Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend ~ Informational Articles
Articles by Other Contributors I: Chrissy Fowler

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  1. A scenic location (wintry New Hampshire in January!)
  2. Talented performers (2004 features staff callers Sue Rosen & Fred Breunig, staff musicians the Moving Violations and Bob McQuillen, Bill Tomczak & Pete Sutherland, and Friday night performers David Smukler & George Hodgson with the band Wild Card.)

  3. A diverse community of excellent dancers (from varied locales, backgrounds and generations)

  4. On-site meal options

  5. Workshops and jam sessions

  6. Convenient hotels and B&Bs, with an option of local hospitality

  7. Student discounts and work exchange

  8. Scholarships for aspiring callers and musicians

So what’s the big deal?  

Why would folks rave about it in evaluation forms, calling it “The best contra dancing in the world!”, gushing about the “Stupendous weekend!”, or boldly asserting, “The entire weekend was wonderful.  Nothing can improve it!”

There must be some secret… some delicious tidbit of distinction…  And there is.

Jeremy Korr, a dancer from the D.C. area now living in California, tells it this way.  “The RPDLW has a special feel to it that hasn’t been at any other dance weekend or festival I’ve attended.  (After the 2003 weekend,) I spent much of the flight home trying to identify why it felt so unique.  Some factors I recognized are that the participants at the RPDLW share a strong and conscious respect for tradition and its preservation; a strong sense of connection during dances (in the spirit of Ted Sannella); … and respect for the dances themselves.”   Other RPDLW participants notice this, as dancers respect each other with considerate and zesty dancing, and graceful and well-timed movements.  Also, Jeremy adds, there is “very little booking ahead.”   (Really!  It’s true!)

This last attribute is probably connected to the weekend’s particular emphasis on community as well as dancing.  There are comfortable places to sit and visit between dancing, with tasty treats to enjoy while chatting, and informal jam sessions to share tunes.  Bob McQuillen’s commanding presence contributes to the stories and anecdotes that are sprinkled among the dances, reminding us in a tangible way that our social activity has a vibrant history. 

Indeed, while the RPDLW features some of the best new choreography and newly-composed tunes, a significant portion of the program also celebrates our roots. Each year, the event regularly includes traditional contras and quadrilles, triple minor dances, singing squares, and couple dances as part of the program.  Where else would dancers  CHEER when Money Musk was announced as the next dance?

The "Retrospective" session is another feature of the weekend that makes an explicit point of looking back. Some years the focus is on a particular caller or musician who contributes a lot to our tradition; in 2004 it will be a look at "chestnuts," those classic contras that formed the mainstay of New England dancing over the past hundred years.

Transcriptions of these chestnuts can be found at the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Music and Dance, which is housed at UNH.  RPDLW participants are often treated to an open house at the collection, which includes books, periodicals, recordings, photographs, music and archival materials from sources such as Ralph Page, Ted Sannella, Dudley Laufman, and CDSS.  One participant described her visit as “feeling like a family reunion, with folks like Marianne Taylor and George Fogg poring over black and white photographs, identifying unknown faces that belonged to my ancestral forebears, related not by blood, but by the shared spirit of their dancing.”  Some folks even make a point of visiting the collection after the weekend.  When Blythe Knechtel brought a group of Seattle area musicians and dancers to New England on a sort of “contra roots” tour, one of their stops was UNH!

I guess that’s what the big deal is.  The people.  The ones who have played the music, called the figures, and danced the dances in crowded, joyful halls for decades.  Connecting our past with our future.  As a dancer wrote after the 2003 RPDLW, “I like feeling that I am part of an enduring tradition.”  The secret is out.

The CDSS Article:

Dancing Nirvana—The Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend

by Chrissy Fowler

CDSS News, Issue #185, July/August 2005

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.

(Oh, for those who are curious, the caller was Mary DesRosiers, the musicians were Frank Ferrel, David Surette and Peter Barnes, and the dance was that triple minor classic, Money Musk. Seventeen minutes, forty-three times through the dance, and it still ended too soon! Money Musk is always memorable, whether at Pinewoods, the Montague Grange, the Scout House Christmas Cotillion or a wedding reception, but the only time one can reliably expect to dance it is in Durham, New Hampshire at that hotbed of chestnut mania, the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend.)

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. There’s a comfortable sense of mutual understanding when Lisa Greenleaf explains, “Okay, I’m going to call it this way, but I know you are all going to dance it the way you want to dance it,” and the crowd laughs in self-recognition. There’s a welling of emotion that happens when dancers sing along with George Hodgson or Ralph Sweet, “There’ll be smoke on the water, land and the sea,” or “Because, just because.” We feel connected to something larger than our individual experience. We are linked to the ages.

And this linking happens in many ways. The RPDLW brings together younger folks with many older dancers, including some who knew Ralph Page, Ted Sannella and others “way back when.” All along the age spectrum, we sense that it is an enduring tradition. RP Committee advisor David Millstone recalls his first RPDLW, when he saw folks in their seventies on the dance floor and realized, perhaps for the first time, that this was an indeed an activity that he could continue into his senior years. Likewise, those who have been dancing for decades are buoyed by the freshness of modern excesses. At one post-weekend meeting, volunteer coordinator Sam Alexander admiringly described a young Massachusetts dancer’s exciting style, with her impeccably timed twirls and flourishes. (Ironically, this might have prompted Ralph Page himself to banish her from the floor, but, happily, the weekend dancers are more accommodating than his legendary self.)

Musicians are an important focus at Ralph Page. Lunchtime fiddle jams and workshops like Bob McQuillen’s annual “Music and Talk Session” give instrumentalists their own opportunities for growth and connection. But some of the revelations come without bow in hand. One attendee wrote about her husband’s first experience at the weekend. “He loved the chance to jam and talk with the experienced musicians, but the big breakthrough for him came from actually dancing so many dances. For the first time, he understood intuitively the connection between the music and the dancing, realizing that as a dancer he could count with the music the same way he does as a musician. This allowed him to anticipate where the dance was going, to be in the right place at the right time, and to know that there would be a hand there waiting for him. Quite exciting!”

The weekend also helps dance leaders build strong networks. From California to England and in between, callers converge on the weekend, soaking up workshops and informal discussions and perhaps even presenting a dance during the open mike session. “If you have ever wanted to try calling one of the old triple minor, proper contras (such as British Sorrow, a nineteenth century dance that Ralph Page rediscovered) this is the place to do it!” advises Massachusetts caller Bob Golder. As Maine caller Cynthia Phinney tells it, “Besides being a lot of fun, the weekend is a real resource for callers who are learning the art. Since I’ve started calling I don’t get to dance as much. At RPDLW I get to dance with people who know and love dancing. I always enjoy the variety of dances, not to mention the variety of forms (duples, triples, squares, circles and almost always a few for odd numbers of couples.)” She mentions the syllabus (a resource that captures all of the dances as called, along with the tunes played) explaining that it’s a real treat since “I don’t have to miss out on getting a partner for the next dance because I’m busy scribbling down what we just finished dancing.” According to apprentice caller Delia Clark of Vermont, “The opportunity to dance with such master callers on a floor filled with experienced dancers with such an obvious love for these traditions was rich, informative and tremendously motivational.”


And maybe next year we’ll do Money Musk fifty times. Come join us and see!

About the Contributors: Chrissy.

Chrissy Fowler is originally from Maine, but spent a number of years in the Seacoast area. Upon expressing interest in learning to call, I encouraged her to do so, and she started calling at our Thursday night Dover dance, and then went on to become an excellent caller of dances throughout the area. She lived in western Massachusetts for a while before returning to Maine. When in the Seacoast area she was also a valuable member of the RPDLW Committee, and we miss her very much.

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Here is the full text of Chrissy’s articles.

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The NEFFA Article:

RPDL What?!?

By Chrissy Fowler

NEFFA News, Winter 2003

In last year’s NEFFA News, current NEFFA president Maureen Carey wrote about a well-kept secret:  The Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend, named in honor of one of NEFFA’s founders, who was a key figure in the history of traditional music and dance.  But the event isn’t just about Ralph and his entertaining and inspiring ways.  In some ways, this annual event is no different than other dance weekends across the country.  It has all of the typically appealing attributes: