On This Page
- The Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend. This page starts with the announcement of the first Weekend from the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter. It then discusses some of what makes it such a good weekend.
- More about the Weekend. Here we look at the important features of the Weekend in more detail.
- Comments from Participants. Some comments about the Weekend from articles and scholarship letters.
Ralph Page Weekend Overview
The Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend
H ere is an introduction to the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend (RPDLW) based on commentary from the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter.
The following is the initial announcement of the new dance weekend from the August 1987 Newsletter.
In honor of Ralph Page, and to celebrate the opening of his collection to the public, there will be a weekend-long celebration in Durham the weekend of January 16 . There will be scholarly presentations, practical dance workshops, and dancing, featuring some of the best dance musicians and callers in the Northeast, and some from other parts of the country as well. This should be well worth attending. In a future newsletter I will give more details, and convey a request for help, both in terms of some aspects of organizing, and in terms of providing a place to stay for the many people who will be coming from various parts of the country. For now, mark that weekend on your calendar as one of the more important dance events to occur on the Seacoast in recent memory.
The following excerpt from the coverage in the January 2004 Newsletter describes the nature of the RPDLW very nicely.
When Ralph Page died in the early 1980’s a committee was set up to keep his legacy alive; that eventually brought about the Ralph Page Dance Weekend which has occurred annually since 1988. It has turned into a weekend of outstanding dancing. From the beginning the emphasis has been on preserving the smoother style of dancing that Ralph favored (especially in his later years and especially at his Boston dances; I’m less sure about the style of dancing at his earlier rural New Hampshire dances). However, that doesn’t mean it’s a style of dancing only old people or old-fashioned dancers would enjoy. Rather, it means everyone who goes is trying to dance really well: to dance with the phrase, be ready for the next figure on time, to dance well with his/her partner, make the dances flow well, etc. So even if you enjoy a rowdy dance (which I do), it’s hard to beat dancing with a group of people all of whom are really dancing nicely together. Contra and square dancing involve teamwork, and it never shows up better than at the Ralph Page weekend.
Looking over articles I’ve written in the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter before and after the Weekend over the years, the following themes show up repeatedly.
- Excellence of the Staff (Callers, Musicians)
- Quality of the dancing and the dancers
- Style and Variety of the Dancing
- Outstanding Daytime Activities (Music, Dance and Calling Workshops)
- Excellent Social Atmosphere
From the Evaluation Forms. Let's get a broader sampling of opinions. When we’ve looked at the evaluation forms people fill out after the Weekend, we frequently get comments expressing similarly enthusiastic opinions. It’s been called “Dance Nirvana”. Other comments include the following:
- The atmosphere - friendly - warm - non-competitive - the Best!
- Friendliness, sincerity and politeness of people.
- Fantastic music and calling; fun and informative workshops!
- Sound quality was incredibly good, thanks to those sound guys!
- Liked the ability to learn from the New England traditional masters and also dance to some of the hottest newer band combos like Lissa and Airdance in the evenings.
- The quality and level of welcome of the other dancers was great as usual.
- The best contradancing in the world.
Over the years the Weekend has changed. Many of the dancers, musicians and callers who were there for the early weekends aren't around any more. In general there are fewer callers and musicians whose styles fit the original goals of the weekend. But it still remains one of best places to go to dance in a more traditional style and to learn about where our country dance traditions came from and how they developed.
More About the Weekend
More About the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend
I t's one thing to talk about how good the weekend is, but some supporting evidence would seem desirable. The comments from the evaluation forms presented in the previous tab are a small part of a body of such evidence collected over the years. In the next tab I'll present some additional comments from others.
In this section I present some excerpts from the Seacoast Country Dance Newsletter to illustrate some of the points I hinted at on the home page. These are quite old, but the Newsletter stopped publishing regularly in 2008, and I don't have reviews written for subsequent Weekends. But the same characteristics largely apply up to the present. Because they were written at the time of the Weekend in question they reflect more immediate impressions, and undoubtedly are more accurate than anything I could write now.
Excellence of the Staff. Don and Cindy Roy were on staff in 2005. They’re great musicians, and I wrote the following report on them in the Feb. 2005 newsletter. Right below is the report in the Feb. 2006 newsletter on the 2006 Weekend in which everyone was too good to believe!
2005: The big dance event of the past month was clearly the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend in Durham. It started off on Friday night with music by the Don Roy Trio from Maine. Don and Cindy Roy are outstanding musicians, and having Jay Young join them playing bass was very nice. The music was some of the best music I’ve ever danced to: it was exciting, solid, rhythmic, including some of my favorite Canadian jigs, reels and marches.
2006: As always the music was great, the calling was great, and the dancing was great; that’s just normal for the Weekend. But I think most people who attended would agree that this year was special. We don’t get Tod Whittemore to come from Arizona to call for the Weekend every year. To those of us who used to enjoy his Francestown dances so much (or for some people perhaps his Thursday night dances in Cambridge), it was a treat to see him again and to dance to his calling. We got to dance many, although not all, of the old favorite dances. Tod was obviously having a great time, which made it that much more fun for everyone. And in between it was nice to get to visit with him. When Tod wasn’t calling, Lisa Greenleaf was calling, and she’s justifiably one of the most popular callers around these days. And of course the music was outstanding too. Rod Miller’s band really can’t be beat for fine musicianship with a more modern touch (although quite capable of playing the traditional music in proper style as well); and Old New England is the best around for the more traditional style of New England dance music.
Quality, Style & Variety of the Dancing. The dancing is always excellent: smooth, on time, well-executed, but with energy and enthusiasm, great spirit; as the comments say, it just doesn’t get any better. Here’s something from the Dec. 2005 newsletter, and another from the Feb. 2002 newsletter:
2005: The dancing is harder to describe. We dance a combination of the old favorite dances and the more modern dances. People tend to dance in a somewhat older style, especially with the chestnuts. But most importantly people dance their best, dancing to the music, dancing with each other, keeping a friendly community atmosphere for the most part, dancing a bit more smoothly (although enthusiastically), generally paying more attention than usual. All of that makes it so everyone has more fun dancing together. Where else could you dance Money Musk for more than 20 minutes to superb music and when it’s over wish the band had kept playing another five or ten!
2002: Beyond that, the Ralph Page Weekend always features some of the best dancing of the year. We do a very nice selection of dances, both traditional and modern. We do some pretty easy dances which don’t require much concentration, and we do some complex dances that you really have to think about. We danced old chestnuts like Money Musk and Rory O’More, and we danced modern dances I’ve never danced before.
What’s this about Money Musk? Well, at the RPDLW we have a great time dancing it! This is from the Feb. 2005 newsletter after Frank Ferrel & co. played the most amazing Money Musk; we could have danced for hours!
After the break on Saturday evening Mary DesRosiers called Money Musk, which has traditionally been called at that time during the dance. Everyone was really enjoying it, and the music just kept getting more and more amazing as we kept dancing. Someone said that we danced Money Musk for eighteen minutes before Mary ended it. She could have kept it going for at least another ten minutes and I doubt that anyone would have complained! We had been planning on leaving at the break but stuck around for Money Musk. After that it hardly seemed like there was any point in dancing any more, but before we could leave we heard that Chorus Jig was coming up so we danced that which was also fun.
More recently, there has been a lunchtime jam session on Saturday and Sunday for many years. One time we were playing Money Musk, and we looked up and there was a line of dancers dancing Money Musk with no need for a caller. We kept playing for a long time, and the dancers kept dancing. Ever since, at least once during the weekend we play Money Musk at the jam session and within seconds a line of dancers appears.
The Workshops. Some people only come for the evening dances, but you really should come for the daytime workshops; some of them are outstanding! We have dance, calling and music workshops. Now and then we even have movies — and a crowd of dancers actually enjoys sitting and watching the movie when they could be dancing! Here’s a description of some neat workshops from the Feb. 2004 newsletter, and of the outstanding movie David Millstone created about Bob McQuillen for the Retrospective honoring him for the 2001 weekend from the Feb. 2001 newsletter. (The DVD is available from Great Meadow Music along with many excellent recordings of contradance music.)
2004: What really makes the weekend special for dancing is the interesting workshops that occur during the day. The Retrospective this year featured Chestnut Contras, and David Millstone called a good selection of the old favorites, along with some interesting commentary and quotations from Ralph Page and others. Fred Breunig did two excellent workshops. In one he called lesser known chestnuts, older dances that are fun but that aren’t called as frequently as the ones done in the Retrospective. He also did a session of singing squares from a couple old-time square-dance callers from Vermont and western Massachusetts. Those were great fun, and while similar to dances I’ve done elsewhere most were a little bit different. Either there or in another session he called a version of Spanish Cavaliero (also known as Honolulu Baby) in which the call was for a right and left and ladies’ chain, but the actual figure was a neat star-like figure in which the women turn around and go back under the men’s arch. Hopefully after the syllabus comes out I’ll be able to call the dance (if I can get a band to play the tune).
And of course there were other workshops. Bob McQuillen did a music workshop called “Happy Times and Happy Tunes with Ralph Page (Hell, I was There!)”, in which he talked about the tunes he used to play in the Ralph Page Orchestra, and he told interesting and often funny stories about the people who used to play for dances.
2001: Saturday afternoon was devoted to celebrating Bob McQuillen and his contributions to the dance world. It started with a video which David Millstone put together, which looked at many aspects of Bob’s life, and many of the people he played with and for over the years. It was very well done, and I’d guess was the highlight of the weekend for nearly everyone there. Surprising for a bunch of people who normally would rather dance than sit around and watch other people doing things! After that was the retrospective, also organized by David Millstone. He invited many of the people Bob has played with over the years, and many of Bob’s friends and family. The music was great, there were a number of very good guest callers, and we met some of the people we’ve heard about for years but most have never met (for example, the Bear for whom the tune “The Dancing Bear” was named).
David Millstone created similarly ambitous and excellent videos for Dudley Laufman and Ralph Sweet. Both were used at later Retrospectives.
Some Comments of Participants
Comments From Participants
In this section I present a sampling of comments from participants. Some are from articles about the Weekend published elsewhere; others are from comments in evaluations written by scholarship recipients. These are taken from the Ralph Page Weekend section of a previous version of this website. All were used with permission.
Chrissy Fowler wrote an article for the CDSS News, Issue 185, July/August 2005 which she called Dancing Nirvana—The Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend. That alone says a lot. it starts out:
Imagine, if you will, a room full of foot-stomping, hooting and hollering dancers, from white-haired octogenarians to nose-pierced college students, a gorgeous-voiced caller chanting the figures, a band playing ecstatically more than forty times through the same tune and a state of joyous intensity that was simultaneously meditative and energetic. Dancing nirvana? It sure seemed like it.
This is just the sort of thing that happens each January at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend.
A couple paragraphs later:
Those who know and love the RPDLW agree that it is something special. It is one of the few events to consciously emphasize our living tradition, with programming that includes hot modern compositions but emphasizes treasured classics. We actually do the dances like Petronella, Rory O’More and Chorus Jig whose distinctive figures crop up in all of the new choreography.
Here are a couple excerpts from the scholarship letter written by Jeremy Korr after his 2003 calling scholarship. Jeremy is a west coast dancer who started coming regularly to the Weekend after that.
Here's some of what made it special: watching the connection and the slight but deliberate tension between arms as the dancers circled in their minor sets; the smiles and grins on the dancers' faces; the almost imperceptible glance between partners as they crossed each other during a half figure eight; Mary Cay's eyes closed and her body fully immersed in making her music; Rodney's foot tap-tap-tapping along with the rhythm. I felt a kind of pleasure I don't even know how to describe—and a feeling of gratefulness for the privilege of being able to be there and call. Linda's extensive and constructive critique after my slot was very helpful, and I learned immediately from both the positive and negative feedback she shared.
He goes on to write:
The RPDLW has a special feel to it that hasn't been at any other dance weekend or festival I've attended, not even NEFFA. [A couple sentences omitted. Reasons included ...] a strong and conscious respect for tradition and its preservation; strong sense of connection during dances (in the spirit of Ted Sannella); respect of dancers for each other more so than elsewhere; respect of dancers for the dances themselves more than elsewhere; very little booking ahead; few complaints by women and by smaller dancers about being "manhandled" and otherwise treated rudely by other dancers (though of course I may have missed this happening); and the direct connection to an earlier era in the special collection in the library.
Liz Faiella wrote a long letter about her music scholarship in 2008 describing things that she did, things that happened, and her responses to them. At the end she wrote:
As I drove home that day, chattering to my family members about every minute detail of my weekend, I knew that it had been a turning point for me, and that the months ahead would be filled with still more contra dance activities. I took many things away with me from the Ralph Page weekend—new tunes, new dancing experience, new contra dance knowledge, and new memories—but the most important thing I left with was the friendship and camaraderie that had characterized the weekend. I will never forget my experiences there, and I will always be grateful to the people who made it possible for me to be there. Many thanks to the Ralph Page Memorial Committee for their generosity and kindness. It was a privilege for me to attend such an amazing, fun-filled weekend of dancing, music, laughter, and friendship.
There's not much I can add to that, so I'll end this page right here!