Placid? And it sort of snow balled from there. One Saturday night I was working at the Town Travelers with a man by the name of Eddie Mayall and he says to me” Do you work on Memorial Day? I said “No, I don’t.” “Would you like to work on Memorial Day? I said, “Well, OK, what’s the deal? He told me all about a place called Papoose Pond with he and Jim Mayo as the callers and Joan and I would be the cuers. It had been an ongoing weekend. And so we joined that staff which was a pleasure. I think we stayed with that staff for, what was it, about twenty-eight years?
Ralph: Then …
Jim: No it couldn’t have been twenty-eight because we started in ‘64.
Joan: I thought it was twenty-four.
Jim: Yeah, twenty-four sounds better.
Ralph: Excuse me, I think I have a plaque that says twenty-five years. And we picked up a couple of more local weekends. The one from New York materialized and the next thing you know
Joan: We were hired for the Empire State Festival
Ralph: We picked up a few regional festivals and then we retired from AT&T. I’m not sure …
Joan: I think you missed a biggie
Ralph: Which one?
Joan: We got a call one day, and it was Joe Turner and he said “Hi Joan & Ralph, This is Joe Turner, we were wondering if you would like to be our spotlight couple and introduce you at the “Cades”?” It was like dead silence because it’s like getting an Academy Award in those days.
Joan: We said, I said, do you know who this is? This is Joan and Ralph Collipi in Salem, New Hampshire. He said “I know who you are.” So I said “You want us to do the “Cades?” He said “Yes.” And that opened
Ralph: That opened a lot.
Joan: Oh, That got us the Washington, DC Festival which we have done for fourteen consecutive years. We’re the only cuer and they honored us ten years ago
Ralph: After ten years we got a ten year badge and a breakfast.
Joan: We are the only cuer that has worked ten consecutive years for WASCA. So that’s really nice.
Jim: They try to keep the staff changing, don’t they?
Ralph: They always do but we seem to be the anchor couple.
Joan: I don’t know why.
Ralph: As I said, when we retired it seemed like somebody put up a flashing sign that said the Collipi’s are available. Because for some reason … well, the first year that we retired we went to the ROUNDALAB Convention, annual meeting and then to the Houston National and we did a clinic out there, a two-hour clinic on phase 1 & 2. And a few calls came in from there. And then we did it the following year in Oklahoma and then the following year in Annaheim. And the next thing you know the calls were coming in from all over. From all over the country so we’ve been very, very fortunate.
Joan: Very fortunate
Ralph: Every call surprised us no end.
Joan: We went to Alaska three times.
Jim: It was about that same time that you got more active in ROUNDALAB, too, wasn’t it?
Ralph: Yes we did.
Joan: Oh Yeah, we got elected to the … we ran for the board three times.
Ralph: I think it was three years in a row.
Joan: we didn’t get elected.
Ralph: We got elected in Memphis.
Joan: And then we finally did get elected. And at that time to get elected to the board in ROUNDALAB you have to get fifty-one percent of the people voting. If you didn’t get that, if you got fifty
Ralph: You didn’t get elected.
Joan: It was very hard to get elected.
Ralph: It was not a simple majority. It was an absolute majority.
Joan: So the year we got elected we were the only couple that got elected with the mail-in ballot. It was very hard to get elected.
Jim: How else did they do it?
Ralph: They do a runoff right there at the annual meeting.
Jim: They did the mail ballot first and then from those who did not get the fifty-one percent
Ralph: They did a runoff at the convention.
Jim: did you have to get more than half at the convention?
Ralph: Yes but that reduced the voting universe from something like a thousand teaching units to just about 200 teaching units at the convention.
Joan: Yeah, it was kind of silly. So when we got on the board we told the board that we thought the By-Law should be changed. Because it made it very hard for anybody to get elected.
Ralph: And we spearheaded that change.
Joan: What it should be is a vote is a vote. Who’s ever first and who’s second and who’s third, whatever. And so they did. They changed it.. Plus it’s very embarrassing, I think, for a lot of the people. Everybody knows who runs. Your picture’s there year after year, you know.
Ralph: Anyway, our first year as a member of the Board of Directors we were doing a festival in Anchorage, Alaska in March and we got a call from the chairman saying that one of the members of the Executive Committee had to resign due to work related problems and he wanted to recommend us for the Executive Committee. Would we be interested.
Jim: This was your first year on the board?
Ralph: The first year on the board.
Joan: The first year on the board.
Ralph: So I said I don’t have a clue as to what the Executive Committee does, you’ll have to give me some guidance. He said “We’ll lead you, don’t worry.” So he went back and polled the board and the next thing you know he called me back the next day and said “You’re elected. Get there early.” And from that time… We’ve been on the board now, this is now our tenth year. We have two more years to go. And that will be… We will have to step off again. You’re on for three. You can be reelected for another three and then you must step down.
Joan: For a year.
Ralph: We’ve been a member of the Executive Committee for.. Six out of those ten years.
Jim: Is this a new rule that you’ve been on for ten consecutive years or …
Ralph: No we took a year off. We stepped down
Joan: You have to take a year off.
Ralph: We’ve been on the EC for seven out of the ten years and for two years we were chairman of the Board of Directors of ROUNDALAB.
Jim: It sounds like you’ve been very active in the organization.
Ralph: We have.
Joan: Last year and this year we had charge of education for the entire ROUNDALAB Convention. ROUNDALAB is divided into two pieces. One side of the house is what they call operating functions that governs and runs the corporation. The other side of the house is our education. And this year and last year Joan and I have been coordinators for the education side of the house.
Ralph: The operating functions thing.
Joan: And Ralph was what they call budget officer for the organization. They never had one and also the
Ralph: The supplemental policies and procedures manual.
Joan: They never had
Ralph: Simply because when I became chairman and I tried to find out from past chairmen and women how to handle a particular situation. The answers I would get were “I know we’ve done this before but I don’t remember. So I instituted a supplemental policies and procedures manual which now incorporates every action the board has to take. It writes it all down so that if that action comes up again five or six years later someone can go back to that manual.
Joan: There’s a job description, and the organizational chart and a job description for everybody on that chart so they know what their job is.
Jim: You’re drawing on your industrial experience.
Jim: Well, I guess that gets you pretty much up to the current time.
Ralph: we’re also a member of the Universal Round Dance Council.
Joan: On the Board of Directors.
Ralph: We’re on that Board of Directors. We’re directors for ACCORD. One more board and I’ll have enough to build my own coffin.
Joan: Also, for nineteen years we’ve brought in leaders from all over the country for round dance weekends.
Ralph: Educational weekends
Joan: Yup, to educate the dancers and the teachers.
Jim: You also started one of the early schools for:
Jim: for round dance teachers.
Joan: That’s right. We have graduated 55 leaders.
Ralph: We started the East Coast Leaders College and in nineteen… was it 90 or 91?
Joan: I’ve got to find it, you don’t remember? Ninety-two.
Ralph: Ninety-two, OK And right up to two years ago we did that leaders college with Carmen and Mildred Smirelli our of Maryland. Unfortunately, they passed on.
Jim: Did they both die?
Ralph: Oh, yes she died two weeks after he did. And we were very, very fortunate that Wayne and Barbara Blackford from Florida and Mesa were available in the time frame that we needed to do that school. They have jumped in and have helped very capably in that school.
Joan: This year we’re going to be running two schools. We’ll be running a school in California and we’re going to be running a school out here because one of the leaders came from California this year and he said “You know, Joan, it cost me over $2000 to come to this school.
Jim: One of those that came to your school.
Joan: Yes, right. He said “Have you ever thought of doing the school in California? With the convention being in California you would be right there if you came early. I said “Well if you could find me a hall. I said “ we would speak to Wayne and Barbara and we would do it just to make expenses and not make any money. We would have to cover our meals and our hotel and the hall. So he did and he called us a couple of months ago and, uh, the Millers. We’re going to be using their hall. They have a home studio. So we’re running one in California and we’ll see if we get registrations. You never know how a school will go.
Ralph: Yeah, it is. It’s a crap shoot.
Joan: We’ve been lucky. We’ve been getting registrations every year. Some for the schools have not been able to function because they don’t sign up.
Jim: Maybe that’s a good segway into the views you hold for the future of round dancing and where it came from, how it got to where it is and where do you see it going from here?
Ralph: Well, where it came from. It came out of American folk dancing, the era of couple dancing. In the years gone by since we’ve been in it the market that we turn to would always be the square dance program. And as square dancers would finish their square dance instruction the next step seemed to be round dance instruction.
Joan: If they wanted it.
Ralph: That market has reduced substantially so now we’re looking at the civilian market. Were trying to promote the civilian market. And perhaps go at the teaching of beginners in a different direction.
Joan: What we’re hoping is that we
Ralph: That we can turn them back over to the square dancers.
Joan: That we can do what you did for us.
Jim: That would be nice.
Joan: We’d like to promote that if we could. And it has happened in some cases.
Jim: You have seen some of that?
Ralph: Yes, it has happened.
Joan: Because we tell them now “this is a square dance.” And when the men see it, the men particularly like it.
Ralph: The thing that encouraged us was that this year we volunteered to do the intro to rounds at the New England Convention. And when they said yes we asked them if they would be kind enough to advertise it as beginning with the Cha Cha as opposed to Two-Step. So we did that and the hall they gave us was just a little bit too small. We had something like 59 couples that wanted to come in on an intro to rounds.
Joan: And what I did was
Ralph: and Joan wrote a little routine. I think it was six or eight steps or figures and I taught as many as they could handle in that two-hour period. I think I used six out of the eight. And just put it into a sequence for them. And told them that I had a cueing spot between nine and ten in the Advanced Hall and if they would come in there I had the option of a cuers choice. And I would use that routine for the cuers choice and I would do it at approximately nine thirty. At nine fifteen I noticed a few faces in the hall. And I told the people in the Advance Round Dance Hall what was going to happen and asked them if they would be kind enough to get up and dance with them because they could do it on cues. Well, as it happened, when I put that music on they came from the hallways and all 59 couples showed up and pushed the advanced round dancers off the floor. And they were ecstatic to do that.
Jim: So you are still finding enthusiasm for round dancing in the square dance community.
Joan: Yeah, what we did was they … ROUNDALAB has the 1-888-Why I Dance bumper stickers that they gave out this year. We had flyers made up. And what this does is they call this number and it tells them the name of the teacher nearest them in their area. Or they can go on the Internet and they can pick it up there. Also in the corner were, I’d say ten or twelve round dance leaders watching. Ralph and I starting with the Cha Cha. We had them raise their hands and told them if they had flyers to go upstairs and get them and give them out to the groups. The reason that we asked to do it. They wanted us to teach an advanced dance. Sometimes we’re not utilized where we can be best utilized. I think, if we can give them something new …. I don’t know how the results of these 59 couples went. I did meet at the Falling Leaves Festival a couple of weeks ago four couples that told us they were in our intro to rounds and that they were all taking round dance lessons. I do know that. I do know a couple that we’re training right now that have seven couples in their class. Their very first round dance class. Again, they started on our recommendation with Cha Cha.
Jim: Why do you think starting with Cha Cha …
Joan: Because two-step is hard.
Ralph: Two Step is a difficult rhythm to teach in that you want them to take three steps in four beats and it’s … There’s a closing action in the feet and it gets .. It is difficult. We’ve struggled with it over the years. We have found that once you teach them the Cha Cha you can take Cha Cha back to Rhumba and you can take Rhumba back and now
Jim: Because in both of those there is one step for each beat of the music.
Ralph: Well Rhumba is three steps to four beats of music. OK But once you’ve done Rhumba now they have a better grasp of what you’re talking about when you try to teach them two-step.
Jim: So you go through from Cha Cha to Rhumba before you get to Two-step.
Ralph: Exactly. We’re kind of backing up a little bit.
Ralph: The other side of that coin is that if you go to a , a, civilian population, not being square dancers, uh, there aren’t too many places where they can do and, go and do a Two-step. For example they go to a wedding or go to a club and the types of dances that are being done are Foxtrot, Waltz, uh, uh, Rock dances Cha Cha, Rhumba type of thing but never a Two-step. So if they think they’re going to learn something they can use other than just in that class, It gives you a little bit of grasp. And the other thing we found was the more exciting you can make the dance for those new people the more of a hook you’ve got to bring them in.
Jim: Cha Cha is a more exciting experience.
Ralph: Cha Cha and Jive or Swing is more exciting and then you bring them to the Two-step later on. So we’ve had a lot of change in concepts in the teaching of round dance, in the teaching end of round dancing.
Jim: Are these just yours or is ROUNDALAB beginning to think this way too?
Ralph: ROUNDALAB is tarting to think this way
Joan: Starting to think
Ralph: It’s not that they’re giving up on the Two-step which I was accused of in a magazine. Someone told me I was giving up on Two-step and therefore being in traditional dance they lost all their friends. I’m really not giving up on the Two-step. In fact
Joan: We’re just trying to change
Ralph: We’re just approaching it in a different:
Joan: Yeah, change the sequence to try to entice people off the street. That’s what we’re trying to do. Because if they see Two-step they think country western. You know, they don’t think of us.
Ralph: And we now see round dancing being advertised in some areas as choreographed ballroom. (Pause followed by JoAnn laughing and observing – That’s exactly what it is. This was JoAnn Mayo’s only sound during the interview which she observed.) Or choreographed social dancing.
Joan: ROUNDALAB is also thinking of taking – changing the logo changing the clothes. But they’re also, already have started. The big name you will see will be the International Association of Round Dance Teachers, Inc. Underneath will be ROUNDALAB because our true name is The International blah, blah, blah.
Jim: Just as CALLERLAB is the International Association of Square Dance Callers.
Ralph: Uh, If you were to look at ROUNDALAB’s existing logo now it goes back to the square dance costume of the late forties or early fifties. With the long skirt, etc. etc. etc. For some reason or other
Joan: Ralph the logo we have doesn’t have a long skirt.
Joan: No Look at your logo it’s a short skirt. What we’re going back to is what you originally started with. It’s a long trailing skirt. And that is more acceptable today. We’re going right back to .. They say oh this is the new thing. It’s not the new thing. It’s the old thing. You should know that, right?
Jim: Yes. Interesting
Joan: That’s what’s going on at ROUNDALAB. They’re trying very hard.
Ralph: As for our career, we’ve been pretty much around the country. We’ve been in Canada and Alaska.
Jim: You’ve been to Europe, too
Ralph: We’ve been to Germany. We went to the ECTA (European Callers and Teachers summer convention) and we had the good fortune to work a festival with you over there.
Jim: That was a good time.
Joan: That was a good time. We went to Moncton, NB.
Ralph: The Canadian Provinces. So we’ve had … If someone had told me back in the early 70’s that my working in the dance program was going to take me around the country and part of the world I would have told them they were completely insane. And I, we, she and I still can’t believe that we have enjoyed the kind of success that we have.
Joan: We’re also ROUNDALAB accredited teacher-coaches.
Ralph: That’s true.
Joan: there’s only four of us. Would you believe this year
Ralph: Within three months after we met with your caller-coach program at CALLERLAB the test was revised. The application form was revised.
Joan: We’re into the mentoring program.
Ralph: We’re into the mentoring program.
Joan: We’re going to use the proctor program.
Ralph: The general rules and regulations, the guidelines.
Joan: We will be giving the first test that has been put together this June to the first candidates. I have submitted 175 questions on just the
Ralph: Each of the four members are submitting questions.
Jim: The questions are hard to find.
Joan: Not really. We have such wonderful manuals. Just go to your books.
Ralph: We had some strategic concerns regarding ..
Joan: The answers are right there.
Jim: When we did it first for CALLERLAB we didn’t have the manual
Joan: Oh, that’s hard.
Jim: We were creating questions out of whole cloth. When we went back and did the revision
Joan: With the manual
Jim: We had the manual, we had a 180 page manual and we could just go through and pick out sentences. It was a lot easier to make the questions then.
Joan: You bet. We also did six pages and there would be four or five rhythms on each page for each phase of the practical exam they have to take. Because they have to get up and show
Ralph: We have a physical …
Joan: Teaching teachers how to teach.
Ralph: We, thanks to you guys.
Joan: We couldn’t have done it without CALLERLAB and the help you gave us.
Ralph: We’ve had some concerns expressed by some of the committee members. We don’t want to put ourselves in a position where someone can come back at us for not being fair to them. OK So what we’ve done is we’ve constructed a disclaimer stating that if they sigh this disclaimer they agree to all of the guidelines of the examination process
Joan: and the results
Ralph: And the results and none of our questions are going to come from anywhere other than our manuals. So the manuals are the basis for everything we’re going to do. That’s been an interesting project working on it. Joan’s put in tons of hours.
Jim: It’s a tedious process.
Joan: Oh, it’s hard work.
Jim: We still find in the CALLERLAB testing that we once in a while come across a question that
Jim: when we go back and look at it is ambiguous. One of our applicants will answer it in a way that we hadn’t thought of..
Joan: And that’s going to happen.
Jim: Then we either change the answer or change the question
Joan: Or throw it out
Jim: or throw it out. It’s a continuous process no matter how careful you are.
Ralph: Well we had someone who had … no concept of guiding people to teach teachers how to teach …was chairman of the committee to build this thing. And they sat on it for four years and nothing got done.
Jim: In your field, in the round dance field you’ve not had the abundance of schools that we’ve had in the calling field.
Ralph: No we haven’t.
Jim: When we set out to do this process we had a dozen callers who had been teaching callers for a decade or more.
Joan: And this is where you get a lot of your staffing when you’re making up the test. Is from the schools.
Jim: You have to have the experience in teaching…
Jim: before you know what’s appropriate.
Ralph: Right, and you have to know the kind of knowledge that the student teacher is looking to gain.
Joan: The other thing is I think that it’s such an exciting thing to do these question, ‘cause I really got into it. When you get going you’re like diseased. You try to get all the stuff .. And then you…you’ve got to get the balance in … you’ve got to get voice, get equipment, you get presentation, you get uh, uh, figure execution. I mean there’s so many different things and you’ve got to try to get a balance, a percentage of this and a percentage of that. Then you have to get the keys to match the questions. I was like a.. I was like a scientist.
Ralph said “Are you still with this thing.?” I loved doing it. I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.
Jim: Much of our activity is a labor of love.
Joan: Yeah because nobody’s gonna know that we made up this test. nobody’s gonna know that I did 175 questions because it’s secret.
Joan: What you do…
Ralph: What you do you do because you want to do it.
Joan: The manual where we got a lot of the questions was the manual that Ralph did..
Ralph: Well we have a curriculum manual that was started years ago. It got to a given point and for one reason or another come to an abrupt halt. It stayed there for three years.
Joan: So they gave it to Ralph
Ralph: At that time we were on the Board of Directors. We were just reelected and the chairman came to me and said “I need this finished and I need it finished now.” So I jumped on it and, uh, I got a whole crew to work with me and I was probably very fortunate. The crew I got to work with me were very diligent and put in a lot of time and by the time the following annual meeting come around we had the whole thing completed and ready to go to press.
Joan: And they now buy it .. What do they pay? .. Six or seven dollars
Ralph: No, it’s thirty dollars.
Joan: Thirty dollars?
Ralph: It’s not cheap
Jim: It shouldn’t be.
Ralph: It shouldn’t be.
Joan: Even thirty dollars is cheap. The hours that went into this.
Ralph: It’s four or five hundred pages.
Joan: But you see, there’s another case where nobody knows. Your name’s not on … I don’t know how it is for CALLERLAB but your name is never on anything that you do.
Jim: Well the introduction to the Caller Training Manual says that I was the chairman of the committee and edited it.
Joan: See, they don’t even give you that.
Ralph: Any publication that comes out from ROUNDALAB cannot carry a leaders name. That’s in the By-Laws.
Joan: who knows what you do… and that’s OK because you know what you do. And you know what your reward is, your reward is it comes out OK. It works. And if it doesn’t it’s good your name isn’t in it. (Laughter)
Ralph: We both enjoy working with the people, you know, with the dancers and all that and teaching and cueing. But I think we enjoy just as much the work that we do with the organizations. The leader organizations. You know to keep this thing going because, uh
Jim: We need to have both kinds of people.
Ralph: Yeah, we enjoy doing both.
Joan: I think that we try to stress at our schools is the fact that you’ve gotta do it all. Like it or not. You’re gonna do things you don’t want to do. You know you don’t want to have to go to the association meetings because your tired, your busy, your job. But if you wanna, if you want the activity to survive, you got to give it everything you’ve got and if it means
Ralph: I get very
Joan: It means a family commitment. It means a lot. Hey, if you don’t want to sacrifice, don’t be in this business.
Ralph: I get very concerned. We go to local association meetings of ACCORD and we’re lucky to get five or six teaching units out of our thirty-five or forty teaching units that are members.
Jim: So you see a changing dedication. Is that a fair way to put it.
Ralph: We see a lack of dedication.
Joan: The older people like us are there.
Ralph: The ones with more longevity.
Joan: The younger people are not there. Now that could be our fault.
Jim: I have heard it said that people are critical of CALLERLAB, my connection, and they say CALLERLAB ruined square dancing. Do people say the same sort of thing about ROUNDALAB?
Joan: It’s all our fault. Everything is our fault.
Jim: What do you see as the value of organizations like ACCORD and ROUNDALAB to the overall activity?
Ralph: Well, I think I slightly stated that in my initial comments when we started the early part of our career. When we joined the local association we found that .. It to be a good vehicle to meet the other leaders, find out how the other leaders worked, get points of information from them as to how to run a class, etc. etc. Usually what they would do is each meeting has a program set up and a lot of times the program will be how to set up your class. Or how to do the accounting for the business. Or how to teach a particular…
Joan: Or what to charge for fees.
Ralph: What to charge for fees. And this, I found that to be advantageous.
Joan: We can’t understand why the new ones would not want to be there. Because, if anything, they are the ones that would need the guidance.
Jim: Did that same attitude of your carry over to ROUNDALAB as well?
Ralph: I think it does. I think if they go to ROUNDALAB in the right frame of mind. Going there to… Because now that we’ve got all of the dog work done such as putting the phase manuals together and all that kind of stuff, most of the ROUNDALAB annual meeting now is education. Seventy percent of our program this past year was dedicated to education. And you can go there and you can learn how to teach different rhythms. You can learn different teaching techniques. Ah, just about any subject that you want to learn.
Ralph: Computers, anything like that.
Joan: Putting music on
Ralph: Equipment. Ah, how to promote a class, how to go out and advertise a class. How to, what are the best…
Jim: So an important function of an organization is the educational aspect of it.
Joan: Yeah At ROUNDALAB it’s the primary …
Ralph: It’s our only function
Joan: reason for going there. They go there primarily for the education.
Jim: Does the organization serve and important function in establishing standards?
Joan: Oh yeah.
Ralph: We have a book of standards now with regards to dance figures. We have a book of standards now that covers all rhythms and all phases from one to six. Positions, footwork, etc. etc. Uh, The only thing we haven’t gotten into is body movement. There is some of that in the standards but it’s
Joan: and sometimes the degree of difficulty.
Ralph: Well degree of difficulty is determined by the level or the phase…
Joan: Well some of the classics.
Ralph: We have standards also to ethical standards as to how you ethically run your business. And we have a grievance committee that stays dormant until necessary but if something comes up and its an ethical problem then the grievance committee is activated and they look into it and determine whether it’s unethical and whether or not the person should be sanctioned.
Jim: Well, I certainly appreciate your coming over to chat with us today. I’m pleased to have been asked to do this interview. I’ve known you almost from the beginning of your involvement in the activity.
Joan: You’ve known us from the beginning.
Jim: And it certainly has been a pleasure to work with you and to play with you. Part of the activity together carrying on the tradition of leadership in the activity that has always been a part of the New England square and round dancing activity.
Joan: We watched you. We learned from you a lot too.
Ralph: We spent many happy hours in your company.
Jim: It’s been fun. Why don’t we close it off and go eat.