by David Smukler
CDSS had a great presence at this year’s Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend. One of the featured callers was Nils Fredland, who works for CDSS on American Dance publications and projects. One of his sessions focused on the repertoire of Keith Blackmon, a NY State square dance caller. Nils has been hard at work on a project to publish these dances. Pat MacPherson, our education director; Rima Dael, our executive director; and Mary Wesley, our youth intern were also participants at the weekend, as well as board president David Millstone, and board members Lynn Ackerson and myself (all three of us are regular attendees).
This was the 26th annual Ralph Page weekend. While there are many dance weekends and camps that focus on contra dances and/or squares, and each has its own character, the Ralph Page weekend is unique in the way it respects variety and blends old and new. Dancers there expect to dance many of the classic contras–Chorus Jig, Money Music, Hull’s Victory, etc.–but they also are interested in the newest intriguing Becket dance, as well every sort of dancing in between. This year, for example, included a great look back at some of the choreography of Ted Sannella, such dances as Fiddleheads or King of the Keyboard. These dances are neither “old” or “new,” but were extremely innovative in their day and are still a blast to dance. Squares of many types are beloved at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, and it is also not unusual to see an international dance included, such as the hypnotic Romanian dance that Marcie Van Cleave taught us this year. It is common to dance triple minor dances (“take hands six”), circle dances, Tempest formation, four-face-four, etc. The tradition is “northern,” (New England style contras), but southern Appalachian influences are also respected and often included. No wonder that so many of the dancers on the floor are also callers from far and wide, who come to drink from the spring!
The weekend takes place at the University of New Hampshire (Durham) every year in mid-January. This is the home of the Dimond Library, whose special collections department houses archives of traditional dance materials from Ralph Page, Ted Sannella, and many others, and where CDSS archival material is also maintained.
David Smukler, away from his day job, is a caller and author, with David Millstone, of the popular Cracking Chestnuts: The Living Traditional of Classic American Contra Dances (Country Dance and Song Society, 2008).