FolkFire January/February 1996 Issue Articles

  • Tango: The Three Minute Love Affair
  • The Vacation of a Lifetime
  • Ted Sannella, Respected & Renowned Contradance Caller, Dead at 67
  • Rock Around The Clock...At Hardees?
  • Some Things Never Change
  • Zen and the Art of Waltzing
  • FolkFireHome

  • Tango: The Three Minute Love Affair
    by Martha Edwards

    I first became aware of tango as an adult a couple of years ago, in a ragtime workshop given by the St. Louis Ragtime and Vintage Dance Society, where we learned a choreography to an old tango, “Persian Gardens.” The dance had the moves: the slinking walk, the close embrace, and the half turns which put you suddenly face-to-face with your partner. The music was mystery, exotic evocation of dark romance, melancholy longing, old movies.

    Later I went to my first Vintage Dance Week in Cincinnati, where, on disco night, CATS (the Cincinnati Argentine Tango Society) came to the dance. The men wore those close-fitting Italian suits with dark shirts and no ties and the women wore short, tight black dresses and impossibly high heels. Even before they started doing the beautiful, leggy geometries of the Argentine tango, I knew I had to learn this dance. Hey, the clothes alone were reason enough.

    Of course, the real hook (as with any dance form) is the music. With its roots in the shady cafes and brothels of the immigrant populations of Buenos Aires, the tango is particularly passionate and sultry. Guitar, piano, violins, and the tango’s most characteristic instrument, the bandoneon (a kind of accordion) accompany the tough sad songs of an underclass trying to cope with city life.

    The tango exploded in popularity in Europe and America in 1913-1914, and continued to be popular for another 40 years. Valentino danced the first “Hollywood tango” in the movie The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in 1917, and the most famous singer of tango music, Carlos Gardel, died in a plane crash in 1935, marking the beginning of the end of the early tango era.

    A second explosion of interest began after the wild success of the stage show Tango Argentino, which opened in Paris in 1983, and toured the USA, Europe and Japan. Tangos in recent movies (True Lies, Scent of a Woman, Addams Family Values) show a man to be worldly, in control, and that a woman is adored, desired. Today, there are large groups of dedicated tangueros all over the world, in Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Montreal, Stockholm, Paris, and Tokyo, and smaller but enthusiastic groups everywhere, even here. If you want to find out more, post a message to the FolkFire Hotline, and I'll tell you how to get in touch with the amazing global tango world, or let you know when we'll next be learning a few steps ourselves.

    The Vacation of a Lifetime
    by Lynn DeVries

    It's never too early to plan your next vacation. And now that old question, "where to go this year?" has been answered. Take a dancing vacation! Often cruises and travel companies plan dancing trips where dancers worldwide get together to dance on cruise ships, on tropical islands, or in any other exotic and wonderful place. Trips vary greatly in price, some being quite reasonable. Folk dances, square dancing or other types of dance, Northern Hemisphere or South...the possibilities are endless.

    Currently, folk dance cruises are being formed for New Zealand, The Danube River in Europe, and the Alaska Inside Passage (see the ad on page 5.) Also, there’s a dancing week forming for the Virgin Islands (see ad on page 7.) And these are just the ones I have flyers for at press time! New information is available all the time. In future issues, we will try to list the current trips (those we’re aware of) in FolkFire. If you hear of an upcoming dance trip and think our FolkFire readers would like to know about it too, please call our hotline or e-mail us with the information.

    Gee, I'll bet it's warm in St. Croix right now...

    Scottish Country Dancing
    by Peter Wollenberg

    You don’t have to be Scottish. You don’t have to wear a kilt. You certainly don’t have to like eating haggis but you DO have to like great music, great exercise and great fun! That sums up Scottish Country dancing. Country dancing, as opposed to the Highland dancing, is a social form of dancing and not a performance oriented form of dancing. The object is to have fun.

    Dancing experience is not necessary but those with contra dance and/or English Country dancing experience will find the figures in Scottish dancing familiar. The unique and varied footwork used in Scottish facilitates the flow and beauty of the dance.

    Scottish combines the excitement and energy of Contra dancing with the elegance of English dancing with the challenge of specific footwork. The combination is a powerfully stimulating dance form that is fun, social, energetic, and graceful.

    The dance, like English and contra, is done in lines with partners facing each other. Typically, the top couple will dance a series of figures with one or two couples below progressing down the set. The other couples move up, each taking a turn as top couple.

    Scottish Country Dancing has origins in England, France, and of course, Scotland itself. Dating back almost 300 years, Scottish Country Dancing was nearly extinct when two Scottish women, Jean Milligan and Mrs. Stewart of Faschnacloich, revived it in the early 1920s.

    Today dancers in over 35 countries dance from a repertoire of over 8000 old and new dances. Branches and affiliated groups of the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society are scattered throughout North America and the rest of the world. Weekend workshops, dances, and formal balls are held annually in regional places like Chicago, Cincinnati, Little Rock, and Nashville.

    Experience the joy of dancing with “controlled abandon!” Please join us for Scottish Country Dancing in St. Louis. Beginners and experienced dancers alike are very welcome. For more detailed information about our scheduled meeting days and times, see our listing on page 4 here in FolkFire.
    Ted Sannella, Respected & Renowned Contradance Caller, Dead at 67
    by Bob Borcherding

    Ted Sannella, of Wiscasset, Maine, the reigning Dean of New England callers, died at his home on November 18 after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 67. He was born in Massachusetts, had degrees in biology and chemistry, and worked as a pharmacist for 35 years. He retired in1989 and relocated to Maine, where he was active in the contradance scene.

    Ted Sannella’s name evokes the image of an adept caller, standing erect at the head of the hall, band behind him, quickly and effortlessly teaching traditional and newly-composed New England dances. As a professional caller, his demeanor was serious, but he radiated a warmth, a love for the dance, and an encouragement for all to share in this love. And sometimes he would double over in laughter. I saw this happen several times at “Winter in the Woods,” when Marnen Laibow-Koser would play a fantastic piano flourish, on-the-spot, whenever Ted announced he was calling one of his triplets. The crowd would go wild.

    But Ted Sannella was more-he left many ripples in the pond of life. He taught many, including myself, how to call. The last night of the Winter in the Woods dance camp, I told him, "I don’t know if you remember, but you are the person from whom I learned to call." A wisp of a smile came to his lips. "No, I didn’t remember that."

    I was privileged to provide music for Ted at a week-long dance camp in 1994 at Winter in the Woods. Imagine the self-made pressure I felt, playing for the great Ted Sannella! I wanted the music to be perfect, but it wasn’t, of course, but I never received even a trace of disapproval from Ted for those instances when it wasn’t. "That was fine," would be his response to my apology.

    For me, Ted is a sequence of pleasant memories: he complimented me, “I’m glad you’re a caller,” when I selected a good tempo for a dance he’d just taught; he offered to make photocopies for me when he could see that the burden of organizing a band on the spot was getting to me, as well as lack of sleep. I appreciated his humor at my predicament when I found myself trying to play President Garfield’s Hornpipe, without a chance to warm-up, or even learn it. And then there were all the wonderful dance experiences he orchestrated. Contradancers from New England, able to enjoy him and his abilities year-round, were indeed fortunate; the rest of us were limited to an occasional dance camp or weekend. But we will always have his legacy of dances to remind us of him.

    As a caller, dance choreographer, and contradance book author, his influence has been felt throughout the world. But for me, he was both mentor and legend; a gentle, caring fellow, who gave of himself, which is just about all anyone can ask of another. He was aware of his influence, I think, so he was generous with his praise. After calling a dance (Beneficial Tradition), Carol Luer told me that he came up to her and said, "Good job. And that’s not an easy one." That’s the way he was.

    Memorial donations may be made to:
    Ralph Page Memorial Fund
    c/o Ralph Jones
    103 Riverview Ave.
    Waltham, MA 02154.


    Rock Around The Clock...At Hardees?
    by Lynn DeVries

    Looking for a fun way to spend a cold winter evening? Need a unique idea for a party? Step back in time with an old fashioned "sock hop!" There’s a place here in St. Louis that can offer all the flavor of the 1950s and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. The Rock and Roll Hardees, located at Craig and Lackland roads (near Hooters, but much classier) has everything to take you on a trip into the past.

    Decorated in true '50s style, the dining room has old-style booths, an old fashion jukebox with hundreds of CDs you can play for free, selectors for the jukebox located in each of the booths, and completes the picture with a dance floor which will accommodate about 12 couples at a time. There’s even a 1957 Chevy in the dining room for effect. If you’d like to buy souvenirs of your visit, they’ll even sell you a t-shirt or mug from the trunk of the car!

    The dance area can be reserved for parties, free of charge, but make your reservations early. According to Manager, Barbara Yocks, they also have birthday cakes available for parties needing them. To make your reservations, call 205-2088 and tell them FolkFire sent you!


    Some Things Never Change
    by Cecelia Keener

    It's easy to get the idea that modern dancers have the market cornered on lusty, red-blooded sensuality in the contra lines. However, a look at Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s eighteenth century comedy, The Rivals, would indicate otherwise. Striking, even shocking, similarities between those eighteenth century country dancers and today’s Childgrove dancers are evident in the following passage. A jealous lover describes his horror at his lady’s participation in such a seductive and flirtatious activity.

    Doesn't that sound like fun? Come to the contra dances sponsored by Childgrove Country Dancers and see for yourself!


    Zen and the Art of Waltzing
    by Richard Powers

    Most of you have learned how to waltz, or are beginning to. You may have discovered that waltzing is a challenge to learn, at first, then it transforms into an easier, pleasurable experience that is fun to share with someone else, perhaps with a special someone. You may have also discovered dizziness.
    Although dizziness is the first "altered state" that you experience in waltzing, it is not an especially profound one. But there is another, higher, level that some people discover through waltzing. And that is what this talk is about.
    This other, higher state is indeed profound, at many levels, because it can have a beneficial influence that transcends the realm of dancing.
    As you know, when we focus our attention we can only notice a single aspect of it. Or a linear progression of single aspects, whichever aspects we choose to notice. The rest of the multidimensional deluge of stimuli is eliminated from conscious perception, or filtered out, so as to not overload the brain with thousands of “meaningless” bits of information. It’s a necessary survival tactic.
    We can’t afford to let our mind’s survival tactics block off, or filter out, the experiences that we need to nourish and replenish it. But this strangulation tends to happen nevertheless. So we wonder: Is this process irreversible?
    A psychology professor, Dr. Banta, told me about a conference he had just attended on new work in the field of self-hypnosis — not the old manipulative mesmerism, but a lighter, more useful kind.
    The pendulum may still be there, but you sink into a quieter state of mind yourself. You close your eyes and become one with the motion. It’s the motion - and the relaxation, that are most important. The effect of this is that you enter a more receptive place. There is somehow a greater “presence” to whatever happens during this light trance state that usually lingers after a self-hypnosis session. And experiences while in this state are recalled with more immediacy. It feels like the filters have been removed, and more details of an experience are received, and recalled more vividly.
    Self hypnosis is just one technique effective in opening ourselves up to direct experience. There are others. Dance is certainly one, especially dancing that you do yourself, rather than movement that you watch someone else do on stage. Dancing is a nonverbal state where you are the center of motion - this is even better than swinging a pendulum.
    Dance is simultaneous, nonverbal, kinesthetic - the center of motion, intuitive and spatial... And beyond the arts, there are the complex dynamics of personal relationships. And some people believe that the highest, genius levels, of some left-brain arenas, such as physics and metaphysics, are just as spatial, simultaneous and emotional as music and dance. Since I call these thoughts "Zen and the Art of Waltzing," I really should write about this for a minute. If you are familiar with Zen or Taoist ideas, you know that I already have been discussing it. Zen meditation contains this same valuing of receptivity to life’s experiences. In Zen you do not meditate to escape or shut out the world, but rather to experience it more vividly. Zen meditation, whether it is the sitting zazen or the moving, walking meditation, is a practice to open ourselves to a more direct experience of the world, by quieting the mind and its internal verbal chatter that blocks direct nonverbal receptivity of our experiences.
    The Chinese movement form T’ai Chi is similar. The Taoists discovered that by adding kinesthetic motion to a quiet, contemplative state, one can become even more deeply receptive to direct experience.
    Like Zen, Taoism is a wordless doctrine. Chuang Tzu wrote that the "Tao cannot be conveyed by either words or silence. In that state which is neither speech nor silence its transcendental nature may be apprehended." Music and dance are other states that are neither speech nor silence.
    The Moslem Sufis borrowed ideas from Buddhism around the tenth century, and the Sufi dervishes developed spinning as their way to reach this receptive state through motion. Then the Germans, and later most of the world, discovered waltzing. The major difference is that unlike Tai Chi and dervish spinning, waltzing was not intended to be a mystical experience. But over the past two centuries, many waltzers have described it as one.
    You need not have any interest in Zen or Taoism to realize that deeper, replenishing receptivity is essential to the maintenance of our excitement or enthusiasm for life. Waltzing and spinning may be the ultimate hypnotic trance states. At least the ultimate legal ones. Whirling adds so much more than dancing in place. Becoming one with motion has long been recognized as a gateway to deeper states. And waltzing places you, and someone else, in the center of the most totally enveloping motion.
    While waltzing, as you whirl in this nonverbal, musical, kinesthetic, euphoric state, the filters of analytical thinking dissolve away. All of your surroundings start to become more vivid, and you become far more deeply receptive of... of what? The music? Yes, but also this fascinating creature that is right there in front you, in your arms, with you at the center of a vast spinning universe. Talk about altered states of consciousness! This effect is far more profound than just getting dizzy.
    And the effect is mutual. As the image of this radiant face is absorbed into your wide-open memory banks... those flashing eyes, the unclouded brow... your image is likewise being absorbed deeply, very deeply into your partner’s memory. And people wonder why they fall in love with dancing partners? Not too difficult to figure out. This is probably why so many people over the centuries have protested against unmarried people waltzing together. Maybe this wasn’t ignorant prejudice after all.
    Now for some practical advice about waltzing. If openness to deeper experiential states appeals to you, then by all means be as relaxed as you can while waltzing. Breathe deeply, relax your face, your shoulders.
    To begin with, avoid an overcrowded dance floor. You don’t want to spend the entire time trying to avoid collisions. Then let your waltzing be nonverbal. There is no need to carry on a conversation at this moment. Don’t even verbalize to yourself the experience that you are feeling.
    Now, this is easier said than done (pun intended). And this is also one of the challenges of Zen: trying not to think of something that you are thinking about. I have found that the most effective way to not do something is to do something else in its place. Draw the waltz music into the forefront of your awareness and let it stay there, nonverbally. It works. Then I further suggest that you avoid doing any challenging waltz variations that you may have learned. And above all, be aware that your partner is just as likely to enjoy falling into a deeper state. So avoid jarring your partners out of their reverie by throwing them through hot-shot moves. Something magical happens when skill with movement can transmit a spirit to another.
    Copyright 1995 Richard Powers
    Note: Richard Powers started the Flying Cloud Academy of Vintage Dance in Cincinnati about 10 years ago. He shares his knowledge through dance workshops held throughout this country and abroad. For Hollywood, he has created choreographies to reflect dance styles of the 1860s to 1920s. He is currently working at Stanford University in California as a Dance Historian and teacher. This article, excerpts of which have been reprinted here with Richard’s permission, was presented to the dancers at the Cincinnati Vintage Dance week held June 1995.