To read the original article, click here.
Editor, the Old-Time Herald:
As a player of clawhammer banjo (the instrument voted "least
favorite" among the contradancers polled for the article!) who
has lived and played in Appalachia for the past 30 years, I believe
Phil Jamison's updated "Dare to be Square" article in the
Spring 04 issue raised some valid points. As the organizer of
a community dance for 17 years, and as a member of a nationally touring
contemporary contradance band, I took issue with the tone of the article.
I think I can understand the feelings of dance organizers who have invested
much time and energy into organizing a community squaredance, only to
find out that their labor of love has been "taken over" by
contra dancers. While I'm fairly sure we'd all agree that in order to
have a healthy, thriving dance community, dancers should feel some ownership
in the dance, relinquishing control and handing over a dance you've
"raised from a pup" to a committee of dancers is difficult.
But agonizing over why some (or most) dancers prefer contras is just
a little beside the point. If the majority of the dancers preferred
squares, obviously squares would now predominate at the dances! In areas
where enough dancers prefer squares, a separate old-time square dance
does seem the logical solution...as long as there are people who feel
strongly enough about this to step forward to organize them. This solution
is clearly preferable to hearing old-time musicians gripe about not
being asked to play for contra dances. That said, if squares disappeared
from the contra scene, I would really miss playing for squares and working
with the many fantastic callers who call great squares and contras at
dances and dance weekends all over the country.
What I just don't understand is why one would want to force one's dance
preference on people who have made their preference clear. Dancers are
consumers. Our contradance band is one of those who attempt to "delight
the dancers with rehearsed musical arrangements and tune medleys."
The implication is that there's something wrong with that, and for the
life of me I can't figure out what. If we're hired to play for a dance,
we do our best to do the job we've been hired to do. We're a dance band.
If the caller calls a southern square, we enjoy playing an old-time
tune, hard and fast, with no drama to distract the dancers' attention
from the caller. And if it's a contra, well, we're going to choose a
set of tunes with elements that work well with the figures in the dance,
play it straight while the caller's still calling, and have fun with
it when it's appropriate to do so.
Contemporary American contradance music is a genre that is coming into
its own. It's not southern old-time, it's not Celtic, it's not traditional
New England, and it's not French Canadian. Most of the tunes our band
plays these days have been composed within the last 15 years. Percussion
(which, according to the article, is one of the "cheap tricks that
make the dancers yell") is a notable feature in many contradance
bands these days. (By the way, who knows how much percussion there would
be today in old-time music if slaveowners had not confiscated the drums?!)
We're not trying to be purists, obviously. Music and dance evolve!
By the way, we're lucky to be part of a dance community where squares
and contras co-exist harmoniously, and always have done. I'm proud of
our family-friendly dance, where no one would dream of exhibiting "hassling"
and "booing" behaviors when a square is announced. I'm sorry
that callers of squares have been exposed to this rudeness; nobody deserves
that. I agree that separate square dances would benefit the old-time
music community by providing dancers for them to play for, and I'm sure
that there are contradancers who would attend them. I disagree, however,
that it's the contradancers who need to "loosen up" here.
95 Morris Ave.
Athens, OH 45701