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An Interview with Ed Gilmore
Part 2

Jack:
You mentioned a figure there, Ed, that you had a turnover of 80% of dancers in two years. You mean that you've lost 80% of your dancers in two years?

Ed:
Yes. 80% of the people who came into classes/activity, in less than 2 years. A great percentage of them are lost, as I said, on graduation night. They never get into clubs. Most of those that get into clubs are lost in the first year of their club experience. This is around the country where callers are getting up and trying to call the things that are being published in the magazines to dancers who've had 10 or 15 weeks of instruction and danced less than a year. They cannot do the material that's being published, the way it's being published, and especially when it's called by a caller who doesn't know how to time it, or describe it or teach it. So if they do not "dance" they discontinue their participation. They drop out. They must "dance" if they are to stay with us.

Jack:
It does appear to me, I've been dancing from New York to Miami, around to Los Angeles, in all clubs your name is mentioned. That you are carrying more or less a cross for this rhythmic type of square dance. I also find that you have men behind you like Bruce Johnson, who is recognized as what is probably the greatest square dancer in the world. I hope that's the right statement. It seems to be accepted in America as such. Back in Australia we accept Bruce as being a terrific caller.

Ed:
And I second that. Bruce works with me as much as 3, 4 and 5 weeks together. He's on my staff. He's with me at Kirkwood Lodge. I'm very fond of him, I think he's probably the most talented caller in the square dance business. He has a tremendous talent and a tremendous humility and is a fine person. Bruce is working exactly the same.

You said I was carrying a cross. No, not a cross. I simply came to a conclusion as to what type of dancing will keep people dancing year in and year out and keep them happy over a period of time. I recognize that every dancer must go through all of the phases, and the beginner phases include this go-go-go business. Like children going out and picking up all the cuss words. The beginner dancer goes out and sees someone do a fancy little twirl and a kick, he has to do it. The fact that it wasn't taught by the caller and isn't called, it's something excessive doesn't bother him at all. He has to put it in because he thinks it's cute and it's a chance to show off. This is people acting like people. When they get a little bit more experience they learn that those things are just excessive, they interfere, they are rude, they interfere with other people's comfort because other people have to wait for them to do excessive twirls or kicks or something and they moderate in their approach as they mature. Every dancer comes along in the same general conclusions that I have. The only thing is that I have had the courage in my convictions. I was told by some of my good friends, that I was going to have to go along with the crowd. I was going to have to do this or do that, I was going to have to call faster, I was going to have to call more involved things and so forth. That's what the dancers wanted. And I said, "no, I don't have to do anything. If they stop inviting me I can stay home and teach new people. If no one comes to my classes I can do something else. I don't have to call square dances". I made more money in several lines before I was a square dance caller. I don't call for a living, that isn't my purpose. I call because I love it. So I told them that I don't have to do it and I will not compromise. I will not do what I don't believe in and if I can't throughly enjoy every minute of what I'm doing I'd rather be doing something else.

The net result of this, the people that told me I was going be eliminated, I don't seem to see them anymore. I never solicited dates, calling engagements. I don't ask anybody if I can come to your town and call a dance. It's purely invitation and our invitation list has grown to where over the last 2 years it's over 1,000 invitations per year. So if the people don't want to dance rhythmically and comfortably with great variety of formation, great variety of music. If they want the go-go-go and the get and grab they choose a very peculiar way of showing it by inviting me back here year after year after year. So I have to believe that what I am doing must have some value, that I must be on the right track or they wouldn't invite me back. I am very happy that callers, a tremendous number of callers, are at least saying, "I think you're right. I think dancing must be comfortable, flowing, rhythmical, properly timed (no clipped timing), properly designed (no two right hands in succession). Try walking taking two right steps and then 2 left steps. Two right hands in succession is essentially the same thing but much less jarring because your weight isn't on the hand. But that's the only different. Yet callers are not concerned with working on this phases, which phase follows another in natural sequence. So what I stand for has not been easy to sell or popular because the caller has to work to do the type of calling I recommend. He has to work at timing, rhythm, phrasing, pitch, harmony, post command insurance, pre- command insurance, dance design, program design, balance of new and old. All of the good things that go into making good programming. He has to work at knowing how to get along with people, how to handle people and it's work. You have to study.

This other thing, all you have to do is pick up the latest magazine and read it, which a great many callers are doing - not even memorizing it, they read it and then move on to the next. That is easier to do. It's easier to do everything the ignoramus way so that will always be the most popular way.

Jack:
Do you think this method of yours, have you any way of testing whether it has stopped this drift of square dancers.

Ed:
Yes. There are people here. Why don't you speak to Bruce. Bruce has applied this general principle in his own clubs. speak to Bruce, Bud & Millie Blakey, and Lou Roudersham. They have developed a tremendous number of dancers down in the San Diego area. They extended the training periods several years ago, at my suggestion, with a net result that even though they're in a very transient area (this is the largest navel base, one of the largest in the country). They have a tremendous turnover of people in the community and even so their turnover in their dancers is less, far less, than the national average. A great number of people around the country have put into practice for the last 2-6 years, the methods I recommend and you discuss it with them and find out what their results have been. They have their percentage held in the activity tremendously by minimizing the amount of material and extending the training period, for a long time, so they will have time to teach people to round dance from the first night on. Teach them to do contras, quadrilles, make complete dancers out of them from the first night on. Their dancers will never get up and say "I don't like round dancing" because right from the first night they started round dancing and they know how so they say "I like it". What people know how to do they enjoy. 9 times out of 10 when people say I don't like this or that they mean I don't know how. I tried to do it and I was embarrassed so I don't like that. But if they know how to do it, if it's dancing, its good.

Jack:
What are you offering your dancers, well say a dancer after a two year period that has advanced very well at that period? Nothing can remain static, can it? And to keep the interest of your dancer you must be offering him something new in some way or other. What are you offering at that point?

Ed:
We are offering him continuous growth in dancing ability, expansion of the material we have (material he's already learned), continuous new arrangement of things, continuous changes in the music, and fortunately now we have a continuos flow of good music coming. Not always the material that's written up with it, but the music is improving. You may have noticed this weekend, I rarely do a singing call the same twice or do the same dance to the same tune twice. In other words, I do any singing calling to most any other singing call tune. The dancer doesn't recognize it. This you can prove for yourself that choreography is so important to the dancer. If he says, "I sure like the Everywhere You Go dance, " we can say to him, "I will do that for you, how does it go? I can't remember the figure?" He can't tell you to save his soul. I've proven this a thousand times over. People request a certain singing call and I put the record and I call something to it. I may make up a routine as I go or I may call Old-Fashioned Girl to Everywhere You Go and he comes up and thanks me. He doesn't know that I haven't done the dance because it's the music that he likes and remembers, not the routine.

Now, as to ever becoming boring, ten years ago with just the 10 primary basic figures that we had, taking only those first ten and we never attempted to build a program on the first basic ten figures (Allemande Left, Grand Right & Left, Swing, Promenade, Dosado, Right & Left Thru, Chains, Stars, DoPaso, Dosido were our basic figures then). With those 10 figures we could do 3,700,000 different combinations of those figures. We added 14 secondaries making a total of 24 figures and the number of possible combinations jumps to 784 septillion possible combinations. So you see it can never grow old. And then you multiply this by the various formations. You can do dances in a circle, you can do dances in lines, you can do dances in progressive squares (progressing to other squares), every time you change the formations the septillions go up and up and up in the possible formations. And then you add the variety of music and it's infinite variety it can never grow old. We permit this dancer to grow as long as he wants to grow and we do not advocate graduating a group new dancers into a group of 2 year dancers, 3 year dancers, every year a bunch of new people being dumped in with them. The caller having to pull the entire program back down to the capacities of the newer people. Sooner or later the dancer that has danced a couple of years and knows how to play will say, "Look, I've served my apprenticeship dragging beginners through and now I want to dance." And he will be lost to the activity if he's constantly deluded with new people that he must pull and push and help. So what I recommend is let the beginners stay together and grow together. Let them practice and play together until they are pretty well equipped to dance. Then let the older more experienced dancers from those groups gain new membership.

We have this argument from the people who say, "We have to graduate them, we need them in the clubs." Well, it gets them in the clubs and then drives them out. They're real nice to them the first night or two and then no one will dance with them. Pretty soon the new people are gone and some of the old people are gone because they've gotten tired of bringing in the new people. So this doesn't work.

We tried to make them understand that every new person coming in, having matured or want to belong to "a" club, many will join 2 or 3 or 4 clubs. This is where your new membership growth comes from. As he simmers down to where he only wants to belong to one club (and this happens after 2 or 3 years) and dance in one club and maybe visit occasionally in others, then the numbers has grown proportionally. What we say is that you must do what you have to do to get a sufficient number of new people and do what you have to do to keep them and hold them to make a club self-supporting and self-sustaining. If it fails then you combine 2 new clubs of similar experience. You will lose a lot of people because it's a change and they resist change violently. Everyone resists change violently.

{{{{Side one of the tape ends here but when I turned it over it started in the middle of something that I don't even know what they are talking about}}}}}

[Here is the Missing piece...in blue...courtesy of Jeff & Tracie Garbutt. 4-12-02]
Everyone resists any change violently. What you do is this, "well that's what I've always done, now you're trying to change me, I won't change to Wednesday night, I dance on Thursday nights".

So any change will affect the lot. But nevertheless this will be a smaller, far smaller loss than the continuous graduation of brand new people who really don't know how to do a Left Allemande yet. They don't really know how to do a left allemande until they've done it about four or five thousand times. Then it becomes automatic.

Ed is speaking...
And when dancers can do a figure, hear it, translate, execute it and not even know they've done it then they know it. This point arrives somewhere between, with the alertest at around 6 months, the slowest 2 or 3 or 4 years and some of them maybe never. You always have a few in each club that you swear they will never learn yet they keep coming. They are nice people, good people, they are passed around to everyone in the club during and evening and protected and loved. If they are not nice people they will drop out. This is something you can't do anything about.

Jack: Do I understand that in the first place that you teach your dancers, just the new dancers coming in, to first move to music?

Ed: Certainly. I don't know what you're situation is in your area but here our problem is that the average person doesn't have much respect for hillbilly fiddle tunes. They think of square dancing as they've seen in the movies. A bunch of hillbilly people hopping around violently with musicians playing off-key. Self-taught musicians playing on homemade instruments. They don't have any respect for square dancing and they have the misconception that square dancing is both hillbilly, ignoramus stuff -- that it is violent and rough. My first move is to completely disillusion them in this respect when they are coming in on their first night. I have modern, popular, the best sounding music that I can have playing. Good rhythmic dance music. Just playing, background music. When I get them up to dance, and I don't let anyone sit down, I make everyone get up to dance, the first thing I do is get all of them up and get them moving to one of our most modern sounding singing call tunes. Get them moving to it by circling left, right, promenading. I am calling. I teach with the music going. I never turn the music off. I never walk people through and then start the music. This is a bad psychology because the new dancers says "we listen while he's talking but when the music starts we do the dance and we don't listen anymore." But if the music is going they listen all the time so I do the walkthrus with the music on. This is called dance throughs rather than walk throughs. I immediately point out to them that there are three rhythms of the music, the downbeat, the upbeat, and the phrase and that there is a further rhythm which is the chorus (64 steps) and that most of the dances we are going to do will be measured this way. They don't have to count because the music will tell them and then I have them say "go" with me at the beginning of each musical phrase and every beginner, virtually every beginner that's ever come into a class, knows where that phrase is and can say "go." He feels it. Why? Because from the time he was a child he's learned to recite "little boy blue come blow your horn, the sheep's in the meadow, the cows in the corn." This is a phrase, so as far as we are concerned this is 8 beats. It's "one, go" and the music is (some humming here) . So he knows that, he feels that when he comes into the class. Of course, most callers have been teaching him to recite, "little boy blue come blow the sheep's in the meadow the cow's in." He isn't satisfied with this but he accepts that this is square dancing. It isn't difficult to teach him to move to music, to teach him to glide (and set the heel down), glide forward on the upbeat - I use the term boom-chuck, boom-chuck. They glide on the chuck, the cord, the upbeat. They set the heal down on the boom. Chuck-boom, chuck-boom, chuck-boom. I get them moving in conscious of this and conscious of every-so-far in the music it says "go". At that point we begin the figure. In their first training, we train them from the first minute, in strongly phrased dancing. Then we teach them to break the phrase later, in self defense they must. There are cases where we must break the phrase anyway. In all dancing where we have the relation of 6's and 8's. For example, you're across the set from a person, the first and third couples. If you Dosado the opposite lady it will take longer than to Dosado the corner because she is two steps nearer to you - so you're going to save those 2 steps, anyway that you look at it, for the corner. So Dosado the corner becomes 6 steps. The dancer doesn't need to be concerned but the caller must learn how to put 2 6's and a 4 together and come back out on phrase. This is why what I have to teach and what I have to offer has not been to popular. It requires work and study and effort. Anybody can get up and just recite words and ignore the music but it will not be sustained dancing. You see, from the beginning of man's history dancing has been to music, and every form of dancing in the history of the world is precisely measured…

(big quiet gap and again it just starts up)
[Here is the Missing piece...in blue...courtesy of Jeff & Tracie Garbutt. 4-12-02]

… to music, except modern square dancing. I know what you're going to say, you must be crazy. So I work towards leading people into dancing with the music. It's tremendous and satisfying if you know how. But, I definitely….

..... advise against trying to change any existing dancer who has not been trained this way. Everything I recommend is to begin with the new dancer and develop him properly. Don't try to change the existing dancers and say, "here, you have ignored the music all your dance experience, now you must listen." He'll tell you where to go. That's a heartbreaking cost. We do hope, in this country, that this trend that's started --and you're saying that I have help - I have tremendous growing help -- most of the national leaders now are of the same opinion and teaching, in general, the same way I am doing. Joe Lewis, Bob Osgood, Jim/Jenny Brooks, Bruce/Shirley Johnson, Frankie Lane, Don Armstrong, these people are dedicated towards good dancing, smooth dancing, comfortable dancing for fun and fellowship. And there is special emphasis on the sociability and the fellowship and the fun. They are all working towards the same angle.

Of course we have no one understanding what we are doing who condemn what we're doing. If a man condemns what I do, if he says I'm wrong, I say, "do it, do what I do, then I'll let you condemn me." I have never found anyone who can phrase and time properly and use correct design of the dance and knows and understands the music in relation to the dancing to the music that disagrees with me. It's only those who cannot do this who say, "it ain't no good" and what they are saying is, "I don't know how so I don't like it." The same as the dancer who says, "I don't like round dancing" meaning "I don't know how."

Jack:
That's another point Ed. I've noticed that in all clubs you are using round dancing.

Ed:
Yes. Not all, thank goodness 99% perhaps. There are still a few people round dancing but we have there again the same situation as in square dancing. Too much, too many, too intricate, too much emphasis on choreography. Tricky positions, tricky little steps. This happened in America between 1890 and 1900. They wrote thousands of tricky, cute little 2-steps and the whole activity degenerated to just a straight circle two-step. We lost round dancing then. There are those who would apparently do the same thing again. We have this growing number of composed dances and the caller couldn't keep up with it about 10 years ago. He couldn't keep up with the growing number of composed dances, learn them and teach them. Up to that time every caller taught round dances to every square dancer. Then someone started a round dance class separate from the square dance. This divided our activity between the people who had the time, the inclination, the money, and went to the round dance class and those who did not. Every club that we have is divided right down the center. We have a sad situation now where we putting on material, on the program, that part of the people don't know how to do. This caused a decline in round dancing to a less than 20% a couple three years back. It's grown a bit, it's back to about 25% participation on a national basis from our records. Our records are not complete, we do a pretty good survey because we have them set up the round dance programs wherever we go and we keep track of the percentage doing each round. Percentage of total in terms of the dance. It gives us a pretty good picture of what the average participation in a given community is but not really a good picture because only the fairly-enthusiastic to very-enthusiastic dancers will buy a ticket to our touring callers dance so I don't even reach the John-dancer who just goes to his club on Tuesday night once a week or twice a month.


Start of Interview
PART ONE
PART TWO
PART THREE
German Translation
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