Veronica McClure Interview
Bob Brundage – Well, Hi again. This is Bob Brundage and the date today is December the 6th, 2005. Today I’m having the pleasure of talking with a young lady up in Massachusetts who has been very, very busy in the dance field – Veronica McClure. So, Veronica why don’t you start out by telling us where you were born and brought up and we’ll kind of take it from there.
Veronica McClure – I was born in Baltimore and I was there until two years after college. I wasn’t aware of square dancing until late in the game. That’s where it started because I joined up with a bunch of college students from John Hopkins and Goucher College, in Baltimore, Maryland. They were known as the Gouchkin Hoppers which was reversing the syllables of Hopkins and Goucher and drew folks from several other schools as well. I got involved with that because, for some reason at school there was a big event with a lot of different people from different places and there was an easy level square dance because everybody could join in on that. I thought that was cool – I had a great time. Somebody told me about the college groups because of my interest from that chance encounter with squares.
BB – OK
VM – Starting – I was a horse crazy youngster, although I never owned a horse I had found ways to get active with horses and I think, when I got interested in rounds I was transferring a lot of the idea of movement from two beings, horse and rider to two beings, person and person …. laughs
BB – Yes.
VM – …. and so – and I stumbled in college – we had required Phys Ed credits to make up. I really didn’t want to do much in the real sports but there were two dance classes, which I took and I enjoyed a whole lot. When I got more and more involved with the Gouchkin Hoppers – and they had rounds as well – I started doing that too. The first time I met anybody from the Gouchkin Hoppers was a fellow named Frank Kujawa who I think was a professor in the Florida State University. He was trying to get just a square of anybody together because he wanted to work out Teacup Chain, which he had just learned about. The first thing I did was help out with this guinea pig square for Frank to figure out Teacup Chain, so it was the only thing I knew. Both laugh. So he said, “Oh, we’re dancing this Sunday you know. Come on over, come on over.” So, I went over, walked in and they were just beginning to square up and they needed one more person. The first thing out of the caller’s mouth was Teacup Chain so I sailed through it and I didn’t know a single thing after that. Nobody could understand why I would know Teacup Chain and nothing else. They kept thinking I was spoofing them or something. Eventually, Frank showed up and corroborated my story. Both laugh. But it was a strange introduction to a group.
BB – OK. Well then, when did you pick up with Don Beck?
VM – Oh, that was after Boston. I moved to Boston on December first, ’67. Earlier in the fall, September or October, another woman who had been dancing with the Gouchkin Hoppers came to Boston. She had been at John Hopkins as a graduate student and was coming to Boston to do a ??, I think at MIT. That was earlier in the fall of 1967 and she saw a note or met somebody who knew that there were a small group of folks getting together who were all members of the Outing Club. The Outing Club had occasional Eastern or Traditional style square dances but there were some folks in the Outing Club who were comfortable with those dancers who had heard of western style and were curious and wanted to try it out. Don wanted to try to learn to call it. So, the kids formal subset of Outing Club folks got together so that Don would have a group. That was the beginning of Don’s calling as well as the predecessor of Tech Squares. When I came to visit Lynda Silversmith, the woman who came up in early fall in October and danced with the Outing Club group once in October, when I moved up on December 1st I then began dancing with them on a regular basis but I was not part of the ‘in’ crowd. It was definitely a circle of close friends from the Outing Club. They were happy to have other people and all that sort of thing but I’m sure there were conversations about the organizing of all this without everybody in attendance but just a core group of people. That’s the way group dynamics works. That continued – Don immediately impressed me as a very busy person getting an amazing amount of stuff done because he was working full time, he was taking graduate courses in the evening and, before I got there, one of his parents had died. His parents lived in Springfield, which is about two-thirds across the state towards New York. So, he was running back and forth a great deal of the time taking care of the surviving parent and trying to settle the estate. Then, the surviving parent died and he was really – well, embroiled – not in a nasty way because one estate wasn’t quite settled yet and then he had to settle the estate on top of the estate and there was a lot of property management. It was very difficult for this poor guy. So, as the next September was coming around and he was trying to line up the next night school course he was going to take while working full time and while spending as much time as possible in Springfield. It finally turned out that the only way he could get the course he really needed next was to do it on the night where we had been dancing. That was a real sad blow because everybody was assuming we were just going to keep going. But, because he had to figure out his courses early in the fall we knew early in the fall what his situation was. There was a weekend set aside shortly after all the students came back to school – and the newcomers especially – so they could try out a lot of the various student activities. The Outing Club had a whole lot of things because, you know, they have some who hike and some who do canoeing, some who do rock climbing. They have all these activities under their umbrella. So, over the weekend there different groups going off to do different things but they scheduled another easy level square dance at the end of the weekend to bring everybody back together again. So, I asked one of the fellows – now a lot of people in the Outing Club group were not students at MIT. Many were alumni but not that many were in class at that time. But there was a fellow named Charles Hatvany who was a freshman during that first year that I was in Boston and I asked him to go to the Outing club easy level dance at the end of the activity – instruction activities time – to check out the caller because we were losing Don. So, Charles and I dressed in our square dance clothes and, of course, we were the only ones in square dance clothes because most of these were folks who had been out doing their rock climbing or whatever. The caller was named Tex Wilson. He took one look at us and breathed a big sigh if relief. I think he thought he had been booked for a regular modern western square dance but he walked into a one- night stand. Now, not that he couldn’t do a one-night stand because just like doing a beginners night but, in fact, the initial shock when you see that the situation is other than you thought. So, we danced the whole evening with him and were interested and we got him aside at the end of the evening and explained what had happened was that having and then losing Don Beck and also wanting to move this real student activity and not an informal offshoot of the Outing Club. So, Tex agreed to call for us for a while. He gave us a break in cost and so on because we having to basically start it anew. At first we were still prevailing on the Outing Club to book us rooms because they had to go through a process before you were a real independent student activity. The Outing Club was doing so but now we were in a different situation than this core group of close friends that were all members of the Outing Club. So, eventually we got it restarted and we found that we had so many people wandering in and out that we decided to have a class, which we called ‘crash course’. The crash course id still going on and it turned out to be a very effective vehicle for the setting there at MIT and, as we worked our way through the ropes of becoming a student activity it became clear that we had to have an entry point twice a year for first timers. The only way to do a class twice a year was to keep this crash course kind of approach. So, the next crash course class is graduating a week from tonight
BB – Oh. OK. So, you’re still with them then?
VM – Well, I’m planning on leading the Grand March. I just retired again from cueing for Tech. I had been cueing pretty regularly on a once a month basis for the past probably five years. It’s not the critical mass of experience and so on that I need in order to keep everything going.
BB – Right. Backing up a little bit, I noticed that you – way back in ’66 and ’67 – you went to Berea to their Christmas Dance School.
VM – No.
BB – Well, Bera College.
VM – I don’t remember this.
BB – Is that right?
VM – No. I don’t think so.
BB – Well, sorry about that.
VM – I’m curious as to what made you think I did.
BB – Well, Anna sent me some material about your background and that was part of it in there. I don’t know where.
VM – I have been to a number of dance camps but I not that.
BB – OK. Well, moving along as they say, I noticed – I’m anxious to hear about the Vagabonds.
VM – Ahhh. Laughs.
BB – Maybe we should say first if all, when did you get away, not away from necessarily but putting more importance on round dancing?
VM – Well, after I came up here there was no round dancing associated with the Outing Club version or situation. So, then we had to put some attention for a while on just getting reorganized with graduates becoming a student activity. So then I started wanting to have rounds as well once things kind if started settling down. There was nobody who knew anything about rounds in the group and sort of just called on the one who was blabbering – “Do something about it” Laughs. I’m sure a lot of things happen that way.
BB – I’m sure, yes. Right.
VM – So I started doing what I had remembered from learning in Baltimore. The folks who were teaching the Gouchkin Hoppers had been very, very encouraging and flexible and willing to teach what the Gouchkin Hoppers really were capable of and not just do a set program. So, I started doing some of that and then for a little while Vernon Porter came in and taught a bit. That didn’t go over terribly well. He wanted to do things in a certain way and so that just didn’t – on and off. Other people also began trying with the calling and cueing and, over time Tech has produced a number of leaders – some more obvious than others – Clark Baker is very obvious. But there are people within the group who can call and cue to some extent and there always have been. It’s pretty amazing. So, as the Bicentennial began working on everybody’s radar – I’ve always been interested in history,
BB – Yes, I know.
VM – Laughs. Not even before I got to Boston. So, I began getting interested in the Bicentennial as an opportunity to explore dance history. Fortunately, here in Boston at that time were several people who, in the world of an academic approach to dance history – were tops in their field. I think of Brainerd and Julia Sutton along with a then rising star, Margaret Daniels and again, some of the dance camps I went to were in the first dance history concentrating on Renaissance and Baroque styles of dance. I took classes with the three that I mentioned and I had already been interested in sewing, in regards to the costumes. It was a very joyful group contest because for both our Vagabonds attire and for our Bicentennial clothes the whole group got together and helped each other. Like, the men made panniers for the women’s eighteenth century dresses. At one point, the Vagabond dress, the square and round dance dress was made of patchwork and the patches were sized differently according to the height of person wearing the dress so the proportions would remain the same.
BB – Oh, I see. Interesting.
VM – So, one day we had this gathering of the men and the women and we had certain solid colors and prints and everybody was invited to bring fabric if they wanted to contribute to the pot, making sure that they these absolutely square pieces that were exactly the proportion for the individuals – laughs. It was great.
BB – I see. OK.
VM – Now the women were making the men’s shirts and it was a wonderful time and everybody had something to do with other person’s outfit. So there a was real ownership amongst the group.
BB – Yes, OK. Well, I know you’ve done a lot exhibiting with the Vagabonds where you’ve been to National Convention way back in 1974 I got written down ….
VM – We were in the Baltimore National. We were in Atlantic City. I think those were the two Nationals although we danced several times at what used to be the Canadian Round Dance Festival at Toronto and Hamilton. It moved from one place to another. We’ve danced in all the New England states, New York State, Pennsylvania – I think we’ve danced in New Jersey, Maryland ….
BB – Right. Well, that’s great. So, I see along about this time you were a contributing editor to the New England Caller Square Dance Magazine. I also have copies of a couple of your articles that you put in the magazine at the time. Very interesting. So ….
VM – Did any one of them grab you in particular?
BB – Well, I kind of skims through them to be honest with you the first time I looked at them and I didn’t really get the content of the overall picture if you will. But, I will go back over those again I’ll tell you.
VM – More recently I’ve written some dance history – very informal articles for the Weaver’s Round Dance email list. Now I’ve been approached by the Universal Round Dance Council to put some items in their technical manual.
BB – Oh, great. Well. I know that’s a very, very busy organization too. Speaking of organizations I see you’ve been a member of many, many. I’ve got written down here Legacy, NECCA, ACCORD and NECORTA and one that I’m not familiar with, MEHPER.
VM – That is an organization that’s difficult because they have a dance section. Most of the people were – I’m not active in it now – were involved in dance as it is presented in schools and colleges as a physical recreation, physical education, a physical recreation activity.
BB – I see. OK
VM – I went to and participated in a number of teacher’s gatherings and I was very pleased – for instance, at one point they had a bunch of eighth graders who had been working with a square dance caller for the first time and they just got and danced what they normally dance, callers calling what they normally call – really fascinating sitting amongst people – not telling them that I knew about square dancing – and watching how they reacted to watching the kids. It was really great because – well, they were talking about the kid’s response time, about their agility in changing direction and taking direction – two very different things – and about their flexibility. They’re looking at it from a very physical point of view. They’re really may be interesting for folks now even to have persons who have an alive but not an identical point of view talking about what that is that you do.
BB – Both laugh. I hear you.
VM – I’m always interested on cross-fertilization of different – of related but different activities. At the moment I’m working with another person brainstorming combining a vintage dance event with Scottish Country Dance event to make a Victorian/Scottish Dance Weekend. I think the theme I would like to have is “Memories of Balmoral” – Balmoral being the Scottish Castle that Victoria took a great liking to and spent lots and lots of time away from her job up in Scotland.
BB – Where is that weekend going to be?
VM – Well, we’re talking about locations. There’s a smallish retreat house in Connecticut near Putnam that was built by a Scotsman in the 1880’s. It’s now run, as I say as a retreat house. It can house 30, 35 people. I went to a dance weekend out there once before so I know what it’s like to be there and to use it and so on. And there’s a Grange Hall nearby which we had rented for the larger parts of the evening. The first evening – the theme of this evening was a Memorial Day theme, 1905 so we’re all pretending that we’re at a house party on Memorial Day, 1905. So, the first evening a ten-piece brass band set up in the library, which opens to the parlor and we pushed all the furniture away and danced for two hours with this ten-piece brass band, playing in the style of the turn of the last century.
BB – Oh, my gosh. That must be worse than ten Scottish Bagpipes.
VM – Actually it wasn’t. I wasn’t sure about a ten-piece brass band either but it worked. So, don’t argue with success.
BB – No, that’s true. Right. Well, I notice you were a member of another one that I had never heard of – The Council of Research On Dance.
VM – That’s – it’s nickname is CORD – there are two groups, that one and Society of Dance History Scholars who are the professional organizations for Academic Dance Scholars. At one point – before Anna Dixon was so involved with the New England Foundation – at one point I was trying to get the fledgling foundation linked up with them because they have this wonderful library project. I’ve even more recently talked to one of the people at the Harvard Library who is very involved in that. I was trying to get them connected with them. Unfortunately, the foundation is not online enough to join in because what they’ve been doing is creating troops through computer systems on the internet, interlocking these libraries all over the place that have holdings in social dance history. So, I’d still like to see what happens but I’m just not sure how it’s going to happen.
BB – Yes. OK. Well, I notice in 1996 you honored with the New England Hall of Fame….
VM – Um hmm.
BB – …. and that’s quite an accomplishment and I’m very pleased to have you as a member of that organization. It certainly recognizes your various abilities. I know I happened to be at a New England Convention one year when you put on the History of Dance Seminar.
VM – The one at Sturbridge?
BB – Yes.
VM – Oh, that was such fun. I really enjoyed doing that. I was very pleased with – I mean I haven’t – but happily, honestly I have to say that I haven’t been really disappointed with anything we’ve done but I somehow got a special ‘chick’ about that one – laughs. It was kind of fun to have, you know, multimedia so to speak with the manikins and the video and the real people and the pictures.
BB – Yes, that’s right. It was a very interesting session all the way around. I happened to think as you were talking, did you ever get to Pinewoods?
VM – Yes. I’ve been to Pinewoods several times. It’s really lovely.
BB – Isn’t it though? I was on staff there a couple of years when Modern Western Square Dancing was just coming in and they wanted a taste of it and I actually brought a few dancers with me and my dancers were amazed at the rest of the program as you can well imagine with all their English and Scottish and Irish dancing going on. Who do you – I’m really going back now – who do you credit with being your mentors back over the years?
VM – Oh, names. You want names?
BB – Sure.
VM – Oh, I’m so bad at names. How about at names now? Both laugh. I’ve been consistent. I’m bad at names all the way through. Eddie East was the caller at the Gouchkin Hoppers. Bert and Norm – one was male and one was female – I don’t remember their last names – were my first round dance instructors. They were from the Baltimore area too. They were just south of Baltimore – maybe Glen Burnie but in that region if not in Glen Burnie itself. I can’t remember their last names, very sad.
BB – OK. I noticed that the tape had stopped so I had probably interrupted in the middle of something you were saying so let’s continue on. You were talking about some of your mentors and I also wanted to ask you about your association with Roundalab. Have you been close with them at all or just a member?
VM – Not really. I’ve been a member all along but I haven’t been really, really close, as you put it.
BB – How about URDC? The Universal Round Dance Council.
VM – Again, I’ve been involved but not, not closely involved in the organizations sort of things.
BB – You don’t go to their conventions?
VM – No, well especially since Jane divorced ten years ago – not having a partner and so on – that’s been very difficult. I ventured to some of the conventions, especially the URDC Conventions because they were offered as a dancing event and not meetings event. The Roundalab meetings are meetings. I’ve been saying ever since the beginning of the Phase system that it was leaving out a lot of important factors. It’s really interesting that now there’s much more interest in those things – actually twenty years later but sometimes I guess ideas take a while to root. So, lots of times when I’m on the email list, that email list called Weaver’s and they’re chatting about this. I just sit back – I refrain from typing it in but sometimes I do say to myself, “I told you so”.
BB – Have you done any writing of round dances?
VM – Oh, a couple but I didn’t really did push to have them published. There’s a very, very important element of round dance publishing that’s, you know – just because you like to write a dance doesn’t mean that you like to go through the business end of pushing it. At one point we introduced a rumba at the Canadian Round Dance Festival. It was very popular in Canada but nobody knows about it here.
BB – Ah ha. That happens. Well, let’s get a little bit profound here.
VM – Oh oh.
BB – What’s you take on sort of the atmosphere of square and round dancing around the country. I know everybody is concerned about losing memberships here and there and losing attendance and so forth. Where do you think square and round dancing is going?
VM – Well, that would be waaay back. Looking at it from the larger scheme of social dance history – and also of group dynamics – if you look back at the history of the number of dance styles and forms they tend to travel with a particular population and I think that modern squares and rounds have been traveling with a particular population that is now aging. Another thing that happens sometimes over and over with organizations, especially skill based organizations, is that the longer the activity goes on the more it fragments into level and it becomes a pyramid with needing a lot of introductory people at the bottom to feed the scale going up but sometimes if that is not balanced with the progression of the core group the core group makes the pyramid top heavy. It happens over and over again. It happens in other dance forms. It happens in other activity – activities. It’s not a thing that’s peculiar to squares and rounds. I see it other organizations and this is on top of all the stuff that people are talking about nowadays like ‘Bowling Alone’ and the demise of the one-person-at-home family so that’s there’s more time and all the changes that in life styles that we have now. Even without looking at that there’s this long-term tendency to repeat it again and again and again for things to go kind of with the population. So, all the groups that I know of are saying, “What do we do the get the young people involved” and there’s just a certain difficulty in that the older people don’t want to do what the young people want to do. It’s just the way it is. So, I suspect that perhaps the way ballroom dancing was in deep doldrums and then after it got the moves from the rising generation enough it was OK again. That’s what I’m hoping is going to happen to square dancing.
BB – OK. Are you familiar with the ABC program?
VM – A little bit but I’m not sure.
BB – OK. In case you’re ever interested, if you put on your computer sd-abc as a keyword you’ll get a lot of information about it if you’re interested. Some people are thinking that is the salvation of square dancing but it’s moving away from the modern western dance class, you know, year-long classes, etc.
VM – Oh, I think so and remember that at the heyday in squares you didn’t have those long classes.
BB – Sure, Right.
VM – Even when Tech started we had no classes at all and then we sort of begrudgingly went to Crash Course which was six or eight weeks to start with but are now are thirteen but, by law at MIT it has to be twice a year – two entry points. When Tech was about – had the name Tech for about a year’s length of time it actually had a dance – our first big dance – that we were inviting the outside community to come to – come meet us, the new kids on the block so to speak. Our byline was, “Get Your PHD at MIT” and we made out these silly fake diplomas as a souvenir of this event to give everybody who came to MIT to square dance. A funny thing – only within the next year or so the so-called PHD Class where you have more classes after you graduate started happening and they started calling them PHDs. I’ve always wondered if it reached in New England some of that might have been sparked by our introductory dance. I don’t know. I’ve never checked with the idea – the thought – but it’s always been in the back of my mind because, if it was just coincidence it was a very well-timed one.
BB – I’ve heard a couple of people talking about the fact that many things are cyclical and they’re talking about a hundred-year cycle. Have you had any experience with that? Any thoughts about that?
VM – Well, in dancing it seems to me that you need to have maybe two generation’s separation. The big …
BB – That’s interesting.
VM – …. the big interest in swing dancing which preceded the big interest in ballroom dancing kind of did the same thing – about twenty years separation. So, you had the forty’s and by the end of the forty’s the swing dancing was changing to more the Rock and Roll form. So then, when people got interested in it again they started going back to the dancers who were dancing in twenty’s and thirty’s.
BB – That’s interesting.
VM – In fact, Manning Smith who was active, the last I was aware of was about five years ago – he’s in his eighty’s and he’s still teaching swing dancing the way he did it as a teenager. Incredible. So, there is this interest that didn’t go back to the forty’s but went back to the twenty’s and thirty’s. Then, in the case of the ballroom dance resurgence of interest, including amongst younger people – it’s gotten very big on college campuses. One of the advantages is that they can simultaneously accommodate people with different abilities – you can have a dance and the people just dance whatever it is they can dance. They can go to classes to be more formalized and if they’re really interested they can go into competition. But, they do have an immediate opening with the general dances for anybody of any ability to show up. So, that gives them a different ball game so to speak. The English and Scottish Country Dancing, while there is a skill level involved, if you can hang in there long enough to learn the spatial patterns you can participate. You may not be dancing but you can hold a place and they can happen through the spatial patterns. The spatial patterns are not as many as in squares and rounds. The threshold is a little lower. Anytime an activity has been together a long time there’s this tendency for it to develop and become more complicated in layers but the problem is that it makes the pyramid top heavy.
BB – Right. Right. Well, how does contra dancing come into this?
VM – How does contra dancing? Well, since contra dancing is open to beginners at all times there are very few times when you see a dance advertised as experienced. What that usually means is that the dance won’t be walked through first. But all the dances are walked through first and generally the callers are expected to call as long as anybody needs it but because patterns repeat so many times and because there are usually so many people who are already familiar with the dances that the callers fade out. When they come back in it’s usually because either somebody is in trouble or they’re warning you that they’re going to wind it down now.
BB – Well, I was referring mostly to all the resurgence of contra dancing. We see it right here in Albuquerque for example, we have a very active contra group and they dance twice a month. Square dance clothes are disappearing you know in Modern Western.
VM – Well, I find that some – there is a little bit of reduction in the contra dancing here but it’s not in danger by any means. One of the interesting eras in group dynamics is that contra dancing has been so healthy in the Boston area that there are starting to be more and more dances scheduled but eventually you begin to fracturing the same population into smaller pieces by scheduling more and more. Unfortunately, one of the halls that has been in use a great deal is being sold and won’t be available. So, there’s a big tango group and a big contra dance group and a big swing dance group who are all using that hall weekly. The tango and the contra dance group are moving to a new hall. I don’t know what is happening to the swing dance hall but every time a move like that is forced there is a shaky period while the community figures out whether or not they’re going to make this move. So, there are two big groups who are going to be hitting that shaky period come January 1st.
BB – Oh dear. Well …
VM – Fortunately, there is another hall they can move to. On the other hand when something’s been going great guns in one place for a long time there’s always a shakeup.
BB – Well, of course they went through that out in Detroit too. They closed the Lovett Hall.
VM – Mmm. I thought that was awful.
BB – Yeah. Well, this has all been very, very interesting Veronica. I really appreciate your taking the time to sit down and talk with me this afternoon.
VM – Oh. My pleasure. I hope it’s really helpful for you. I’m not sure exactly you know, if we’ve covered everything we should but we’ll talk later.
BB – Well, unless you think of anything else – do you think of anything else that you’d like to have put down for posterity?
VM – Not at the moment. I do have two early mentions of the emergence of Tech Squares from their first appearance in the New England Square Dance Caller and I am getting copies of those and I will send them to you.
BB – Oh, great. That’s great. OK. Well, I hope you’re not going to get snowed in so ….
VM – Well, we were supposed to have snow today but it hasn’t snowed yet so it’s hopeful.
BB – OK. Well, good luck to you anyway and thank you so much. If I get up into New England I hope I bump into you.
VM – Oh, that would be great.
BB – Well, thanks again for your time and so we’ll call this the end of the tape.
VM – All right. Thank you so much.
BB – Thank you Veronica. Bye, bye.
VM – Bye, bye