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Preserving the Life’s Work of Keith Blackmon, Part II

Nils Fredland and I have been working on the book of Keith Blackmon’s singing squares for over two years, on and off, and we’ve just published it! Pretty darn exciting.

A funny thing happens when you’re working on a book – the words take over. The constant decisions you make are all about commas, hyphens, and semi-colons; typography and spelling. Or you are thinking, and making decisions, about vertical space, indents, and page dimensions. The list-making and checking things off the list does not stop until the book is in your hands.

So, when Nils and I drove to the Ralph Page Weekend in February 2013, a few months ago, I was very much in the midst of that mindset. I had danced during the Keith Blackmon Memorial Weekend, held March 2012 in Keith’s home community near Bradford, PA. I was excited then to see the Bradford and Crook Farm dancers, and to talk with them about their long dance lives. Many had grown up in families where community life was integrated with square dancing in schools, kitchens, and upstairs at community halls. Keith was the carrier and preserver of this tradition. But on our way to Ralph Page, almost a year later, I was out of touch with the dances as living things.

So, picture this: At Ralph Page, Nils is presenting a session on Keith’s dances. I’m in a square with seven others. And Nils starts to talk about meeting Keith; his experience of him as a man and caller. It’s moving. And then we start to dance Pony Boy.

I’ve studied the words of Pony Boy; can’t tell you how many times. I’ve proof-read the music; can’t tell you how many times. What I read is: “Giddy-ap, giddy-ap, giddy-ap, whoa,” and what I think is: “Really? Is it giddy-up or giddy-ap? Is there a hyphen between giddy and ap? What did Keith write?”

But now I’m dancing it and singing along. My partner’s arms are around my waist in a star promenade. I love this figure. We pivot counterclockwise as a pair. That’s fun to do. Right into a ladies right hand star. Nice smooth transition. And then we swing. I’m smiling. I’m in the dance and Pony Boy takes life. And this is what I have been missing.

Nils and I drive home from Ralph Page. We are enthused by the dancing, the wonderful people, and the opportunity to share Keith’s dances. I am ready to go to work again. I understand the words and now, I understand the dances.

New River Train, the just published book of Keith Blackmon’s singing calls, is available from CDSS here.

~ Pat MacPherson

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