Tag Archives: old time is a good time
I was interviewed by Laura Herberg from the NPR web show, State of the Reunion, about calling square dances. The show featured a video segment about Old Time music in Los Angeles, which I will also post below.
Taking the Old Time Torch
By Laura Herberg
Our recent “Sounds of the Re:Union” episode features the old time music and square dance scene in LA. In the episode, one of the people we hear from is Susan Michaels. Susan’s been calling at LA square dances for decades. She also helps to keep the old time tradition in LA alive by teaching a new generation how to call.
One of her mentees, Cory Marie Podielski, has been calling for a little more than a year. We asked Cory some questions about how and why she participates in the LA Old Time scene. Here’s what she had to say:
SOTRU: What appealed to you about being a square dance caller?
CP: When you see live bands, especially in LA, typically no one dances. Everyone just stands in a crowd perfectly still, staring. It has always driven me CRAZY. When it comes to dancing in public, I think that many people are just shy, but they come off as “too cool for school.” It’s all about taking that first courageous plunge to start dancing first, the “I might look really stupid doing this and yes I might annoy people around me” plunge. Once someone breaks that barrier other people feel inclined to dance too – it’s like a domino effect.
Well with square dancing, you are the oddball out if you are not dancing! And the caller is there telling you it’s okay to dance: total encouragement. I like telling people that it is okay to dance. I think the only bad thing about calling is that I can’t dance.
SOTRU: How did you learn to call?
CP: The Los Angeles Old Time Social, which happens in May every year, has lots of free workshops. One of the workshops in 2008 was a calling workshop led by Susan Michaels, I decided to take it for fun. Susan and I hit if off in the workshop and she encouraged me to pursue calling. I am really lucky to have her as my mentor; Susan is a total treasure. It wasn’t until she took me under her wing that I really began to learn what it means to be a caller. After she helped me get on my feet, I found that the best way to learn is by going to the dances and listening to other callers.
[dress on Cory by Ruth Podielski]
SOTRU: What do you enjoy about calling?
CP: You tell people what to do and then they listen! If I tell everyone to jump up and down, they most likely will. The sheer power is intoxicating! Just kidding… er…. kind of. Honestly, I enjoy working with the musicians and facilitating an atmosphere for people to dance. I especially love calling dances for folks who are new to dancing or don’t know what to expect.
SOTRU: Can you tell us about some of the events that you’ve called at?
CP: Calling square dances takes me to places where I would never normally go, and I love that. I’ve called dances at harvest festivals, art galleries, bars, street fairs, hilltops, traffic islands, house parties, rodeos, wineries, drag clubs, baby showers, etc. The place that we have thrown dances most consistently is at HM157, an artist collective in Lincoln Heights dedicated to community, sustainability, & education. The spirit of what we are doing and what they are doing jives really wonderfully, so it has been the perfect place for our dance scene to take root and grow.
SOTRU: Why do you think people are getting into the Old Time scene in LA?
CP: In general, there seems to be a return to simple activities to create community in urban settings, like craft parties, organized bicycle rides, or adult kickball leagues for example. Our old time square dances are a music and dance version of this – it’s non-competitive, not driven by formality or etiquette. It’s experimental, chaotic, revolutionary! But mostly it is just a good time and lots of fun.
SOTRU: You also design some of the posters for the LA Old Time square dances. Can you tell us about some of them and why you designed them the way you did?
I love poster design, so creating graphics for the square dances gives me a space to go wild creatively. I find inspiration from letterpress, old sheet music, and circus posters, film stills, Art Noveau & Art Deco, the list goes on and on. I like mixing the new with the old, creating a fusion and an updated look on the past. Which is precisely what we are doing with the square dances, adapting an art form of the past to fit our culture in contemporary Los Angeles. We aren’t re-enacting the past, we are taking the traditions of the past and making them our own.
For more on the Los Angeles Old Time scene visit the blog, www.oldtimeisagoodtime.com. Watch our Sounds of the Re:Union episode, Old Time in Los Angeles below:
I love square dancing. A lot.
I have been thinking about why I like it so much, hence this long blog about it, which you may or my not be interested in reading, but I mostly just wanted to say thank you, so much so being part of this community and help to get the squarevolution established in Los Angeles, a city where it is challenging to be connected to people on a basic face-to-face essential way. I totally love you and I hope to see you at the dance tomorrow.
these are some thoughts I’ve had lately about dancing…
I talk to people all the time about how square dancing is so revolutionary, and how Los Angeles desperately needs more social events that involve participation and interaction. Hesitant curiosity and the rehashing of junior high memories are the most common responses to my case, but once folks make it to a dance, they are converted. When I design flyers for the dances we throw, I use tag lines you might see on a QVC infomercial like: “Feel great! Lose weight! Find true love! Cure depression! Make friends!” In this case, the taglines are absolutely true. Dance connects people in a simple, yet essential way. The dances we create in our community fit into a larger movement focusing on sustainability and process. They are also an expression of joy and happiness, creating balance within the larger whole.
I was thinking the other day about going to see live bands, especially in LA, and how typically no one dances. Everyone just stands in a crowd perfectly still, staring. It has always driven me CRAZY!!! And I know it drives many bands crazy too. Bands love it when folks dance to their music.
eXample: I went to go see DeVotchka in the fall at the El Rey and was so disappointed that not one person felt inclined to dance; what’s the point of having a dance floor and stand if you aren’t gonna move around? – you might as well be sitting. This happens in countless genres in all sorts of venues. Even when bands ask the crowd to dance, sometimes they don’t.
For the most part, I think people are just shy, which can come off as “too cool for school.” Lots of times my friends and I are the first people to start dancing at a show, and before you know it many other people muster up the courage to join in. It’s taking that first plunge, the “I might look really stupid doing this and yes I might annoy people around me” plunge. Once someone breaks that barrier other people feel inclined to dance too.
Well with square dancing, you are the oddball out if you are not dancing! And the caller is there telling you it’s okay to dance, total encouragement. I think the only bad thing about calling is that I can’t dance. I love to see more folks dancing in a less formal way at live shows. Los Angeles needs more callers, are you interested in learning?
I like this quote by caller Dudley Laufman about how traditions can be flexible:
“My feeling is that as far as tradition is concerned let’s just do it and not waste a lot of time talking about it. You know we celebrate Christmas but we don’t waste a lot of time talking about the traditions involved, we just do them. We know we’re going to eat turkey, decorate the tree, open our presents, and other things. Well, it’s just the same with the dancing. We know one way or another we’re going to dance on Saturday night and that is tradition.” [Nevell, Richard. A Time To Dance 1977 p.112]
yep. let’s just do it and not spend a lot of time wondering how to do it or if we are even doing it right.
It reminds me of something that Vaginal Davis said about Bricktops and running a 20s/old-timey club. She said that people who take inspiration from the old time fashion, music, culture, etc. and make it their own are far more interesting than people who exactly copy the style and reenact stereotypes of days gone by. Museum pieces, she calls them. I couldn’t agree more and I know that’s why I haven’t found a good old timey club since Bricktops.
Most of the new clubs in Los Angeles are focused on form and etiquette, acting and reenactment, emulating a sort of fake persona of what they think went on in the past. It’s stale simulacra! I am just not cut from the same cloth as these folks. I do believe that history and tradition deserve respect and investigation, but it is far better to take this knowledge and apply it to the present instead of living in the past. DIY punk rock all the way! For the first time since Bricktops; I feel that way about the old time square dance scene. It’s all smiles all around; anyone can join the fun…
And I could go on and on, but I am going to leave you with this quote from a rad book about the history of American folk dancing that I highly recommend, A Time to Dance…
“We live in a furiously growing and frantically active country…. Almost, we have gasoline motors for hearts, and wheels for legs. We have become hardened to killing, both of man and beast; to destruction, both in war and in peace…. Always, we are looking for what is tangible, commercially usable, profitable, and immediate. We level the mountain and dam the river to serve our ‘needs.’ The arts of which we speak (music and dance) are not invulnerable. They too can be exploited…leveled down to the earth and replaced by something less lovely and meaningful. Inspired leadership will bring them back, only to be levelled again. The American folk dance has been going through a mechanistic period during the past few years, but leadership is bringing back to grace, slowly, almost slyly.”
From the Lloyd Shaw Foundation
(Nevell, Richard. A Time To Dance 1977 p. 210)