by David Millstone
Ralph Page gave this title to a regular column in his Northern Junket magazine, in which he shared information he had gleaned from looking through old newspapers in New Hampshire and Vermont. For those of us interested in dance history, he’s absolutely right.
Late last month, CDSS member Karen Mueller-Harder heard a wonderful story on Vermont Public Radio. In it, VPR reporter Steve Zind tells about John Stone, who in 1956 recorded a dance in Newfane, Vermont. Stone recently donated his tape to the Vermont Folklife Center, which digitized the recording. (Dance caller and CDSS youth intern Mary Wesley has worked at the VFC—small world!) Zind’s story describes how listening to the tape brought back a flood of memories for Stone.
Karen sent a link to the story to Steve Howe, at the CDSS office, who shared it with fellow staff members. Pat MacPherson in turn passed on the link to me and to Bob Dalsemer, one of my colleagues on the Square Dance History Project (SDHP). It was, indeed, a lovely and evocative story.
The VPR story included only a few snippets from the actual dance recording—the focus is Stone’s reactions to hearing the music once again—but I was interested in hearing more of the source material. I went to the website of the Vermont Folklife Center and spent a frustrating time trying to locate the original, without success. I turned to Google and easily located VFC’s posted file of the recording, a beautifully preserved digital file. A few minutes later I added a reference to this audio clip of three singing squares (the Dick Perry Orchestra and caller Ira Huntley) to our SDHP website.
But wait! There’s more! I wasn’t familiar with all three dances, and Bob quickly identified one as “Belle of the Ball,” which he knew from the calling of Otto Wood. Otto (fiddle) and his wife Marguerite (piano) hailed from Michigan, but were regulars on staff at Pinewoods and at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC, as they made their way to and from Florida each winter. Bob’s e-mail included a typescript of Otto’s calls for that dance and an appreciation of the Woods on a website celebrating Michigan fiddlers.
It turned out that Belle of the Ball was just one page from a larger collection of Otto’s dances that had been prepared by storyteller and occasional dance caller Donald Davis, working closely with Marguerite sometime after Otto’s death. (Donald Davis has been a frequent staff member at our CDSS family camp at Ogontz, and he will be on staff again this summer; “Otto and Marguerite” is among his vast repertoire of stories.) After a few more e-mail exchanges we had his permission to post the complete set, so we’ve added Otto’s calls for 17 singing squares and Marguerite’s music to the SDHP website.
All in all, a very enjoyable and productive few days. It’s fun to hunt!