FolkFire Articles

January / February 1998

  • Life as a Dance Gypsy
  • The Smoothest Dancing of All
  • Recorder Renaissance -- not just for 3rd grade any more...
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  • Life as a Dance Gypsy

    by Karen Jackson
    In the last issue I described how I got hooked on contra dancing. I also promised I’d write about being a “dance gypsy”. If you’re familiar with the term, you already know the joys it can bring. If you’re not, and you enjoy music and /or dance and travel, you might just be in for a treat.
    After dancing with our local group for nine months, I took the step of attending my first dance weekend. There, the same wonderful folks I’d met contra dancing had converged to eat, sleep and breath music and dance for an entire weekend. It was like magic! Everything seemed to flow; everyone seemed to get along. Musicians clustered together to jam. Food was potluck and plentiful. The nighttime dances often went until dawn. During the day, workshops were held, teaching or polishing up people’s skills on dances such as waltz, polka, schottische, tango, hambo, swing dance, advanced contra, square dances and more. Yes, we do squares, but they differ from the more “official” square dancing. The waltz and swing dances also differed from those I’d learned in ballroom dance. The whole feel was just more casual and, well, fun. My love affair with contra dance deepened. New dances, new and wonderful people, a rural setting ... I was in heaven.
    On that first dance weekend, I was entranced with a group of people from Louisville, KY. They invited me to dance with them there a few weeks later, which took me to another level of dancing ... that of being a Dance Gypsy. A Dance Gypsy is one who travels to out of town dances, dance weekends and weeks to meet new people, eat, schmooze, play music and/or dance until all hours. It’s a wonderful way to build up a new circle of friends, or to find a place to go that feels like “home” when you’re traveling. You can gypsy for just one night while visiting friends, or you can attend some of the many dance weekends that are held throughout the year, sporting names like Pigtown Fling, Feet Retreat or Swing into Spring. If you want to make a real vacation out of your dance gypsying, try attending a regularly held dance week, such as Pinewoods in Mass., Augusta and Buffalo Gap in W. VA., or Winter in the Woods in KY, just to name a few. Most of these camps hold varying types of music and dance weeks, including Swing, Blues and Family Weeks. If you want to get really exotic, try going to a dance week held in England, on a cruise ship, or, as I’m doing this Feb./Mar., in Hawaii. It will be my first dance week and my first trip to Hawaii, so I’m really excited. Look for reports on that in a future issue. Until then, Happy Gypsying!
    The Smoothest Dancing of All
    by Bill Coalson
    I’m gliding through a wonderful waltz, one leg extended behind me for a full three beat measure, then swinging that leg forward in unison with my partner to be held for the next full measure still gliding towards the end of the hall. Sound impossible? On the wood floor most dancers prefer, it would be, but I’m on ice, where this move is routine.
    I’ve been doing many kinds of dance in St. Louis for years, including contra , English and Scottish country, and ballroom . One of the rarer ones I do is ice dancing (yes on skates).
    Ice dancing is done to ballroom style music, with extremely athletic moves restricted to keep the ballroom style. Because of the intricacy, it is rewarding to continue participating as adults—we have one ice dance couple in St. Louis in their seventies. Most lower level ice dance is done to set patterns of steps that create a serpentine path circling the rink. Each dance is for a given type of music (waltz, tango, foxtrot, etc.) at a specific tempo. The lower levels are easy dances, but progress to the top level, which is difficult even for Olympic skaters to perform flawlessly.
    How is it that I, a man in my forties took up ice dancing? My wife had ice danced during high school, and resumed as our children learned to skate. As I watched in the bleachers during the children’s lessons I noticed a group of adults having lessons—so I enrolled in the class. My skating gradually improved, so when the class my wife attended cycled back to teaching the easiest dances I started attending. I became hooked and now try to skate three times a week.
    Intrigued? Come watch Sundays from 5:00 to 6:15 PM at the Brentwood rink, or Mondays 12:15 to 1:15 PM at the South County Rink. If you have basic skating skills, there is a half hour class at 7 PM Wednesdays at the South County Rink (314-894-3089) or several pros teach private lessons. Call me at 314-434-6980 for more info.
    Recorder Renaissance -- not just for 3rd grade any more...
    by Suzanne Schoomer and Dan Klarmann
    From the soaring virtuosity of a solo performance of "The Flight of the Bumblebee" by Michala Petri in a packed concert hall through a cozy group evoking the Renaissance—to a novice teaching herself “Greensleeves,” the recorder demonstrates its beauty, range and longevity as a musical instrument. This simple, inexpensive yet versatile wind instrument emerged in the 14th century and immediately bloomed in popularity. Much later, in the late 18th century, it was largely displaced in public performances by new, louder, and more complex instruments such as the flute, oboe, and clarinet. Its popularity was revitalized for chamber music in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, in the late 1950’s music educators almost completely destroyed the instrument in the U.S. by forcing third graders to endlessly drill shrill and unmusical notes on inferior quality flutaphones. But the recorder is now finally making a comeback!
    With its fully tonal scale en expert can play almost any melody, while a novice can entice familiar tunes from it within a few hours of first picking one up; faster if they’re already familiar with wind instruments. A typical recorder quartet consisting of soprano, alto, tenor, and base recorders can play choral music, as well as many other musical styles. Music composed for the recorder ranges from Medieval through modern compositions. However, most recorder music is adapted from music composed for almost any other instrument. Jazz and blues are especially fun for recorder groups who have advanced skills. A number of our members play traditional Renaissance pieces at Madrigal dinners in December.
    The St. Louis Recorder Society, an affiliate of the American Recorder Society, was established in 1996 to promote recorder playing for enjoyment in the St. Louis area, to raise the level of proficiency among members, to provide performance opportunities for recorder players, and to convert others to our cause. We are a group of diverse ability, from novices to advanced players. Meetings mostly consist of group playing, divided up according to ability level, with coaches for the beginning groups. Once the basic notes are mastered, playing in a group is the best way to get caught up in the rhythms and structure, and to improve your ear as well as your fingering. We welcome all current or prospective recorder players.
    To join us, see our listing.