90th Anniversary Memories

Dancers at our 100th Anniversary Gala in 2015

On May 17, 2006, CDS Boston Centre held a party in honour of its 90th anniversary. Dancers were asked for their memories of dancing or participating in the Centre’s activities over the years. Here are some of the memories we received.

Permissions were given by the authors for publication on our site.

My English Country dancing began at Swarthmore College in 1963, where Meg Hodgkin Lippert was a lead dancer and Irene Moll in the Woman’s Athletic Department organized a performance group for an annual May Day dance ceremony. Perdue Cleaver ran a dance group in Rose Valley, PA that I attended, and I twice went to Pinewoods Camp on scholarship in 1964 and 1965, where Helene Cornelius and Marshall Baron were my teachers. In 1966, I organized a Morris group at Swarthmore to add to the May Day festivities that year and joined CDSS in New York. Grad school took me to Wisconsin, where I met my wife folk-dancing, and then career and family commitments intervened until the 1990s when Joan and I began dancing in Providence RI and helping with the Providence Ball that Peggy Vermelia organized. In 2000 while on sabbatical, I joined Ann Mason and Anne Richardson in car-pooling up for the Wednesday night dances in Arlington and I joined CDS. Last spring, I enjoyed a reunion here with Meg Lippert, when we danced together for the first time in 41 years. A magic moment being repeated tonight.

— Tom W

Flashes of Competence Probably more than any other community the Country Dance Society, Boston Centre has been the core one to our family, despite long absences and our 25-year detour living in New Hampshire.

In 1971 with my brand new husband, Dan and two daughters, Robin and Kristin Gustafson, I moved from Cambridge to Concord, Massachusetts and almost immediately we started driving back to Cambridge making Wednesday night our family night of dancing at the Y. We didn’t ask the kids about homework, nor worry about supper, – a sandwich would do. We were too busy locating and ironing skirts and washing and drying hair in our one-bathroom home.

Dan and I hadn’t been dancers. We’d been folkies active in the Greater Boston Folk Song Society and ended up at Pinewoods for Folk Music week, Dudley Laufman said, “You’ve come to the wrong week, you should come to dance week!” The following year we did, and met others from Boston who told us of the Boston Center’s regular dances. Bravely, we sallied forth to the packed gym at the Y and became regulars for the decade our young daughters turned into graceful swans.

That is where we learned all the country dance calls and how to move however unsurely to the elegant tunes played by Ellen Mandigo while Helene Cornelius or George Fogg walked us through figures more complex and beautiful than anything we’d seen, even in the movies. Later the Bare Necessities crew including our housemate, the left-handed fiddler, Claudio Buchwald, kept us on our toes even if the music didn’t always tell me personally what to do, it gave me the passion to try!

In that decade the mirrored-lined gym was filled and often we participated in ritual dance sets gathered together for several week cycles as part of the evening. Maybe it was because we had two beautiful daughters, or maybe it was because we left earlier than Art and Helene wanted to, and Peter Cornelius had to get up for school the next day, too, we were always drafted by Art and Peter for their rapper, long sword and Morris sets. This was something so amazingly lucky we could not believe our good fortune. Bill Horne once told us in a most supportive way, that as dancers, we showed, “Flashes of competence.”

Of course there were many other connections from that core dance commitment. For a few years we attended Christmas Dance School at Berea until the year we totaled our car but not our passengers with Susan Conant and Susan Jones as passengers. We often went to Tony Parke’s dances, Tod Whittemore’s dances, Ted Sanella’s dances and sometimes held potlucks and drove with a cavalcade of dancers to ones called by Dudley Laufman in Fittzwilliam, New Hampshire until Dudley started calling a regular dance in Carlisle.

Terry Tobias of the Revels danced regularly with us on Wednesdays, sometimes Jack Langstaff danced, and Raine Miller came from time to time. They invited myself and our daughters, because we were dancers, to be in the Revels chorus and we were for several seasons of joyous Christmas overload. Dan spent one season with the Black Jokers as the Hobby Horse. Robin joined Muddy River Morris. And Kristin and Dan played in the Roaring Jelly Dance Band – before it had a name – for that same decade and were catalysts in starting the Roaring Jelly Dances. The band members took turns calling and both Dan and Kristin took their turns. Kristin’s specialties were Shrewsbury Lasses and Nonesuch. And Dan eventually became the regular caller (for the decade before we moved away to New Hampshire) with many Boston Center dance friends joining in on the third Friday in the Lincoln Town Hall to help, between fire siren blasts, get this dance on its feet! In fact it was at this dance that Tony Saletan got his calling feet wet, trying out one dance each month and thus giving Dan one dance with me!

In 1981 Dan and I moved to Antrim, New Hampshire just down the dirt road from Rod and Jane Miller, It was about this time our daughters were off at college, and foreign student exchanges, and adult life in general, they’d flown from home. We transplanted a community mummers play, started with Pam Kelly when we lived in Concord, you may remember we put it on at least once for the Boston Centre’s Christmas Party. And many dancing friends would gather each year to help us bring luck to the Acton/ Concord neighborhood, and later to the Monadnock community. (In closing our N.H. house last year we drove a huge carload of costumes and props – some originally from the Conant Family when they moved years earlier – to Greenfield, Ma where the play goes on.)

Kristin taught dancing at Earlham College while a student, Robin made dance a focus for her college studies and after graduation joined Ring O’Bells continuing to dance out as she carried Moira, our first granddaughter now in Ring O’Bells Morris and Half Moon Rapper. All of us still dance, and four of our five grandchildren are particularly avid dancers. Brian Flanagan spent last summer volunteering at Pinewoods.

When we think of where we have found that sense of community and continuity and joy in life, it has been in the dance community supported and spawned by the Boston Center. It’s good to be back living in Cambridge and almost regulars, dancing once a week for half a dance at some dance in the area – Mondays at the Concord Scout House, Wednesdays at Park Congregational Church in Arlington, Thursdays at Springstep in Medford, and Fridays at Harvard Epworth Methodist Church, one mile down the road from our cohousing condo. We are still having fun working on those joy producing flashes of competence!

Molly Lynn Watt

Partner Swing*

You in a tee-shirt – me in a flare skirt –
tap our toes to the beat of the bass
the prompter calls honor your partner
we’re off in a fervor of pulse and whirl
join hands four to form a star
promenade down and come back home
we pass over – they pass under
clasp hands across for lady’s chain
the flute notes fly – we weave a basket
the birdie hops in – the crow hops after
the piano keeps a steady beat
everyone dips – everyone dives
partners gypsy along the line
a hint of jitterbug – a smatter of swing
a tat-tat-tat-a fling-fling-fling
we glisten and grin as the dance ends
with a partner swing.

Molly Lynn Watt
< MollyWatt at comcast dot net >

* This poem appeared previously in The HILR Review, Vol. 5, April, 2005 and the Wilderness Literary Review, Vol. 1, April, 2006

When I used to come down from New Hampshire to the Wednesday evening dances at the YWCA, the early Bare Necessities band, Earl, Jacqueline, and Claudio Buchwald had a sort of renaissancy sound, almost like a consort of viols, which, to me, went well with the program of early dances. While many of the best dancers met downstairs for a session of one or other sort of ritual dancing, we beginners were impelled around the room by George Fogg’s lusty “Slip left; slip right, set & turn single!”; his presence gave the dance an extroverted feel. Then came Helene and the experienced dancers, and to the sound of her quiet voice and the inbent music we were led into the Inner Sanctum of the dance. What a glorious contrast it was, and how much both George and Helene and the band gave to that utterly serene high we sometimes achieved!

Then came the newer dances, a more extroverted band sound,the “new voices” (and that infernal cordless microphone that picked up the local taxi calls in the middle of Helene’s prompting). I issued a plea for a gestural call to silence, (which went unheard), and the dancing went on louder for everyone, once amplification was de rigeur. -And I moved on to Pinewoods, and research into the early years of the society, and the wonderful gift of its very possibility, the gift of Helen Storrow. So much has changed since her time…but the dance still goes on, and we are given to love one another the more for being in it all together.

P.S. I started coming to Boston Centre dances in the fall of 1972. Went to Pinewoods first for Boston’s 1973 weekend. The new band didn’t get going until fall 1974 or later; music was provided by Elise Nichols and Ellen Mandigo before that, if I remember correctly, but Elise was going blind, which made it difficult for her to play new repertory. -George Fogg or Helene Cornelius could correct my memory about that. Don’t know when they started calling themselves Bare Necessities, but 1974 was the year Pat Shaw was at Pinewoods, which undoubtedly had to do with it! Jacqueline or Earl would know better just when they started to play Wednesday dances, and when they named their band “Bare Necessities”. Claudio was with the band for a few years, and Ralph Jones sometimes joined in playing flute, but Peter & Mary came later…ask them when. Cheers, Ed.

— Ed Wilfert

I started English Country Dancing in 1977, I believe, at the YWCA in Central Square. I had been divorced about a year and friends of mine, Joe and Cornelia, had been very supportive of me and had invited me over for dinner rather regularly on Wednesday evenings. On one Wednesday, Cornelia asked me if I would escort her to the CDS dance at the Y, explaining that she and Joe had attended a dance on the previous Saturday, guests I think of Charlene and Jonathan (but I could be wrong about that.) Cornelia had loved it and Joe didn’t so she wanted to go but felt uncomfortable going alone and therefore would I please go with her. Of course I wanted to say no, because I considered myself a very poor candidate for any kind of dance and was very awkward to boot. But, given that they had been so kind to me, I just could not say no. So we went, and I was terrible as expected (there was no calling—just a walk through and then you were on your own!) but women kept asking me to dance anyway so when Cornelia asked if I wanted to go the next week I said sure. The next summer, Joe, Cornelia and I went to second dance week at Pinewoods and instead of just reading and swimming as planned, Joe took an intro dance class and decided it was fine. Within a year Joe was Vice President of CDS something and was actually running or helping to run the weekly dance. One more thing: at the Pinewoods week a very large and elderly woman told Cornelia and I to be lighter on our feet and I thought who the heck is she to be telling us, both thin and young, to be light on our feet. Well she came over and demonstrated it to us and indeed she was extraordinarily light. Her name was May Gadd who had come to the US as a teenager with Cecil Sharp to demonstrate English Country Dance to the Americans and at age 90 or something could still best us all. I danced regularly for ten years or so and have been rather sporadic for the last twenty years but I still consider myself an English Country Dancer.

I can’t help adding a few irrelevant things.
After dancing many years, I inadvertently attended an English dance week at Brass Town, NC (I thought it was going to be southern big circle dancing and clogging). I was the only dancer from the North. On one particular dance, the Instructor jumped into my set after he had called a few rounds and at one point I had to skip a large loop leading three or four men and I returned to place right on the pick-up for the next part of the dance. The instructor turned to me and said, “Oh you must be the fellow from Boston!” Others had a hard time phrasing the dance and at Pinewoods and in our weekly YWCA run throughs Helene stressed the importance of movement and phrasing and apparently some of it had rubbed off on me. I was also doing a lot of contra dancing and clogging as well and then took up swing dancing which I did extensively for twenty years, including a six-year weekly stint at teaching at a bar/club in Davis Square called Johnny D’s. However, I still love the country dance waltz.

— Jack Lynch

My first exposure to English Dancing was when I attended George Fogg’s Christmas Country Dance Ball on Saturday, November 25, 2000. I went without knowing what to expect or who I might encounter. Previous to this event, I had neither seen nor had I ever danced any form of English, Contra or Folk Dance.

Upon entering the dance hall at the Church of Our Saviour in Brookline, MA, I was warmly greeted and welcomed by George Fogg. I had a very favorable initial impression given that the atmosphere was very festive and everyone was in a jovial mood. As the dancing began, I was moved by the live music. The dancing was smooth and elegant. The 2nd dance of the evening I was fortunate enough to have Helene Cornelius as my partner. It wasn’t until some months later that I came to realize how quickly it was that I had the pleasure to meet two of New England’s English Country Dance Masters. (I feel that in fairness to Helene that I must mention that she and I were discussing how I came to begin English Dancing while we were traveling together out to Lenox, MA last month to attend the 19th Annual Fried-for-All dance weekend. Helene had said she was skeptical as to whether this dance together ever really took place or not; but I assure you that it did indeed happen.)

I danced each and every dance that evening. The other dancers were very kind, helpful and understanding towards me as I’m sure it was obvious to them that I was a beginner at English Dancing. I have attended 5 out of the last 6 of George’s Christmas Country Dance Balls. I cannot think of a more glorious way to begin celebrating the holidays than by attending this Christmas Ball. As I was leaving at the end of the evening’s festivities, I knew that after that very 1st evening that English Dancing would always have a place in my life.
Thank you both; Helene and George!

— Dennis Wojtanek

I started contra dancing 6 years ago when a friend dragged me along. Then I went to an English in Amherst and thought that it was just a slow version of contra for really old people. Patiently Robin Hayden began to teach me the fine points of English. In 2003, I went to my first Pinewoods, the E & A as my second choice, because the American Dance was full. Brad Foster (and the daily dance) was instrumental in getting me to appreciate the fine points of English: the flirtation, the playfulness, the elegance, etc. Now I enjoy English as much, if not more, than contra, especially the experienced dancer events, like the Fried-For-All.

— Edward S. Chang

When I first went to an English Country dance at Bryn Mawr College in 1975, the Chemistry Professor, George Zimmerman, introduced us to “the walk”, that knees-together, leaning forward, heel-first, through-the-foot walk. He also introduced the undergraduates to Cotswold Morris Dancing (Field Town), which he learned in England as a graduate student. Cotswold Morris is great fun and the music grabbed me from the beginning. Play Dearest Dickie and I’ll still get out of my tent at 3:00 am and join the set. But he was one stylist amongst a sea of the untutored. We learned the figures, we hopped about, we had fun. We had no style.

When I moved to Boston in 1983, I was so lucky to dance on a floor that included Arthur Cornelius, Chris Walker, Joe Kynoch, Helene Cornelius, Rich Jackson, Tom Kruskal, Cynthia Whear, and other models of that knees-together, leaning forward, heel-first, through the foot walk. These were dancers equally of the social dances and the ritual dances. They, consciously and unconsciously, modeled the pickup to the phrase that, for me, is a distinguishing feature of English dancing. That “step back” into a figure before the phrase, that subtle move in place before moving out into a figure. We speak of a”dance walk”, or a “sword walk” but it is more than the quotidian walking. In a room full of dancers dancing with “the walk” and phrasing together the anticipation, the pickup, I learned the style.

Sometimes these features get thought of as belonging to ritual dancing: the pickup in Morris, the anticipation in the “show” of the sword in longsword. But to me they are the flavor of English dancing, both social and ritual. The dancers who were raised solidly in the ritual traditions, right along with the country dancing, retain a style that is distinctive. For me, the ritual style and the country dance style are not different. It is one of the things I most love about English dancing.

My mother, oddly enough, learned English Country dancing from John Hodgkin at Pendle Hill, in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. I knew John as the hobby at the Marlboro Ale for several years before I realized his connection with Pendle Hill. “Oh, that tall Englishman” said my mother.” He loped. We tried, but we couldn’t lope like that.” I love the lope, “the walk”. Longsword dancing is for me the perfect embodiment of the English style. The traveling, whether stepped or walking, is driving, through the foot, with shoulders forward. The style is all about the pickup before the phrase, showing the sword to anticipate the figure. When Rich Jackson formed Orion Longsword in 1986, we were so fortunate to have Arthur Cornelius show us the way. His grace with power, his lightness of upper body carriage, and especially “the walk” have patterned my dancing, both country dancing and ritual dancing. As a novice at Pinewoods Camp seeing a scratchy videotape of longsword dancing for the first time, I wanted to grow up to be one of the Handsworth men: A tall, powerful man in big boots with a sword in my hand hurtling around the ring. As I get older, I appreciate the subtlety of the Loftus men: rhythmic, with the music, moving together with style, perfect in “the walk”, in unison with their anticipation. So English. I love it.

— Judy Erickson