New Hampshire Old-Time Country Dance Web Site

Dance Programs

Rule

A Comparison of Two Duke Miller Dances

On this page we look at program listings separated by 26 years. It's interesting to compare them and look at what changed and what remained fairly stable.

On This Page

  • Two Duke Miller Dances: Here I present two listings of evening dance programs called by Duke Miller, one in 1965 and one in 1981. I discuss some of the overall similarities and differences, and look at how specific dances fit into the two programs. I try to relate some of what I found to trends in the larger dance community over that time period.

Eventually I may add a section on Duke Miller's repertoire, but I don't yet have an adequate sample to do a good job with it.

A Comparison of Two Duke Miller Dance Programs

D uke Miller called every Saturday night of every summer in the Fitzwilliam, NH Town Hall for at least 30 years starting in the 1950s until he died in the early 1980s. His program was fairly similar from week to week and year to year (although the details certainly differed), but everybody loved it. Each time I listen to one of the recordings of his dances I can tell that everyone was having a great time, and it was one of those dances that you wish would never end.

Duke was from Gloversville, NY and continued to live there in the winters. As I understand it, he continued calling Western squares in New York, but in New Hampshire he called New England squares with at most a bit of Western influence. Many of the popular squares in New England owe much of their popularity to Duke Miller: e.g. Just Because, Smoke on the Water and Maple Sugar Gal.

Here are two dance programs. One is from a dance at the Monadnock Country Club in Peterborough from 1965. I don’t know who was playing, but I have a recording of part of a dance in the same place in 1969 and for that one the band was Allan Block & Arthur Quinlan, fiddle; Bob McQuillen, accordion, Paul Lawrence, piano. Perhaps some of those people were playing. I got a tape of the dance from John Derby who used to go to Lester Bradley's dance in the Wentworth Town Hall sometimes, and to Lester's annual Sugar on Snow square dance party in Thornton. One year at the Sugar on Snow dance we were talking and he asked if I wanted a copy of a tape he had of a Duke Miller dance. Needless to say I said yes! If you want to hear it, Walter Lenk also was given a copy of the tape and it's on his website.

The other is from a Fitwilliam dance in 1981; that one I got from Jack Beard who recorded the dance to edit and use on the Folk Show on WUNH. For that one the band was Bob McQuillen, Peter Barnes, April Limber and Chuck Miller. On the recording you can hear all sorts of jokes, comments and laughter from the band; clearly they were enjoying themselves! It was the Labor Day dance, the last of the season, and Duke was very ill. He didn’t know if he’d get to come back for any more dances, and I don’t think he did. So he tried to fit in as many favorite dances as he could. It’s interesting to compare the two dances.

Note: I’ve tried to format these tables to be reasonably legible on most screens, but they are much easier to see to compare on a tablet or a computer where they can be presented side by side.

Rule


Monadnock Country Club (Peterborough), 1965

Fitzwilliam Town Hall, 1981

1

Contra

Lady Walpole's Reel (Fireman's Reel)

Contra

Lady Walpole's Reel (Fireman's Reel)

2

Square

Crooked Stovepipe

Square

Crooked Stovepipe

3

Square

Life on the Ocean Wave

Square

Life on the Ocean Wave

4

Square

Breakdown

Square

Hashing up the Devil (Up Jumped the Devil)

5

Contra

Queen's Favorite (Glise de Sherbrooke)

Couples Dance

The Roberts

6

Couples Dance

Road to the Isles

Couples Dance

The Gay Gordons

7

Square

An Easy Cross Trail

Contra

Beaux of Albany (Mountain Ranger Hornpipe)

8

Square

The Route (Silver and Gold Two-Step)

Square

Red River Valley (medley of different versions)

9

Square

My Little Girl

Square

Grand Square (Maple Leaf Two-Step)

10

Couples Dance

Beer Barrel Polka

Couples Dance

Varsouvienne

11

Contra

Queen Victoria (Scotland the Brave)

Couples Dance

Schottische (Ernie's Tune)

12

Square

Gents and Corners

Couples Dance

Polka (Ballydesmond Polka)

13

Square

Buffalo Quadrille (O'Donnell Abhu)

Contra

(Road to Boston)

14

Square

Red River Valley

Contra

Shadrach's Delight (Aunt May's Canadian Jig)

15

Break

 

Square

Smoke on the Water

16

Contra

Money Musk

Square

Just Because

17

Couples Dance

Redwing

Break

 

18

Couples Dance

Helena Polka

Contra

Money Musk

19

Contra

Sacketts Harbor (Steamboat Quickstep)

Contra

Chorus Jig

20

Square

Grand Square (Maple Leaf Two-Step)

Progressive Square

Bells on my Heart

21

Contra

Arkansas Traveler (Chicken Reel)

Square

McQuillen's Squeezebox

22

Couples Dance

Pennsylvania Polka

Contra

Rory O'More

23

Square

The Bum Song

Square

Silver & Gold

24

Square

Smoke on the Water

Square

Pigtown Fling

25

Square

Darling Nellie Grey

Square

Mama Don't Allow

26

 

 

Square

Darling Nellie Grey

27

 

 

Couples Dance

Waltz (Southwind)



Peterborough Country Club, 1965

1

Contra

Lady Walpole's Reel (Fireman's Reel)

2

Square

Crooked Stovepipe

3

Square

Life on the Ocean Wave

4

Square

Breakdown

5

Contra

Queen's Favorite (Glise de Sherbrooke)

6

Couples Dance

Road to the Isles

7

Square

An Easy Cross Trail

8

Square

The Route (Silver and Gold Two-Step)

9

Square

My Little Girl

10

Couples Dance

Beer Barrel Polka

11

Contra

Queen Victoria (Scotland the Brave)

12

Square

Gents and Corners

13

Square

Buffalo Quadrille (O'Donnell Abhu)

14

Square

Red River Valley

15

Break

16

Contra

Money Musk

17

Couples Dance

Redwing

18

Couples Dance

Helena Polka

19

Contra

Sacketts Harbor (Steamboat Quickstep)

20

Square

Grand Square (Maple Leaf Two-Step)

21

Contra

Arkansas Traveler (Chicken Reel)

22

Couples Dance

Pennsylvania Polka

23

Square

The Bum Song

24

Square

Smoke on the Water

25

Square

Darling Nellie Grey



Fitzwilliam, 1981

1

Contra

Lady Walpole's Reel (Fireman's Reel)

2

Square

Crooked Stovepipe

3

Square

Life on the Ocean Wave

4

Square

Hashing up the Devil (Up Jumped the Devil)

5

Couples Dance

The Roberts

6

Couples Dance

The Gay Gordons

7

Contra

Beaux of Albany (Mountain Ranger Hornpipe)

8

Square

Red River Valley (medley of different versions)

9

Square

Grand Square (Maple Leaf Two-Step)

10

Couples Dance

Varsouvienne

11

Couples Dance

Schottische (Ernie's Tune)

12

Couples Dance

Polka (Ballydesmond Polka)

13

Contra

(Road to Boston)

14

Contra

Shadrach's Delight (Aunt May's Canadian Jig)

15

Square

Smoke on the Water

16

Square

Just Because

17

Break

 

18

Contra

Money Musk

19

Contra

Chorus Jig

20

Progressive Square

Bells on my Heart

21

Square

McQuillen's Squeezebox

22

Contra

Rory O'More

23

Square

Silver & Gold

24

Square

Pigtown Fling

25

Square

Mama Don't Allow

26

Square

Darling Nellie Grey

27

Couples Dance

Waltz (Southwind)


Comparing the Dance Programs

There are many ways that these dance programs could be compared. I should start by acknowledging that two dances is a small sample, and any comparisons might not hold up across a larger sample of dance programs. As I’ve said elsewhere my background is in behavioral psychology, and my analyses are therefore different than one made by an ethnomusicologist.

I think there are two types of comparisons that I’d like to make: general comparisons of characteristics of the programs and comparisons of how specific dances fit into the programs. I will continue to use this approach when I look at programs from other callers.

General Program Comparison

Let’s look at the overall pattern of dances in these two programs. Keep in mind that the Fitzwilliam dance was likely to be his last New Hampshire dance, and he tried to fit in as much as he could. For example, the eighth dance of the evening was Red River Valley; but in fact, he called all three versions of it that he knew. Also, although no final waltz is shown for Peterborough, it almost certainly happened even if it didn’t get recorded.

At the Peterborough dance he nearly always called squares in groups of three. In Fitzwilliam he was less predictable. There are three sets of two squares, one set of three squares, and a final set of four squares. This may reflect the more general pattern of calling squares in groups of three at the time of the earlier dance, which by 1981 had largely evolved to calling squares in sets of two.

In general he called sets of squares separated by one or two contras and one or two couples dances. There doesn’t seem to be any clear order of contras and couples dances in either dance. But the end result was a surprisingly similar distribution of dances, as shown in the following table.

Dance Type Peterborough Fitzwilliam
Square 13 13
Contra 6 7
Couples 6 6

Looking at the contras, in the Peterborough dance five of the six were older dances that could be considered chestnuts. In Fitzwilliam five of the seven would fit that category.

It’s a bit harder to classify the squares as most are newer and a couple may have been fairly new when called. But I’d say nine of the squares called in Peterborough would be considered old favorites by many long-time New Hampshire dancers today, and at least eight of the squares called in Fitzwilliam would fit that category. In part that’s because Duke made some of them into old favorites after calling them for thirty years in Fitzwilliam, and Ralph Page also contributed to bringing about that status for a few of the dances.

For couples dances, in Peterborough he did Road to the Isles, four polkas and a waltz. In Fitzwilliam he did six different couples dances with no repetition, some of which are rarely done today. Most modern contradances do a final waltz, maybe a waltz before the break, and maybe a polka.

Specific Dance Comparisons

We can compare the programs in terms of actual dances called, and then we can look at whether dances occupied similar slots in the program.

Five dances occupied identical slots in both dances. Lady Walpole’s Reel was always first at Duke’s dances (and Ralph Page’s dances, and usually at my dances), always done to the Fireman’s Reel. Money Musk was always the first dance after the break, a tradition that still holds to some extent in New Hampshire. And Darling Nellie Gray was always the last called dance of the evening. Ralph Page also called Money Musk and Darling Nellie Gray in those positions too.

Crooked Stovepipe and Life on the Ocean Wave were second and third in both dances. I’m not sure if that was as consistent as some of the other patterns, but I believe that was a common position for those dances. That has not persisted, although the two dances are still sometimes called together. Overall Crooked Stovepipe is called more frequently today. I think the order has tended to be reversed though.

Beyond those dances, the rest of the program differed considerably for the two dances. The following dances, all squares, were called both in Peterborough and in Fitzwilliam:

  • Grand Square, to the Maple Leaf Two-Step
  • Smoke on the Water
  • Red River Valley

This surprised me somewhat, as Duke had the reputation for calling a fairly repetitive program. Most likely there was more repetition among Fitzwilliam dances over the course of a summer. But the program changed over the years, and without looking at actual data it would be easy as a dancer to think there was more repetition than actually occurred. Some spots in the evening were reliably filled by the same dances (e.g. first and last dances, after the break), and many of the dances that changed probably came from a relatively small pool of chestnut contras and favorite squares.

At the Fitzwilliam dance Smoke on the Water came to be done together with Just Because. That tradition was carried on by Tod Whittemore, who later added in Maple Sugar Gal. The order was nearly always Smoke on the Water followed by Just Because, and Maple Sugar Gal was added on at the beginning. Tod would call the dances far enough into the evening that by the time he got to Just Because he was able to call without any walkthrough.