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In Praise of Herbie Gaudreau

by Tony Parkes

(This article was originally posted to the Usenet newsgroup <rec.folk-dancing>.)

The modern folk-revival contra dance scene owes a huge debt to Herbie Gaudreau. Not only did he introduce the couple-facing-couple formation with "Becket Reel" in the mid-1950s (I think it was Al Olson who came up with the name "Becket formation" sometime in the '70s), he was the first choreographer to popularize "all-moving" dances on a large scale, and quite possibly the first to write them at all.

Over a 20-year period he wrote over 100 contras, naming most of them after towns in his home state of Massachusetts. Becket, famous for the Jacob's Pillow modern dance center, is also the site of a YMCA camp where Herbie called in the '50s. (Camp Becket is once again being used for contra dance events, sponsored by the Lavender Country and Folk Dancers.)

All of his published contras were completely equal, making no mention of actives or inactives. Instead of the traditional "Swing the one below," Herbie called "Swing your corner" or "Swing your left-hand lady" (most of us would now say "Swing your neighbor").

Herbie's work is not well known among folk-revival dancers because, except for "Becket Reel," his contras lacked a partner swing and are therefore not used often by folk-revival callers. Herbie's dancers, drawn mostly from the MWSD network, tended to do every number with the same partner and were not bothered by this lack. (It wasn't until the 1970s that choreographers figured out how to give everyone a partner swing in an equal dance. Someone told me recently that they thought my "Shadrack's Delight" [1972] was the first contra to do so; can anyone refute this?)

As far as I know, Herbie's book Modern Contra Dancing (50 dances) is still available from American Squaredance Magazine, 661 Middlefield Road, Salinas, CA 93906. Aside from the lack of partner swings, Herbie's dances look and feel remarkably like the latest contra choreography. They're good for perusing when you're in a brainstorming mood.

Tony Parkes <hands4@world.std.com>

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Last updated on July 30, 1996 by entropy@prismnet.com (Kiran Wagle)