Square Dancing!

Murphy Henry

(Very little bluegrass content but banjo is mentioned!)

After spending a productive five days at Kaufman Kamp last week, I headed north to Louisville, Kentucky, for the National Square Dance Convention. I was driving 250 miles so I could dance for one day! Held in the Kentucky Expo Center, the convention was a huge affair which drew over 8,000 people from every state in the Union and several foreign countries.

One of the things I was looking forward to was dancing with Murphy Method student, Travis Cook. When I blogged about Square Dancing and Banjo Playing back in March, he sent a comment saying, “As a young caller (and beginning banjo student) from Kentucky, welcome to the world of Square Dancing! Glad you’re enjoying it!”

I sent back an email inquiring if he were a young person or just a new caller and asking if he was going to the Nationals in June. He responded saying he was 22, had been dancing since he was 13, started calling a few years later, and was originally from Knott County, Kentucky—“Coal country, deep in the hills. Bluegrass was a way of life!” He is now studying Computer Engineering in Louisville and works as a Web Services Consultant for First Quality Music and Sullivan Banjo Co. And he said, yes, he would be at the Nationals. He closed by saying, “Have fun at the festival! I hope you'll write about your time there. I look forward to following your square dance journey!”

So a few days before Kaufman Kamp, I sent Travis an email with my contact info, telling him to call me on Saturday so we could hook up for a dance. He did and we did!

There were a number of different dance halls at the Expo Center—easy square dancing (Mainstream), harder square dancing (Plus), round dancing, clogging, a youth hall, a solo hall, and the arena with a live band at night. Travis was calling a “tip” (two dances in a row, one a singing call) and serving as emcee in the solo hall (for dancers who come without partners), so we arranged to meet there at 7:30 Saturday night.

As I walked into the solo hall, I realized that I didn’t know what Travis looked like, and if he had been watching the Beginning Banjo DVDs he might not recognize me, twenty years after their making! But since he was the only young man in the room I figured it out, and we delightedly gave each other a big “yellowrock,” which is square dance lingo for “hug.” He introduced me to his girlfriend, Dorothy, who is also a dancer.

Travis didn’t have to call right away, so he asked me to dance and away we went! He is a smooth and confident dancer who likes to create a good time on the dance floor. We danced a tip, and then he had to get ready to call, so I sat down beside Dorothy. We talked a bit and she told me she and Travis had met at a square dance and that they had been going together nine years. So it occurred to me that if she had been dancing that long.....she probably could dance the boy’s part (as many women do) so I asked her if she could and she said yes, so we hit the dance floor!

Dorothy is a lively, assured dancer, and we were dancing in a square that had several other female couples and it was so much fun! Between dances the composition of the square changed a little bit, and at one point there were SEVEN women and one man squaring up. Then a woman from the sidelines jumped up and asked the man if she could dance in his place and he graciously ceded his spot to her, so we had an all-female square. I found out later I can get a “dangle” to hang on my square dancing badge that says I’ve danced in an all-female square. I can put it alongside my two other “dangles,” one for square dancing in an IHOP (!), and the other, a Purple Heart, for dancing in a square with three callers! Great sense of humor, these square dance folks!

Dorothy and I were dancing while Travis was calling and he did a great job. He’d been tossing down cough drops like candy because he had bronchitis, but you couldn’t tell it when he hit the stage. His singing call was “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” one of my favorite songs, and his voice was coming out strong and clear. I never in my wildest dreams imagined I’d ever be square dancing while a Murphy Method banjo student did the calling. Life does take some wonderfully unexpected turns!

After Travis’s tip, I congratulated him on his singing and calling and said goodbye, with another yellowrock, of course. It’s the square dance way! I headed for the Plus hall where I danced until 11:00 p.m. Then I took my tired and blistered feet back to the hotel room, crawled in bed with a couple of cold Coronas, watched some old episodes of House on TV, and blissfully fell asleep.

My square dance journey takes another completely unbelievable turn this Saturday when I will square dance on a parade float in Middletown, Virginia. The only thing I can think to say about that is: Well, I never!

Stay tuned for my next blog which might possibly be about banjo!

2 thoughts on “Square Dancing!

  1. Martin Bacon

    Very fun story, Murphy. Your enthusiasm for square dancing equals your enthusiasm for banjo teaching.


  2. Travis Cook

    A post like this will give a guy an Ego! Thanks for all of the kind words – it was great meeting you!

    I’m glad you enjoyed the convention- I hope Louisville treated you well!

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