FolkFire Articles

November / December 1997

  • Crystal Ball and the Inns of Court
  • The Question of Rockabilly
  • What is Contra Dancing, Anyway?
  • Three Job Openings at FolkFire
  • Healthy Dancing
  • Changes in the Cyber Realm
  • Solstice Time
  • In Memoriam
  • FolkFireHome
  • Index of Articles

  • Crystal Ball and the Inns of Court

    by Lord Godfrey Avonsford
    Lords and Ladies of the dancing populous. The Barony of Shattered Crystal invite you to participate in the Revels of Crystal Ball 14 under the reign of their royal majesties, King Palymar and Queen Aislinn, of the Middle Kingdom.
    Huh? How’s that again? Beam me up, Scotty. name is really Jeff Sadler and a little explanation is called for. Every year in November, members of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA for you acronym lovers) gather together in Mascoutah, IL for the purpose of an all night Medieval/Renaissance ball. All day long there are dance classes in period English Country, Scottish, Branles, Pavans, Russian, Italian etc., enough for all tastes and experience levels.
    The evening begins with a real period feast interspersed with bardic entertainment. Each year there are about 200 participants dressed in period clothing varying from the simple to the extravagant, creating an enchanting kaleidoscope on the wooden dance floor. Live period music accompanies many of the dances.
    This year the local Illinois SCA group, Barony of Shattered Crystal, wants to imitate the atmosphere and activities of the holiday “Revels” that occurred at The Inns of Court in England during the 1500 and 1600’s. The event is on Saturday, Nov. 22nd at Leu Civic Center in Mascoutah, IL, a small hamlet just east of Belleville. The event is open to SCA members and non-members alike. Since the SCA tries to create an atmosphere it refers to as the “Current Middle Ages,” some attempt at period dress prior to 1600 is expected. Members of the group are very helpful with this aspect and have “loaner garb” available. This is a wonderful and fun event for both dancers and non-dancers. No reservations are necessary for attending the Ball. The site fee is $6.00. If you are interested in attending the feast, you are encouraged to register with the $9.00 feast fee before Nov. 10, since seating is limited. You may want to contact the group in advance to receive additional information.
    For information contact Jeff Sadler at 314-949-8906 or T.J.Harmon at 314-427-5620
    Also, see the English Country Dancers listing
    The Question of Rockabilly
    by Donna Eckberg
    I’ve been asked on several occasions, “Just what is rockabilly music?” From the lips of KDHX host, professor Tony C., the formula came quite simply: hillbilly + blues = rockabilly. It’s country music with a blues attitude. Start with a swinging guitar and a percussive finger picking style similar to country star Chet Atkins. Back that with hard driving, slapping acoustic bass rhythms. Out front are vocals; country infused with the blues. Sometimes an Elvis Presley style technique called the hiccup may erupt. Presley may have also used his stuttering to produce a seductive new singing technique.
    As destiny dictated, Elvis Presley appeared at the Sun Recording Studio, Memphis, TN in late 1953. One day during a session break, Elvis started singing “That’s All Right (Mama)” while “jumping around and acting the fool,” mimicking the style heard on a previous recording of that song by bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup. Legendary sidemen, bassist Bill Black and guitarist Scotty Moore, were told to play backup while producer Sam Phillips got it on tape. This black man’s music coming from a white artist could be marketed to a white audience and was paydirt for Phillips. The song chosen for the flip side was a cover of Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” with a similar blues treatment. The dichotomy of this hybrid music had some thinking Elvis was black, while others like R&B disc jockey, Fats Washington, thought he sounded too country.
    By 1954, Elvis had opened the door for other rockabilly artists like Carl Perkins. Perkins had been marching to a different drummer since childhood and some folks were offended by his treatment of country standards. His first guitar lessons were from a black sharecropper and his father, a Grand Ole Opry fan. In order to create a more danceable music style for the drunken patrons of the backwoods honky tonks, he combined country with the rhythm of the black man’s music. With brothers Jay on rhythm guitar and Clayton, slapping the bass, they connected with their audience and kept them on the dance floor. For extra punch they added drummer “Fluke” Holland, which was a departure from the standard country band. When Perkins heard Elvis performing music similar to his, he knew his music could also be marketed. In 1955 Perkins recorded his self-penned best seller “Blue Suede Shoes” at the Sun Studio. The record sold well in three markets - pop, r&b and country - and was dubbed an “all market” hit (and later, the birth of rock ‘n roll). These show how different styles can be combined to create new forms of music.
    Rockabilly emerged and peaked during the mid to late l950’s, leading the birth of rock ‘n roll. Rockabilly artists from this period also include Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis. These men grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry country classics including Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams. They were also influenced by the black man’s blues, gospel and Bill Monroe’s hard driving bluegrass.
    There were many musicians who performed and recorded rockabilly in the late 50’s, but the music soon mutated and gave way to rock ‘n roll. Through the following decades, though, the rockabilly torch was still carried by several bands. In the 60’s we had Credence Clearwater Revival and the Beatles, who recorded some of Carl Perkins tunes including “Honey Don’t” and “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” During the 70’s it was The Band (who backed Bob Dylan) and Dave Edmunds. The Stray Cats were a top rockabilly group of the 80’s. The 90’s has a number of groups fanning the embers: Wayne Hancock, Ray Condo and The Ricochets, Big Sandy and The Fly Rite Boys, as well as our own local group, the Orbits.
    Look for the Orbits, who have a long overdue CD due out, at the Off Broadway Club, 3511 Lemp, on Saturday, Nov. 1. If you’re seeking holiday gift ideas, try the book “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, which gives a great history of the Sun Record Company and the artists that put it on the map; or “Go, Cat, Go: The Life and Times of Carl Perkins, The King of Rockabilly” by Cark Perkins and David McGee. For audio pleasures, call me for suggestions at 869-8216. My thanks to Thayne Bradford, The Orbits and Tony Cabenellas for their inspiration and assistance with this article. Long live rockabilly!
    What is Contra Dancing, Anyway?
    by Karen Jackson
    A number of years ago, my friend Andrew Limanni told me about contra dancing. It didn’t tempt me at first, since I had no idea what it really was, and was already enjoying ballroom, freestyle and country-western dancing. Finally he invited me to a birthday party which included contra dancing. Now birthday party I could relate to, so I went. I found out what I had been missing all those years.
    I discovered a really fun, energetic style of dancing which can include anyone, regardless of age, dance experience or ability. Basically, if you can walk and know your right from your left (and people will help you with that one), you can contra dance. (I’ve even danced with people who were legally blind!) It’s easy to learn, with every dance taught and walked through. It’s similar to square dancing, in that you dance to a caller (who tells you what to do when), do many of the same moves and have a great time. It’s different in that you don’t need to wear a particular outfit, don’t have to memorize dances, and don’t need to have a particular dance partner. Also, instead of dancing in “squares” of 8 people, contra starts out in lines of couple facing couple. You then move up or down the set with your partner, dancing with new people as you go.
    One usually changes partners for every dance, and can ask anyone to dance. St. Louis is lucky to have a number of talented local musicians and bands who provide rousing live music for all dances.
    The people are a wonderful part of contra dancing. They are a caring, accepting group, welcoming just about anyone into their midst, and drawing them into their dancing. There are always activities going on outside of contra dance, shared via announcements and flyers. As I continued with the group, I discovered there is really an extended dance “family” one can belong to all over the country, even the world, just by attending dances. There’s no membership requirement in most places. In those cities where there is an actual for-fee membership, it’s optional. Anyone can attend the dances, but members are given a per-dance discount.
    As a nonconformist (as many of us in the dance crowd are), I enjoy the freedom available in contra dancing, from what you wear and who you dance with, to flourishes you throw in once you’ve learned all the moves. This freedom extends to not dancing, too. Schmoozing or just hanging out at dance events is fine. Some people crochet, knit or even study to the music. I find contra so fulfilling (we usually do two waltzes a night as well) that I’ve given up most other types of dancing. (Of course, for those of you with a larger dance appetite, see the other many listings in this newsletter.)
    Contra dance has opened up a whole new world to me. It offered a way of life, complete with ready-made social group and full social calendar. I’ve experienced eight wonderful years of dancing all over the country, even meeting my husband while dancing! Contra dancing provides a safe place to meet people in a fun, non-smoking, non-drinking environment. It’s great for both couples and singles and is good exercise to boot. What more could one want? The Childgrove Country Dancers (St. Louis’ contra dance group - see listing on page 4) meet several times a month. Come join us, won’t you? I’ll be sure to save you a dance.
    Be sure to check out my article in the next issue on dance camps, dance weekends and being a dance gypsy! Until then—Happy Dancing!
    Three Job Openings at FolkFire
    by Andrew Limanni
    These are exciting times at FolkFire. We have new board members. The transition from mail-based to direct distribution has gone smoothly (hats off to Kevin Keach, our Distribution Czar on the board, who has done an excellent job) and FolkFire can now afford to pay modest sums for three of the jobs that we need to get done each issue. This is where you come in. Here’s what we have available:
    1) Managing Editor: This includes coordinating the editorial staff and designing each issue; deciding what articles and reviews to put in, editing them as needed and shaking the bushes for potential writers and reviewers to fill the pipeline. We will provide a list of names and numbers of people with whom we have worked. This job pays $150 per issue. For information call Karen Jackson at 771-2920 or Dan Klarmann at 771-7619 (# disconnected in 4/2002).
    2) Advertising sales: This involves going out and finding people who want ads in FolkFire, explaining our format and procedures, and making sure they deliver their copy by the deadline. You do not have to collect money for ads (that’s done by other people) and we will give you support in the form of names, phone numbers, ad history, ad leads, etc. Anyone can do this, even in small pieces. We pay around a 13-15% commission for each ad (example: a 1/4 page ad 3 times in a row costs $255, commission is $38) so everyone out there, feel free to bring us ads and we will pay you. Again, you must take responsibility for bring each ad to completion (getting the copy delivered to us), not just getting us ideas or ad leads. For info. call Andrew Limanni at 994-9850. Knock yourself out.
    3) Distribution: Kevin Keach at 416-9930 can always use help doing the distribution. This means delivering a stack of FolkFires to different advertisers, dance and music locations, and other high traffic locations of his choice. You get paid $1.50 per location, and you can do as much or as little as you like, up to 100 locations.
    FolkFire is doing fine, and we still provide a great product in a financially secure and democratic way, and we have state of the art information for the communities we serve, but we want to do better. Call us with any ideas.
    Healthy Dancing
    by Liessa Thomas
    Welcome to the wonderful world of folk dance! As many dancers (and musicians) may have already learned the hard way, the folk world is not always the passive laid back place it may seem. The human body can take quite a beating during certain dance forms: feet, ankles, hips, backs, shoulders, wrists, and hands in particular. It only takes a few preventative steps, however, to significantly reduce the potential for injury. Following are a few simple tips applicable to the general dance community:
    • Warm up. Don’t come in from the cold (or even the Midwestern heat) and jump right into the dance. While you are waiting for a dance to begin, rotate your ankles, stretch your calf muscles, flex your wrists, and generally try to loosen up before you begin. Cold muscles are tight and prone to injury.
    • Don’t push yourself. If you are particularly tired or exhausted, sit out. Fatigue can lead to sloppy dancing which can easily lead to injury of yourself or others.
    • Beware of overuse injuries. If you repeat the same movements too often, you may be straining a muscle or joint beyond its tolerance. If you are a new dancer, or joining a new group, do not over-do movements you are not used to, or you may be very sore the next day.
    • Use good posture for yourself, and be aware of how you handle other dancers. When dancing with a partner, know their limitations, and please do not assume they are as flexible as silly-putty. A rough swing or circle or twist can be painful and have a negative effect on people’s alignments.
    • Be aware of other dancers. Thinking about your own feet, hands, arms, timing, and your partner may already be a lot to worry about; but don’t forget about the other folks on the dance floor. Be aware not only of not stepping on your partner’s toes, but the toes of other dancers around you. Be careful not to swing your partner into others, or jam your elbow into them... especially when the dance floor is crowded.
    • Wear comfortable shoes appropriate to your dance style or be prepared for sore feet and ankles. High heels are generally not appropriate unless they are the type made for dancing.
    • When going to a dance weekend or week long dance camp, try to be in the best shape possible BEFORE going. You will enjoy yourself more if you are not in pain or tired from unaccustomed quantities of dancing.
    • Wash your hands frequently (especially after dancing and before eating or touching your nose or eyes). Think of how germs are spread.
    With all that in mind, may your dancing experience be enjoyable for you and all those around you, and may you feel great afterward!
    Changes in the Cyber Realm
    Due to the unbelievable volume of “spam” or unsolicited and undesired promotional email we receive, we are changing our email address. This is the last time we will do this, because the new address is really an alias! We will be from now on. This address will forward mail to whatever email service we choose now, and in the future.
    We also have had to move our web site. Some of you may have noticed that has not been working. We have, hopefully temporarily, lost control of our URL (a geek-speak acronym for our internet address). I won’t bore you with the details of who did and didn’t do what during the last year to cause this. However, our web site is still alive at while we seek a new service and try to regain control of our name.
    Solstice Time
    by Dan Klarmann
    Where do winter holiday traditions come from? Christmas is when it is because of the new year. April Fools Day, too. How? Well, in Western culture, the calendar year ends on the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter, the Winter Solstice. No? Well, it did when the Romans first established our calendar. But this fixed 365 day calendar allowed the Solstice (which is based on astronomy, rather than the calendar of man) to drift to December 21st at the rate of one day every four years. Monks in the dark ages figured out a regular way to make the seasons stay in the same place on the calendar: They added a leap day. Although eventually almost everyone used this new calendar, it was never adjusted back to having the seasons start on the first of a month.
    The prevailing Druid new year began with the start of Spring, on the Vernal Equinox. The Romans, however, forced their subjects to start the year after the Winter Solstice. Anyone who still celebrated the Druid new year was subject to ridicule, if not worse: An April Fool! Remember, this was before the calendar drift had moved the Equinox from April 1st back to March 21st.
    So, why is Christmas when it is, and what does it have to do with the Solstice?. Evidence suggests that Christ was born in the spring. Early Christians didn’t want to celebrate their Savior’s birth adjacent to the Easter celebration of his execution, which follows Passover, the Jewish Vernal Equinox celebration. Christ was the spiritual bringer of light (Lucifer in Latin). Christians found ready made light bringer celebrations waiting for them in Europe which predated not only the Christian incursions into Europe, but Christ himself. Both the Roman Saturnalia fertility festival, and the Druid festival of light were world-class celebrations set on the winter solstice. Pope Gregory I had established the policy of spreading Christianity through Europe not by destroying temples, but by replacing the idols within them; substituting images of the Sun and the Earth with those of the Son and the Father. Missionaries kept the traditions while changing the objects at the root of the worship. They kept the evergreen theme as a symbol of the life to come. The traditions of a wreath with candles, luminaria and Yule fire were also maintained. Even the use of evergreen herbs such as the aphrodisiac mistletoe was still observed, although the procreative aspects of the older traditions were toned down or removed. The earthy festival of light and life was displaced by the celebration of a virgin birth.
    Santa Claus? Well, Sinterklaas was Dutch children’s way of pronouncing Saint Nicholas, bishop of Myra, patron Saint of Russia, and of children, who is celebrated on December 6th. Traditionally, children left their shoes out on the eve of St Nicholas Day, and in the morning would find a coin in each, if they’ve been good. This evolved into children hanging stockings for goodies on Christmas eve and finally our American three month marketing frenzy. The modern image of Santa Claus dates back to the 19th century, when The Night Before Christmas was composed by a desperate father for his ailing daughter who wanted to hear a Christmas poem.
    Other winter solstice traditions? Hanukkah is also a miraculous rebirth of light tradition set on the solstice, and is tied in to a specific political story. Since the failing light is not so noticeable in the Middle East, Hanukkah never became a major festival. Kwanzaa dates back to the 1960’s and is based on a variety of African traditions.
    In Memoriam
    The Contra dance community was deeply saddened by the recent death of one of our members, David Schechter. A moving graveside service was held at B’nai Amoona Cemetery in University City on Oct. 15. A large number of dancers, among other friends and family, were in attendance. David will long be remembered for his beautiful smile, lively wit and caring personality. He was a much enjoyed presence among us, and it is with a great sense of loss that we will mourn his passing.