Broadening, strengthening, and deepening our understanding of Vermont; assuring a repository for our collective cultural memory; and strengthening communities by building connections among the diverse peoples of Vermont.

A New Treasure in the VFC Archive!

In January of this year, John Stone of Randolph, VT contacted us regarding a reel-to-reel tape he wanted to donate to the Vermont Folklife Center archive—a recording of a Newfane, VT square dance from 1956.  Yup, that’s right, a field recording of a Vermont square dance from the mid 1950s!

You can understand the significance of this recording!  And you can help us preserve it and share it with the world!  VFC Archivist, Andy, estimates that the cost to catalog the tape and to have it professionally digitized by an experienced audiotape preservation specialist will cost $500.. Can you lend us a hand?  Every little bit makes a difference, and your donation is tax deductible!

Donate Now!

As a special thank you, each donor of $50 or more will receive a copy of the recording on CD!

Tape donor, John Stone shared the following thoughts about the recording, and about the square dances he attended during the time period:

"The square dances on this tape were wonderful. They represent a time when Vermont square dances were local, earthy, informal and for all comers. No fancy instruction or college educated hosts and hostesses or apple cider during the breaks. You learned by watching, imitating and being told by those in the square who knew what to do. And when the break time came, there were trucks and cars to neck in and beers to drink. Real basic stuff. I started square dancing in Vermont during World War II and it didn’t change much through the fifties. I’m not really aware of its current status in the state, but the last one I attended was mild and more formal."

One of several interesting things about the the recording is the band, the Dick Perry Orchestra.  Seeking out some additional information, Andy contacted his friend and colleague at the Western Folklife Center, archivist Steve Green.  Steve was active in the contra dance scene in Vermont during the late 1970s and early 1980s, and  has a keen interest in the history of music and dance in New England.  When asked about the Dick Perry Orchestra, Steve replied with some background, and pictures!

Dick Perry Orchestra, Putney, VT Town Hall, 1950s.

As Steve mentioned in his email, “Note the use of horns and drums—not the fiddles and pump organs of days gone by :).”  Steve’s comments highlight something else:  this tape documents a fascinating point of transition and overlap in regional popular entertainment.  The fusion of dance orchestras like the Dick Perry Orchestra with the long-standing practice of community dances brought together the new and the old—renewing and refreshing traditional practice, and keeping these community gatherings relevant to the lives of the participants.  The tape provides us a window into a time where the popularity of square dances eclipsed the older contras, and where popular taste encouraged different kinds of instrumentation.

Which brings us to the next point—while dances like this were not uncommon at the time, recordings of community dancing are less common than might be supposed. That’s one more thing that makes this tape so important—it is an unusual record of a local, everyday event as it unfolded.

Dick Perry Orchestra, Putney, VT Town Hall, 1950s.

And we can’t wait to hear the tape!  Can you?

If you can lend a hand, please considering making a donation online via PayPal, by phone at (802) 388-4964 or by mail at Vermont Folklife Center, 88 Main Street, Middlebury, VT 05753.