Saturday, 06 February 2016 23:24

DASRDC History Report – A Blast From the Past #17 aka History Corner, February 2016

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DASRDC History Report

By Griz & Senda Casada Griswold

A Blast from the Past #17 aka History Corner


We know that you have been dying to get the answers to the trivia questions from last month’s history report, so here you are;

Question 1: Who was the first square dance record producer? 
Question 2: Who was the first caller to be recorded?
Answer 1&2: At the request of Henry Ford, Thomas Edison recorded Benjamin Lovett calling square dances.  Mr. Ford wanted the recordings to be used in school programs across the United States. 

Question 3: Did the Brady Bunch ever square dance?
Answer 3: Yes, in their living room. (Episode #80)

Question 4:  What Paule Shore movie had square dancing?  Can you name the caller?                       Answer 4: The Son-In Law.  Ernie Kinney

Question 5: How many movies can you name with Square Dance in the title?                                        Answer 5: Square Dance Katy (1950), Square Dance (1987)

Question 6: Who on the TV show Tool Time was learning to be a square dance caller?
Answer 6: Al was taking a home correspondence course in square dance calling.

The word clodhopper is thought to have come into the English language as a 1690s slang, "one who works on plowed land, a rustic," from the noun clod and the verb hop. In a sense the word was similar to clod-breaker or clod-crusher; and perhaps a play on grasshopper. Basically, it was a rather derogatory term for a farmer. By 1836 the term was extended to include the shoes worn by such workers and since taken on the meaning of the negative footwear of my youth. I remember using the word clodhopper, referring the big ugly corrective shoes that my folks forced me to wear when I (Griz) was a youngster.

I had not thought of the word clodhopper for many decades until coming across a serial article from Square Dance Magazine that ran from December 1971 to April 1972 entitled “The Clodhopper Dance” (

Robert Lee Cook wrote that the clodhoppers, or farmers dance has not historically received adequate credit for its contribution to our modern western square dancing. Following are excerpts from his well-done article.

“I have called the western square dance a "farmer's dance" and, since its story is very complex, I'd like to say a few things about the unromantic and unsung backbone of our whole Western culture.

“The farmer lacked the rebelliousness of those first hippies, the trappers. His daily crises were neither as spectacular nor as dramatic as those of the covered wagon pioneer, the railroader, or the cowboy. His backbreaking efforts to exact successful crops from often unproductive soil had none of the glamour of the equally backbreaking efforts of the miners to find mineral riches, although the farmer often was much more of a gambler. He and his daughters have been the butts of countless bad jokes and ridicule of a sort that has never been told on the miners, cowboys, trappers or anyone else western—except perhaps the western traveling salesman. This poor clodhopper farmer—conforming, quiet, imperturbable, conservative, hardworking, unimaginative, all-suffering—is the absolute opposite of everything romantic and flamboyant that we most admire and glorify in the Old West. And yet I can without qualification state my firm belief that, without this man and his kind, there could never have been a western United States and there would today be no square dance as we know it, or have ever known it.

“When the first agriculturalists began to poke tentative plows into the dry soils of the West in 1860, the American dance was still almost totally a European dance. New infusions of the most recent fashionable continental dances came into both the east and west coasts, of course, even getting to Denver and other inland centers, but the farmer remained unaware of these, living as he did in dogged isolation, bedeviled as he was by the horrors of western dry land farming. He had the old dances he had brought with him, and he danced those well. He borrowed freely from the dances of his Swedish, Swiss, German, or Russian neighbors. When stumped, he invented; when he invented, he refined; when he refined, he experimented with variations, innovative patterns, and unorthodox ideas. While a lot of the dancing done on the Frontier between I860 and 1900 was choking itself to death on brittle formalism, the Clodhopper Dance evolved, flowered, and burned brilliantly in a constantly changing kaleidoscope of joyousness and invention.

“The clodhopper dance, changing and yet changeless, turned out to be the true American Dance, an amalgam of all the origins of all the people who had brought their dances to this continent. Rivulets ran west from New England, Appalachia, the Atlantic states; ran from Canadians in the north and Mexicans in the south; with new immigrants ran in from Germany, Sweden, Russia, Italy; rode in from Texas, rebounded from Utah and California; was swept in and mixed and adapted to the rhythms of the clodhopper life and needs until it formed a great reservoir of western dance which would survive to the middle of our century, now ebbing, now flowing, but always vigorous and rhythmic and uniquely our own.”

Please spread the word to get your own Denver Bulletin and also visit our state website for information regarding dancing opportunities around town and our state. The site will also link you to the festival site where you can register for the 2016 festival.

As always, we endeavor, as Your Council Historians, to seek out those callers, dancers, communities, events, writings and images of the past that may enrich our own experiences as square dancers today. See you in a square soon.

Last modified on Sunday, 07 February 2016 12:13
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