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Let's Square Dance - instructional films, 1950s

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Let's Square Dance - instructional films, 1950s


In the mid-1950s, Janet R. MacLean, a professor in the Indiana University Department of Recreation, produced a series of six instructional films to introduce square dancing. The films, each approximately 10 minutes in length, show young dancers, probably students at the university, demonstrating different dance figures. Dancers wear large numbers front and back, so it is easy to keep track of where each dancer moves in the course of the figure. Animated diagrams are also employed to illustrate the patterns. After the instruction, each film ends with the dance being done to recorded music.

Five of the six films are in color; listed below is the personnel for the accompanying recording. Four different callers are heard in the series of six recordings; the arrangements in each case are by Newell Long.

1954- Take a Little Peek: Let's Square Dance 1
Tune:  Old Joe Clark
Calls by Art Bland

1954- Split the Ring: Let's Square Dance 2 (B&W footage)
Tune: ‘Possum in the ‘Simmon Tree
Calls by Jim Bonahoom

1955- Grapevine Twist: Let's Square Dance 3
Tune: Soldier’s Joy
Calls by Isreal Heaton

(A search for "Grapevine Twist" in this project's digital collection will return references, audio clips, and video clips showing that figure, including Elizabeth Burchenal's silent footage from the 1930s.)

1956- Forward Up Six: Let's Square Dance 4
Tune: Devil’s Dream
Calls by George Vuke

1957- Texas Star: Let's Square Dance 5
Tune: Four and Twenty, Nellie Bly
Calls by Isreal Heaton

1957- Hoosier Promenade: Let's Square Dance 6
Tune: Hoosier Promenade
Calls by Jim Bonahoom

SDHP would like to thank Rachael Stoeltje, Director, Indiana University Libraries Film Archive, and her colleague, Asia Harman, for their cooperation in digitizing this footage, making it available online, and supplying information about the tunes and callers.

Listening to one of the recordings, caller Tony Parkes commented, "This caller, whoever he is, reminds me a lot of Pappy Shaw: the cultured tone and good enunciation, the slight dropping in pitch at the end of many call lines. The orchestra has a definite Eastern sound. They, or at least their leader, had obviously listened to Ed Durlacher's Top Hands; the violinist has the classical technique and "sweet" sound of Frank Novak, Durlacher's bandleader. Like the Top Hands, this group features key changes and multiple lead instruments, but these arrangements are even more sophisticated than Novak's, changing keys more often and frequently transmuting a well-known tune into a minor mode. I doubt if any traditional square dance band in Indiana or surrounding states ever sounded like this. It's just possible that during the Big Band era, a group somewhere played for both "round" and square dancing, and its arranger had this kind of fun with the square dance tunes."

New York caller Dick Kraus recorded a series for RCA, also titled "Let's Square Dance!" Both projects started at about the same time, in the mid-1950s, but it's likely that neither group was aware of the other


Indiana University film archives

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Item Relations

Item: American Square Dance - Coronet Films, 1947 is related to This Item
Item: Square Dance Patterns - Joan Bennett is related to This Item
Item: Beginners Square Dance - plan for ten lessons (Don Armstrong) is related to This Item