Square Dance History Project
The rich story of North American square dance finally has a home in the digital age.

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Update to funders - June 2015

We'll be giving a presentation on "How to Search the Square Dance History Project" at the 64th annual National Square Dance Convention coming up in a few days in Springfield, MA. This will be an opportunity to share the SDHP with modern square dance enthusiasts. We've been putting far more time into adding to the collection than to posting reports to this Blog. However, viewers might enjoy looking at these excerpts from our annual report to the funding organizations. You can see how the project has grown over the years, and you may enjoy visiting the embedded links. Report to funders, February 2015 At this writing, the collection numbers 1,350 items. A partial tally shows:

536 moving images 340 audio files 246 documents or text files 137 still images / photographs 86 links to other websites

One of the originally stated goals of the SDHP was to concentrate on making available films and videotapes showing different styles of square dance; we clearly are sticking to that goal. We finally obtained digital copies of films from the Library of Congress and from a commercial film library. This required hiring a copyright researcher, negotiating for license fees, and paying for the digitization of the original films. Among the films now available as a result:

We arranged for transcriptions from audio and videotaped interviews with important dance figures. We now have more than two hundred completed pages of transcriptions from four separate interviews with Rickey Holden, plus interviews with dance historian Kate Van Winkle Keller and Renn Tolman, a native of Nelson, NH, with first-person familiarity with dance traditions in that town going back to the 1930s. Other transcriptions have been started: one more discussion with Rickey Holden, plus interviews with Fenton "Jonesy" Jones, Quebecois dance historian Pierre Chartrand, and MWSD caller Clark Baker. Our relationship with the University of New Hampshire paid off with the online publication of digital copies of American Squares. The issues are clearly indexed by year, and the UNH server makes copies available swiftly for browsing or download. Other significant additions to the collection this year:

  • We obtained a large collection of audiotapes recorded by Minnesota caller Eric Clamons in the early and mid-1950s. More than a dozen clips from live events are now on the website, including an exhibit of recordings at the National Square Dance Convention in Dallas, Texas. Jim Mayo has digitized nearly 50 of the Clamons tapes and they will be part of the SDHP collection at UNH.
  • We worked with Special Collections at the University of Indiana, Bloomington, to make available online a collection of six instructional films in the "Let's Square Dance" series created at the university in 1954.
  • We added a series of print and audio files related to the spread of square dancing in the early 1950s to Australia.
  • Television footage from the 1950s showing fast-paced Ozark style square dancing on the Jubilee U.S.A. Program
  • Videotaped recordings of Bill Litchman calling traditional western squares at a workshop in Belgium
  • Footage from the National Square Dance Conventions in Louisville (1970) and San Antonio (1974), and from Asilomar (1973)
  • Footage of Don Armstrong calling in Germany in 1970
  • Audio samples from Ed Durlacher's Honor Your Partner collection starting in 1949 and from Richard Kraus's Let's Square Dance series of records.
  • A new exhibit draws on extensive live recordings to illustrate how a single modern square dance caller (Red Bates) changed his calling over 50 years, starting in 1961. The exhibit shows how different calls entered the repertoire.
  • Another exhibit looks at a dozen modern callers to show many different ways of matching the voice with the music in both patter and singing calls. Again, this exhibit draws on live recordings rather than commercial releases.

Report to funders, April 2014 Our SDHP collection continues to grow. We now have 1,166 items in our collection (499 moving images—I must add another to round off that number!)—and all other kinds of media with more going online each week. The site is also drawing more traffic, some 22,000 visitors, up from 6,000 in our first year. Among the items added to our collection this past year:

  • Two television broadcasts (c. 1950) produced by Bob Osgood
  • Silent footage of square dancing in El Paso in 1939
  • Additional videos illustrating square dance style (and tempo!) from the Ozarks
  • Articles on dance history about such diverse locations as Colorado, Maine, Ontario and Quebec, North Carolina, Minnesota, and Texas
  • Interviews with Rickey Holden, Ed Gilmore, Cal Golden, Lisa Greenleaf
  • Newsreel footage of the 10th National Square Dance Convention, Detroit, 1961
  • Anecdotes about Lloyd Shaw, recorded at the 1989 CALLERLAB Convention; newspaper and magazine articles from 1939-40 about Shaw
  • Complete samples of 44 square dance journals (local, state, regional, and national) that illustrate the popularity and diversity of this activity
  • 100 audio files, including such callers as Ed Gilmore, Ted Sannella, Betsy Gotta, Gloria Rios-Roth, Beth Molaro, Glenn Bannerman, Charlie Baldwin, "Wild Bill" Reagan, and a documentary on square dancing in western New York state.

Funding from SDHP this year, with untold hours of volunteer effort by Gardner Patton, also supported digitizing American Squares. We are working closely with the University of New Hampshire to make a complete set of this magazine available online in much the same way that the University of Denver hosts the complete Sets in Order.