In a Land Long, Long Ago

Moore Thoughts   by PAUL MOORE

In a Land Long, Long Ago

In this land of long ago there was a manufacturing magnate who “invited” his corporate officers to his favor- ite social activity. People dressed in their finest: gentle- men were in tuxedos and women wore their elegant floor length gowns. They would arrive (punctually of course) at the hall built specifically for this activity in Dearborn, Michigan. The lights of the chandeliers reflected off the hardwood floor which was polished daily whether it had been used since the last polishing or not.

When the host and hostess arrived, all of the guests were arranged around the margins of the room since no one walked straight across the floor. An orchestra was set up at the head of the hall and the dancing master took his place to announce and prompt the evening’s events. Then the orchestra broke into familiar American folk tunes and the people moved around the hall doing waltzes and contra danc- es and square dances. The favorite dance of the host was The Virginia Reel.


In our current time we associate old time square dancing with barn dancing. That certainly was not the case at Lovett Hall which Henry Ford built. The dancing was lively, but it was precise and not rowdy. The dancing master was Benjamin Lovett who had been teaching dancing at the Wayside Inn in New Hampshire. Ford liked Lovett’s style so much that he tried to hire Lovett to move to Dearborn to teach dancing at the Hall and to local schools, especially universities so those students could carry on the traditions. Lovett’s sal- ary was unheard of for those days, and he was given room, board, and new car annually. There was a snag in Ford hiring Lovett – Lovett had a contract with the Wayside Inn and did not feel he could break that contract. Ford’s solution was amazingly simple: he bought the Inn and Lovett’s contract.

Instead of a gig of several months as he expected, Benjamin Lovett worked for Ford until Ford’s death, about 30 years later. During his time in Dearborn, Lovett trained and hired many young dancers who went out into the local elementary and high schools. He set up dance programs at a number of universities. And he made weekly trips to New York to call dances over the radio waves. However, the Ford influence on square dancing died when he died. Lovett packed up and returned to New England, but Lovett Hall still exists.

There was one man who changed the whole nature of square dancing: Dr. Lloyd “Pap- py” Shaw. Shaw was a teacher, principal, and superintendent at a small school just out- side of Colorado Springs. To put it mildly, Shaw was a magician with people. His students (his kids) would do most anything for him, and he attracted the friendship and sponsor- ship of some wealthy and influential citizens of Colorado Springs.

This next part will sound a little strange, but because his tiny school won the State eight-man football championship, he dropped football from the school. That’s right because his team won he dropped the program. As he explained, football was not a program that included all of the students. The girls were relegated to the sidelines and were there just for decoration. The press made the quarterback and running backs into heroes but never mentioned the linemen. Coverage of the games turned the kids into stars simply because they were a little bigger and could push other kids around.

“Pappy” looked for an activity that would involve all students without creating a false sense of pride in any one of them. He tried skiing, rodeo (he even tried to ride a bull), gliders, etc. In his travels around the Eastern side of the Rockies and down into Texas Shaw became aware of square dancing as versus folk dancing. The kids fell for it. They felt they were doing something that was really fun and meaningful. They worked hard on developing a demonstration team to meet the requests of local, then statewide, then nationwide exhibitions.

Shaw did not teach his kids barn dancing. He taught them to dance lively dances that appeared throughout American history with grace and poise. (There was an old timer who danced back in the early 1900s who said there never was the barn dance as it was portrayed in the movies. Dances were family events where people dressed as well as they could. There may have been a cowhand or two who hit the jug, but they were not welcome.)When Shaw held summer workshops for callers, he taught them to dance tall and well. As his wife Doro- thy said, do not measure a dancer by how much he knows; measure by how well he dances what he knows. Smooth dancing to the music was a must. “Pappy” also believed in having variety in dances by including contras and couple dances. At the same time he was not shy about introducing new figures into square dancing. He invented Do-Paso which was a sim- plified version of the old Texas Do-Si-Do, which was not similar at all to what we know as Do-Sa-Do. He introduced All Around and See Saw, as well as Allemande Thar.

Callers who attended Shaw’s summer workshops went home and wanted to share that experience with their dancers, but it was not possible in the format of the time. Bob Osgood recalls having regular crowds of 200 dancers every Saturday night, but he had to teach everything from the very beginning. Many callers told of getting tired of teaching and calling Birdie in the Cage and Allemande Left. Their solution was to start holding classes for dancers who wanted more. Every caller, however, had his own list of figures, and even the names of the calls were not consistent.

Inadvertently callers and dancers began to divide dancers into specific groups. The first division was between “beginners” and “experienced” dancers. The other division was among the calls used by different callers, even in the same area. As early as 1949, a num- ber of callers in greater Los Angeles got together to agree on a handful of basic calls. They put out a plea to all callers in the area that if they used a particular call to use it the same way as other callers. But there was no attempt to limit what calls could be used.

The seeds of a major problem were sown, but the problem was not yet recognized, so there really was no thought of a solution.  

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