Wasatch Wiggle Report

Imagine travelling 600 miles to a remote mountain resort outside Salt Lake City, Utah to be the guest caller at a dance weekend you’ve never attended. You’ll be working with a band you’ve never heard play and calling for dancers you’ve never seen dance. Will they know how to dance? Does the band know the kinds of tunes you need? How will you be received? Luckily, I didn’t spend much time worrying about any of these things. If I had, it would have been a waste of time. The weekend worked out just fine.

I just wrote this blurb for the Bag o’ Tricks’, my band for the weekend, web page.

“I was hired to call a dance weekend in Utah with Bag o’ Tricks. Neither the band nor I had ever encountered one another. I was in for a mighty pleasant surprise–I absolutely adored working with Bag o’ Tricks! Anita Anderson, Dave Bartley, and Sande Gillette are hugely talented, supremely cooperative, eager to please, hilarious, upbeat and amazingly versatile. Need a rowdy, southern, tune? Done. Slinky, sexy, jazzy? Done, done, done. Flowing, mixed, African/Egyptian? No problem. English country? Anita will help you teach by lightly playing piano during the walk-throughs. And they authored half the tunes they play. An added bonus: all band members are delightful, good-hearted human beings and lots of fun to hang out with. I’d work with them again in a heartbeat!”

Bag o’ Tricks’ fiddler Sande Gillette replied,

“Thank you so much for all your kind words. The feeling is definitely mutual — we had so much fun working with you and experiencing your wide range of styles, your amazing ability to make people not only comfortable but ready to also try something new, and your fun sense of humor. We saw behind the scenes how much preparation and thought you had given to the weekend, but you have the great ability to make it all seem spontaneous — a recipe for success for dancers, musicians, caller, and camp. I hope we have the opportunity to work with you somewhere again soon!!!!”

Those two quotes summarize the success of the weekend. But I’ll share a few more details.

I was walking out of my room at the quaint Brighton Lodge, when I rounded a corner and saw two people, one of whom (Dave Bartley) I recognized from the Wiggle web page. “Are you Mary?” I asked the other person. “Are you Merri?” she replied. It was Dave and his wife Mary, returning from a hike. We hugged and immediately took to each other. These two have been married for 17 years, and both radiate exceptionally good kharma:

Mary & Dave Bartley, Photo by Merri Rudd, (c) 2006

The Wasatch Wiggle camp is set at 9,000′ elevation and the dance hall is up a steep hill from the Brighton Lodge. The Wasatch Mountain Club built the dark wood facility in 1921, I think, with various add-ons since then. It has low ceilings, good acoustics, a great wood floor, and two large posts down the middle of the room that scared me as I watched the dancers. No one knocked themselves unconscious dancing into the posts, I’m happy to report.

My Albuquerque friends and long-time travelling companions Melissa and Lew joined me at the Wiggle. An extra surprise: Richard Riger from Albuquerque signed up at the last minute to help Nancy from Texas gain admittance to the weekend. It was his first out-of-state camp, and he blogged about it at http://folkmadsroadtrips.blogspot.com/. Most of the other dancers hailed from Utah, with a smattering from Idaho, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado, Florida and Georgia.

The organizers, Brenda, Tom, Melanie, Lori, and Debbie, have created a very welcoming weekend. It’s a small camp (65 dancers) in a woodsy setting. Communal eating at long tables fosters more camaraderie than urban camps, where everyone stays at different places. Head Honcho and Chief Chef Brenda provided a variety of tasty and nutritious food–from homemade granola to burgers (and veggie burgers) cooked over open grills on the back patio–yum! Salads, homemade peach cobbler, served warm with ice cream, brownies, sweet handmade breakfast tamales, and healthy main dishes rounded out the menu.

At least 6 and maybe 10 folks were there who were also at the Maymadness weekend I co-called in Prescott, Arizona a few months earlier. This time, however, there was not a second caller with whom to share the weekend. I was the guest caller for the weekend. I called three hours Friday night, taught three workshops Saturday, including English country, then called all but one hour of the Saturday evening dance. Called the Sunday farewell dance and then taught a two-hour caller’s workshop after camp officially ended. I called lots of interesting and some complex dances, many different than my Arizona program. I couldn’t stump the dancers; they looked great! Although I did go onto the dance floor a few times to avert some confusion…

On Saturday I’m heading down the path through the woods back to my room, when a lady approaches me. “I love English!,” she beamed. “Oh? Cool. How long have you been dancing it?” I asked. “First time was your workshop just now.” Ha!!! Another one hooked. For someone who hated English dance for 20 years (me), it shocks me that I love English enough to teach it now. Joseph Pimentel, one of my English dance coaches, is “thrilled” I’m leading English dance. He loves English country dance too and has taught it much longer than I have. What was great about the Wiggle weekend is that the band really liked playing English music, some of which was 400 years old. And the dancers were enthusiastic about dancing English too, which is not always the case with contra dancers. These dancers looked elegantly English and seemed to enjoy the nuance and saucy “moments” that English country dance provides. Whoever has been leading them locally has done a great job encouraging them to embrace multiple dance forms. Huzzah to the local dance leaders!

Sande (fiddle), Dave (mandolin), Anita (piano)
Photo by Merri Rudd, (c) 2006 (if someone sends me a better photo of all of us, I’ll post it!)

The Bellows Fellows (2 accordians and a guitar) played for a few workshops and one hour of the Saturday evening dance.

Bellows Fellows and Tom’s Bass Hand, Photo by Merri Rudd, (c) 2006

I made a little movie of them playing MUSIC FOR A FOUND HARMONIUM, quite amazing. John and Dori from California taught a Scandinavian workshop. They are excellent and graceful teachers.

Eight students attended my calling workshop after the camp, a few calling for the first time ever. It was really fun! Callers don’t come to the stage to copy dance cards anymore. Instead they take a digital photo of the sheet or card for later use. I wonder if other callers have noticed this?

My favorite feedback from the camp e-evaluations was, “Merri was quite good, better than I expected. Excellent decision, hiring her! Bands were good too. And I even enjoyed the Scandinavian workshop, something I don’t usually like.” I’m happy that I can pleasantly surprise folks on occasion!

Although my throat muscles were sore for several days after, I didn’t get hoarse or have laryngitis. Sound guys were great! I will spare readers stories about music in the key of P, the hungry, hungry flies, and stumbling about in the dark looking for the trail to the lodge, while avoiding holes in the road where water flowed UNDER the road surface.

Melissa, Lew, Mark and I camped together for 3 nights afterwards in Utah. Then Melissa and Lew headed back to Albuquerque. Mark and I stayed out another week or so, camping in WY and CO. One evening we spent two hours watching a great horned owl catch, kill, eat, rest, regurgitate, drink from the river, and finally roost on a fence post, silouhetted by the setting sun. Our last morning, we encountered a mama deer and 2 spotted fawns nursing in the middle of the forest road.

Photo by Mark Justice Hinton, (c) 2006

Whether she had twins or had taken in an orphaned fawn, either way, it was breath-taking. A few hours later we arrived back to the noisy, crowded urban world.

That’s my report for now. Unfortunately, I had to turn off the “comment” function on my blog due to spammers taking advantage. But email me anytime with comments, and I’ll be happy to post them.

Merri Rudd