The First Weekend: January 1988
The First Ralph Page Legacy Weekend, 1988
T he first Ralph Page Legacy Weekend was on January 15–17, 1988. I reported on it in the February, 1988 issue of the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter in a report on dance events from the previous month:
The most exciting was the Ralph Page weekend, which came off really well. There was some of the best music I’ve heard in a long time, great dancing, and a lot of nice people. Dudley called a Ralph Page style dance Friday night using a program from one of Ralph’s dances in the 1950’s, and with a good recreation of the original music (including original musician Bob McQuillen playing accordion as he used to in those days). And of course, it was nice to hear Laurie Andres playing accordion, a rare treat these days as he lives in Seattle! Thanks to the organizers for doing a good job, and let’s hope this becomes a regular event.
Looking at the 1988 Syllabus, Dudley's program contained the following dances: Lady Walpole’s Reel, Portland Fancy, Paul Jones, Lady of the Lake, Three Ladies Chain (square), Waltz Quadrille (square), Money Musk, Schottische, Waltz, Lady of the Lake (repeated).
There were other interesting sessions. Chip Hendrickson did a session called Square Dances Old & New. Michael McKernon did one called Chorus Jig: A Chestnut Roasting On An Open Fire in which he taught the version done by the Ed Larkin Dancers from Vermont as well as the modern version. And Ted Sannella did a session called Triple Minor Contras, Their Demise & Resurrection.
Here is the program from the Grand Dance on Saturday evening from the Syllabus.
- Caller - Ted Sannella: Ted’s Portland Fancy
- Caller - Dan Pearl: Becket Reel (contra)
- Caller - Michael McKernan; Honest John, Roll Back One (squares)
- Caller - Diana Burton: Contra Corners Mixer
- Caller - Ted Sannella: Market Lass (contra)
- Caller - Chip Hendrickson: The Arkansas Traveler, The Tin Lizzie Quadrille (squares)
- Caller - Jacob Bloom: Chorus Jig (contra)
- Caller - Tony Saletan: Odd Couple Promenade (square)
- Caller - Glen Bannerman; Appalachian Big Circle
- Caller - Bob Dalsemer: Hull’s Victory (contra)
- Caller - Michael McKernan: Lady Walpole’s Reel (contra)
- Caller - Waiter Lenk: Just Because (square)
- Caller - Tony Parkes: Swing Two Ladies (square)
- Caller - Ruth Sylvester: Shadrack’s Delight (contra)
- Caller - Bob Dalsemer: Lancers Quadrille 5th Figure, Down Yonder (square)
- Caller - Chip Hendrickson: Joys of Quebec (contra)
- Caller - Rich Castner: Nelly Gray (square)
- Final Waltz
What a great group of callers! And what a great set of dances!
Finally, here is a photo of the Schedule for the first year. It's best viewed on a computer or tablet screen; if you're using a phoe I'd suggest holding it in landscape orientation.
Ralph Page Legacy Weekend, 1989–1991
The first Weekend was excellent, and although it's hard to beat the combination of callers and dances from that event, the Weekend did very well, with good-sized crowds, excellent music and calling, and excellent dancing.
Two Sides of Ralph Page
Ralph Page called a lot in the Boston area, where he had a large and enthusiastic following. Many of those dancers came to the early Ralph Page Legacy Weekends, and many were on the organizing committee for the Weekend. But Ralph Page also called in New Hampshire where his dances had a more rural New Hampshire quality. After the first few weekends some New Hampshire dancers including some who used to dance to his calling started calling for greater representation of the rural side of Ralph Page.
Second Ralph Page Legacy Weekend (January 13–15, 1989)
The Second Weekend was also excellent. It included a workshop in which we danced to recordings of Ralph Page calling some old favorites such as British Sorrow, the Crooked Stovepipe, and even the Windmill Lancers. George Hodgson called a session of singing squares from the 1940s through 1960s, including dances like When the Work's All Done This Fall, Bill Bailey, Nelly Bly and others. There were several other excellent workshops, and the evening dances were very good as well.
Third Ralph Page Legacy Weekend (January 12–14, 1990)
I think my favorite part of the third weekend was that Phil Johnson (discussed elsewhere on this website) called much of the Friday night dance with Marcel Robidas and the Maple Sugar Band. Phil called a mixture of contras like Hull's Victory and Lady of the Lake and squares like Life on the Ocean Wave, Page's Nightmare, Four Leaf Clover and My Little Girl. He commented that My Little Girl was typically the last dance of the evening in the eastern part of the state whereas Darling Nellie Gray was in other parts of the state.
There was another session of dancing to Ralph's calls. Tony Parkes did a session of Ralph Page's Favorite Dances. Ted Sannella did a session of Ralph Page's Heirloom Contras which were some of the lesser known triple minor dances that he resurrected. Ralph Sweet did a session of Old Tyme Squares including Rod's Right & Left, The Auctioneer, Wheels Q and several others.
Looking at the Syllabus, one thing I notice is that this was the year that the Saturday evening dance and final Sunday dance started to feature more modern contras than before, a trend that continued up to the present.
One other thing that continued for many years was that Bob McQuillen did a music workshop in which he got us playing tunes that Ralph Page used. This one was called Tunes That Ralph Page Used. Let's Learn Them! He provided us with written music for 22 tunes on 8 pages, and we played through many or all of them.
Fourth Ralph Page Legacy Weekend (January 18–20, 1991)
I had been corresponding with Ted Sannella fairly extensively about the desire on the part of New Hampshire dancers for better representation of the rural side of Ralph Page. I assume others expressed their opinions too. In 1991 the Weekend proudly featured New Hampshire musicians and callers much more than before. The Lamprey River Band played for the Friday night dance with New Hampshire callers doing a substantial part of the calling.
Tod Whittemore was on staff which was exciting, but also sad because he was about to move out west. He did a great session of Favorite Singing Squares. He called dances like Wheels Q, Chime Bells, Four Leaf Clover, Smoke on the Water and Grandma Slid Down the Mountain. Tod was a Boston area caller, but got his start calling in New Hampshire and I think it's fair to say he was one of the favorite callers of most New Hampshire dancers (and certainly still is a favorite of many of the long-time New Hampshire dancers.
Here's a paragraph from the February 1991 Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter that I think expresses some important ideas about especially the early Ralph Page Weekends.
Many of the people at the RPLW used to dance to Ralph Page, some of them more than forty years ago. Many of our favorite musicians (e.g. Bob McQuilen) got their start with him. In a sense the RPLW is a gathering of a group of which I am too young to be a part (something I get to say less and less frequently these days). Certainly the spirit of the dancing there is very different from what you’d find at a public dance these days. I don’t think I’d like to dance in that style all the time. However, there is a sense of community that gave the weekend a quality not present at many events. Dancing a dance that Ted Sanella wrote for Bob McQuillen’s birthday party a couple summers ago to Scotty O’Neil (Bob’s first tune) and Rollstone Mountain (one of Ralph’s tunes) was a moving experience. And I think those of us who used to dance in Francestown in the early 1980’s were strongly affected by the weekend ending with Tod Whittemore calling Just Because, probably for the last time before moving out west.
Ralph Page Legacy Weekend, 1992–1994
The 1992 Weekend. The trend of more modern dances being called continued, especially at the evening dances and the final dance on Sunday. Even the workshops were more modern. Steve Zakon called a workshop called Contras by Contemporary Choreographers, and Ralph Sweet called a session of Mostly Beckett Contras. But there were still a goodly selection of older dances called, both well known and more obscure. Ralph Sweet did a workshop of Favorite Singing Squares, and Ted Sannella did a workshop called Contras with Ralph Page in Mind.
The 1993 Weekend. One of the highlights of the 1993 Weekend was a reunion of the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra to play for the Friday night dance. From the February 1993 Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter:
One of the major highlights as far as I am concerned was the Canterbury Country Dance Orchestra playing on Friday night. Although not everyone could make it, and although some key members aren’t around any more, the Canterbury Orchestra still has the sound for which it is known. It was great fun playing as part of the band. The other traditional event which I enjoyed particularly was the presentation by Dudley Laufman about Dick Richardson of the Ralph Page orchestra. Two of Dick’s daughters were there, as well as many of the people who used to dance to Ralph Page, and the discussion was quite interesting.
There were some other excellent sessions. Tony Parkes called a session called Squares by an Old Master: Rod Linnell. He called two of Rod's Quads, which are rather complex dances in double quadrille formation (two couples on each side) that are a lot of fun when they work, but generally take a lot of teaching to get to that point. He also called Long Pond Chain which I remember Marianne Taylor saying was her favorite square dance. And Fred Breunig called a wonderful session of Lesser Known Chestnuts which included Sackett's Harbor, Beaux of Albany and more.
But at the same time I wrote:
The main dance sessions tended to feature more modern dances and other than Friday night, more modern styles of music. In some sense this is fine; the festival has to pay attention to modern trends in order to attract modern dancers, many of whom are at best marginally aware of the tradition which they are carrying on and modifying. However, it does seem too bad that a festival celebrating the earlier traditions of contradancing can’t put more of these traditions into the main dance sessions, especially given that we can dance the modern dances at just about any dance.
This has remained an issue right up to the present. It seems like when callers are put in front of a large group of very good dancers, they want to call something that will make an impression; and most callers seem to feel that will be something more modern and flashy.
One of the best parts was sitting up, after the dance party, with Ralph and George Hodgson. … I was there listening and soaking it all up like a sponge. ~ George Fogg
The 1994 Weekend. There were a number of highlights, and I wrote in the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter:
This was one of the best Ralph Page weekends so far. I was very impressed by the combination of Dave Kaynor, Susan Conger and Bob McQuillen. I thought they provided some of the nicest music we’ve had at the Ralph Page Weekend. It was interesting to have Dave Kaynor as a musician rather than as a caller. He clearly enjoyed the change, and I certainly enjoyed his music. And several of the dance sessions were particularly fun. Fred Breunig’s Lesser-Known Chestnuts session was a lot of fun, as was George Hodgson’s session of singing square dances.
In addition George Fogg was the M.C. for the Retrospective, An Evening at East Hill Farm, a recreation of an actual program. George wrote, "Ted Sannella represented Ralph Page, whereas George Hodgson and myself represented ourselves." Dances included Life on the Ocean Wave, Nellie Bly, Just Because, the Rye Waltz and British Sorrow.
George Fogg wrote a very nice Historical Summary which was included in the Syllabus. Here are a few quotations, scattered through that Summary.
One of the best parts was sitting up, after the dance party, with Ralph and George Hodgson. Late at night and into the morning, they swapped stories, gave each other help hints, exchanged ideas and programme notes. I was there listening and soaking It all up like a sponge. I was literally receiving instruction at the feet of masters.
He always ended with the statement, "If you had a good time, tell your friends; but If you didn't, tell me and I'll do nothing about it. God Bless & safe Journey home."
I am grateful to have worked with and for Ralph Page. I am fortunate to have had 17 years of Square Dance Weekends. After Ralph left us, the sparkle left as well. There was one more weekend In 1985, the last. Ralph was unique - what else can one say?