David Keller (2nd from R) with dancers at Chance Dance

David Keller (2nd from R) with dancers at Chance Dance

David Keller (1946-2015)

Our dear fellow dancer, David Keller, passed away on March 30, 2015 in his home in Ballwin, MO. David was a tireless helper at our dances, "Mr. Lost-and-Found" to everyone who ever left something behind at a dance and happily found that David had rescued it. He was the guy who came early and stayed late, helping the sound crew, checking the Monday Club for stray bottles and jackets left in the hall, helping get tables and chairs put in the right places, and making sure the floor was swept. He performed similarly invisible-but-critically-important work at our dance weekend, Kimmswick, checking all the cabins for cleanliness both before and after the weekend and lending a hand wherever it was needed. Without David, nothing would have worked as smoothly as it did.

Many dancers commented on his sweet kindness as a dancer, and a few lucky ones were treated to his killer dry humor. David joined the current generation of callers in St Louis, from the very formation of the "Hatchling" group in 2007, and called at every Hatchling Dance, and later at nearly every Callers Choice dance, for seven years, 2007-2014. He was a regular at the Calling Parties and was always among the first to "get" the crazy moves our choreographers liked to try out on us.

He was a truly valuable member of our community, and we will miss him!

His obituary is here:

David had been a member of the US Army, and we agreed that he would have loved the fact that we decided to make a donation in his name to Dancing Well, the Soldier Project, which helps soldiers with brain trauma or PTSD regain a measure of health and social interaction through contra dancing.  Thanks to the generosity of members of our dance community we were able to make a contribution of $580 to the project.

Dance written in 2011 in David's honor by John Coffman

David's Daily Double by John Coffman        7/11, Revised 12/11   Duple, Improper

A1     Neighbor Allemande Right 1 1/2 (8),   1/2 Hey {Men pass LEFT shoulders to start} (8)

A2     Neighbor Balance and Swing (16)

B1     Circle Left 3/4 (8),   Partner Swing (16)

B2     Ladies Chain (8), Balance the Ring (4), Cross Trails Through (4). Meet new neighbors to start the dance over.

Alternate A2: Neighbor Gypsy and Swing (16)

Notes: The Cross Trails Through is achieved when all dancers pass their partner (across the set) by right shoulders to move to their original side.  The Neighbor Lady turns to her individual left 90 degrees to face her next neighbor WHILE that same lady's neighbor man turns to his individual right 90 degrees to face his next neighbor.  During the Cross Trails Through, the lady always turns in front of the man.

CDSS Article on Hatchlings

Hatchling Buttons

Developing Callers in St Louis, MO

The Hatchling Project encourages good calling, good dancing, good music, traditions, evolution of traditions, and fun.

By Martha Edwards
The article as it appearred in the Summer 2009 issue of CDSS News

If you live in some of the more-developed dance regions, I hear you have a problem. You have so many good callers that new callers don’t have a hope of getting enough practice to become future good callers. As callers age, so does your dance group, and there’s no one coming along to take your place.

If you live in one of the less-developed regions, I hear you also have a problem. You don’t have enough good callers to keep your dancers coming back for more. Or perhaps your callers are pretty good but there’s a breakdown or two every evening, and your dancers’ skills are not improving. Your community may be shrinking, and your dance isn’t particularly attracting new people, for whatever reason.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some really good new callers now making the national rounds at dance weekends. They learned somewhere, and since there is always room at the top, they get gigs. But I’m not talking about where our new great callers are going to come from, but where our new good callers are going to come from.

Perhaps you’ve tried holding calling workshops, led by your best local caller, and eight people show up, take the workshops for six weeks, and at the end, one person decides to continue, and then she moves away. It’s been ten years since a new caller started calling in your town.

If this is your situation, I offer a possible solution, one that has (so far) worked in St. Louis, and one which I believe is completely replicable almost anywhere. In six months, we had seven new callers, and that number is now up to nine.

All it takes is a big enough space to hold 10-12 dancers – we dance in my suburban home family room – some CDs, and the Internet.

There were three of us in the beginning, and we met a couple of times on a beautiful backyard deck and puzzled our way through some dances. We roped in a non-dancing friend to be the fourth in the set (It’s important to have someone who needs clear explanations in your practice group.) and began to figure out what to do. The three of us are long-time dancers, and one of us is a musician. We had attended a few one-day calling workshops in the past, but our actual calling experience was thin, to say the least. So we just jumped in. I casually mentioned what we were doing to the leader of our local contra group and he said “Why don’t you each call a couple of dances at the dance the week after next?” Gulp. Into the deep end. We managed it, with a few awkward moments, and were pushed quickly a ways up the learning curve.

We roped in a couple more friends, and then started buttonholing people in the dance group who we thought might make good candidates. We were looking mostly for the better dancers. In addition to specifically singling people out, I also made this announcement at several dances: “In this group of people there are several of you who would be terrific callers if you learned how to do it. We have no idea which one of you it is, and you probably don’t either. The only way to find out is to try it long enough that you learn how. We’re looking for talent and you just might be the one that has it.”

Some of the people we identified did join us, and a few others we hadn’t thought of volunteered, and we started getting together, once a week on alternating Tuesdays and Wednesdays (that didn’t last long), then on every other Wednesday, and finally, every Wednesday, every week, every month. We spend a portion of every get-together just discussing calling topics – what do you say, when do you say it, how long does a dance run, what do you say to the band, how do you learn to call without a card, that sort of thing – but the main event of the evening is simply people calling dances. We call them Calling Parties, and yes, they do involve wine and cheese and brownies.

Lately, we’ve started using a signup board, like an open calling night, to make sure everyone who wants to call gets a chance. We have found that, while you can have a lot of fun with just four people, the ideal number is twelve – ten to dance (so you get a progression without leaving out more than two people at a time, as you do with eight people dancing), one to call, and one to work the CD player.

After six months or so, we had seven callers. Our local contra dance group, the Childgrove Country Dancers, gave us tremendous support. Each of our regular callers is willing to give up a dance or two to let one of us call, and we were given occasional whole evenings where we could all call, and get practice planning an evening.

Then we started our own dance series, where everyone would get a chance to call one or two dances. We call ourselves “The Hatchlings”, since we are coming out of a caller incubator. We had badges made up (easier than t-shirts), each with a different hatched animal (birds, turtles, lizards, a Storm Trooper etc.). This branding has had its plusses– big plusses for buzz, fun, and being non-threatening, which we felt would help dancers feel comfortable attending our new dance series, which featured both contra and English Country dances. If something is new, but cute and cuddly, people feel comfortable trying it. If it’s new and serious (e.g., “The Callers Collective”), people might be scared off.

But the branding has had its minuses, too – we’ve been calling for well over a year now and we’d like to be taken seriously. We probably won’t switch from the *Hatchling name, but it does create a challenge for us to make the name mean “darned good, fresh calling” instead of “newbie wannabe.” It’s not impossible – words tend to assume the meaning of the thing they describe, so if we’re really successful, a caller’s having been a Hatchling will signify the value of practice, of sharing information, and supporting each other.

We found out that it was important to have non-callers (dancers) come to the Calling Parties as well (we call them “caviar” since they are as yet unhatched) and we emphasize in our announcements at our regular dances that new and inexperienced dancers are particularly welcome, to help us see immediately if our explanations work!

There have been other benefits besides an increased pool of callers. There is more understanding of the way the dance works among all our dancers, better understanding of how to help new dancers, and better calling from our regular callers (not so much from the increased competition, but from the increased interest in the caller’s art). One completely unexpected benefit is that several of the Hatchlings started writing dances! These new dance choreographers have written over twenty new dances, some of them quite good after they were worked and reworked over many weeks of using live salt-and-pepper shakers at the Calling Parties.

We started a blog to record the evolution of this experiment. You can see it at There you will find our statement of who we are and what we’re trying to be, but here’s the main part of that statement “We want to encourage good calling, good dancing, good music, traditions, evolution of traditions, and fun.” If you do the same, I’ll wager you’ll have new good callers this time next year.

* * * * *

*Postscript - We did switch from the Hatchling name, but just for the dances, which are now called "Callers' Choice Dances".

Our Callers

Local Callers

Contra Callers
Billy Boyer Deborah Hyland Dave Morse
John Coffman Sarah Kaiser Wade Pearson
Kathy Coffman Karen Jackson Lauren Peckman
Martha Edwards Allison Jonjak Ted Steele
Bob Green Mac McKeever Dale Wilson
Jim Hemphill    
English Callers
Billy Boyer Wade Pearson Mark Rice
Martha Edwards Conner Quinn Kay Tomlinson
Bob Green Zoë Quinn Keith Tuxhorn
Jill Horn John Ramsay Peter Wollenberg
Karen Jackson Missy Reisenleiter  

Regional Contra Callers

Jill Allen Lawrence, KS   Dot Kent IL
John Coffman Cape Girardeau, MO   Tamara Loewenthal Bloomington, IN
Kathy Coffman Cape Girardeau, MO   Paula McFarling Columbia, MO
Meg Dedolph Chicago, IL   Jo Mortland  Chicago, IL
Ken Gall Indianapolis, IN   Mark Richardson Bloomington, IN
Jerome Grisanti Maryville, MO   Heidi Stallman Columbia, MO
Debi Harp Springfield, MO   Joe Surdyk Carbondale, IL
Lisa Harris Lawrence, KS   Jim Thaxter Columbia, MO
Gail Hintze IL   Martha Tyner IL
Judy Bass MO   Keith Tuxhorn IL
      Valerie Young IL

Callers' Resources

The Earl Biffle Library

Earl Biffle has generously donated over 100 books and a large collection of music recordings to the St Louis dance community. These include dance instructions and music for English, Scottish, Morris, Renaissance, contra, round and square dancing. There are also a dozen music books and books on dance history.  Please contact Martha Edwards (meedwards at westendweb dot com) if you are interested in seeing them.  Here is a pdf of a partial list of the books.

The Carol Luer Library

Carol Luer has generously donated 21 English Country Dance books to the St Louis dance community. These include "The Country Dance Books" by Cecil Sharp (Parts 1-6), "The Fallibroome Collection" Volumes 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6, and  The Pat Shaw Collection Books 1-5, and eight other interesting books. Please contact Martha Edwards (meedwards at westendweb dot com) if you are interested in seeing them.

The Beneficial Tradition Library

The following books were donated by an anonymous patron for use by the St. Louis dance community. Anyone interested in borrowing one of these books should contact Deborah Hyland.

  • Ed Butenhof, Dance Parties for Beginners (Rochester NY: Lloyd Shaw Foundation, 1990)
  • Mary Dart McNab, Contra Dance Choreography: a reflection of social change (New York: Garland, 1995).
  • Penn Fixx, Contra Dances of the Great Northwest (Spokane WA: Self-published, 1991)
  • Gene Hubert, Dizzy Dances II (self-published?)
  • Gene Hubert, Dizzy Dances III (self-published?)
  • Larry Jennings, Zesty Contras (Cambridge MA: New England Folk Festival Association, 1983)
  • Ted Sannella, Balance and Swing: a collection of fifty-five squares, contras, and triplets in the New England tradition with music for each dance (New York: Country Dance and Song Society, 1982)

Web Links

Calling Discussion Groups Online - Here are two really good ones:

  • Trad-dance-caller - grandaddy of caller groups - great information on lots of dance forms and lots of topics but a bit intimidating
  • Shared Weight - newer, friendlier, more beginner-oriented group which focuses mainly on contra

Dances Online

The Hatchling/Calling Party Library

Here are some books that are available for perusing at the Calling Parties at Martha's house. Some of them are about calling, and some of them are collections of dances.

Essays and Books about Contra Dance

  • The Contra Connection & Basically for Callers by Larry Jennings, Dan Pearl and Ted Sanella
  • Dance Symmetry by Cary Ravitz
  • Notes on Composing Contras by Al Olson
  • Contra Dance Programming by Tom Hinds
  • Contra Dance Calling - A Basic Text by Tony Parkes
  • Balance and Swing by Ted Sannella
  • Contra Dance Choreography: a reflection of social change by Mary Dart McNab

Collections of Contra Dances

  • Cracking Chestnuts by David Smukler and David Millstone
  • Zesty Contras by Larry Jennings
  • Give and Take, a Sequel to Zesty Contras, by Larry Jennings
  • Syllabus of the Annual Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekends from 2002
  • Syllabus of the Annual Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekends from 2003
  • Syllabus of the Annual Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekends from 2004
  • The Lizard Research Institute & Other Dances by Carol Ormond
  • Jurassic Redheads and Other Dances by Carol Ormond
  • Midwest Folklore and Other Dances edited by Orace Johnson and Michael Fuerst
  • California Twirls - A Collection of Contradances and Three Community Histories
  • Dance All Night 2 by Tom Hinds
  • Dance All Night 3 by Tom Hinds
  • Dances from a Confused Caller's PDA by Tom Hinds
  • Dances for a Crowded Hall - Self-Contained English Dances by Michael Cicone, Mary Devlin, Barbara Finney, Brad Foster, Scott Higgs, and Alan Winston.
  • The Cardinal Collection - Traditional-Style dances and tunes by Joseph Pimentel and Friends
  • 21st Century Contras by Devin Nordson (formerly Devin Nordberg)

Books on other American dances

  • Sweets of May by Jacqueline and Dudley Laufman
  • Cowboy Dances by Lloyd Shaw
  • The Round Dance Book by Lloyd Shaw
  • Good Morning by Henry Ford (yes, that Henry Ford!)
  • 75 Years of Smelling the Flowers - a wonderful collection of some of John Ramsay's favorite dances, with their tunes, put together on the occasion of his 75th birthday
  • "No Kissing Allowed in School" - A Virginia Dancing School in 1784 by Kate Van Winkle Keller and George A. Fogg
  • Dances from George Washington's Birthday Balls by Leland Ticknor
  • Heritage Dances of Early America by Ralph Page
  • A Choice Selection of American Country Dances of the Revolutionary Era by Kate Van Winkel Keller and Ralph Sweet
  • Basic and Mainstream Movements of Square Dancing - the first two levels of Modern Western Square Dancing
  • Dance A While - Handbook for Folk, Square, Contra, and Social Dance, Eighth Edition edited by Jane A. Harris, Anne M. Pittman, Marlys S. Waller and Cathy L. Dark

Books on English Country Dance

  • Notes on Teaching Country Dance by Bruce Hamilton
  • The Playford Ball - 103 Early English Country Dances edited by Kate Van Winkle Keller and Genevieve Shimer
  • Favorites of the Boston Centre - Dances for Volume 1 (of the English Country Dance Collection CDs by Bare Necessities) - edited by Helene Cornelius and Francis Attanasio
  • Dances from Barnes Two compiled by Allison Thompson - mostly modern English Country Dances

Other Useful Books

  • Your Voice at its Best by David Blair McCloskey

Happy Dancing!