FolkMADS will be holding our ninth annual English Country Dance Ball, the Sage Assembly, on January 30th. For those of you who have never heard of this fun event, who haven’t consider going, or who are maybe on the fence about joining us I thought I might entice you to come with a little bit of story and history of the Ball. I contacted Nancy Ford, Registrar for the Sage Assembly, and asked her some questions. Kit French and Mary Beath, two major sustainers of the event, also contributed their input.
Sol Lederman: Tell those who have never been to the Sage Assembly what it is. And, tell them how friendly the Ball is to beginners.
Nancy Ford: The Sage Assembly is an English Country Ball in the Great Hall at St. John’s College in Santa Fe on Saturday, January 30, 2016. The dances range from the older Elizabethan dances (circles and three couple sets, etc.) to Regency dances (think of the Jane Austen movies you have seen) to modern dances in the English style (written quite recently). To prepare for the evening dance, there is a rehearsal from Noon until 3:00 p.m. All the evening dances will be taught and danced briefly, so they will be familiar when they are retaught and fully danced in the evening (7:00 to 11:00 p.m.). Some are graceful and elegant, some are quite rowdy and full of energy. The rehearsal will prepare anyone (even someone who has never danced this style before) for the evening fun.
SL: Some Contra dancers have never danced English Country. How would you describe English Country to Contra dancers?
NF: Many contra moves are based on English Country (EC) moves, although the name of the move may be different and it may be done in a slightly different way. For example, instead of a swing, there is the two hand turn. Instead of do-si-do, there is back-to-back. The one contra move that is not done in EC is the twirl. The closest move would be turn single, but it’s more like walking around a little circle in four steps.
SL: Tell us a bit about the logistics of the Ball. There’s a rehearsal, the dance, serious snacks, optional fancy clothes… How does the day flow?
NF: There is a long break between the end of the rehearsal at 3:00 p.m. until the dance begins at 7:00 p.m. This allows sufficient time to get something to eat and to primp and dress. Some people have reproduction costumes from the different eras, others find something fun in their closets or make a visit to a thrift store. As long as it suits your fancy, it’s fancy dress.Dancers are asked to bring something salty for the snack table in the afternoon OR something savory or sweet for the groaning board in the evening. It is snacks, not dinner.
SL: You dance both English Country and Contra. How long have you been dancing each and what do you love most about each?
NF: In the early 70s, I was in a folk dance group in Laramie, Wyoming, and we were asked to dance at a new event at the University–The Elizabethan Faire. Our repertoire already included some EC dances but we added some more and put some costumes together and danced at the faire. The hardest part was dancing on the sloping grass.
Contra didn’t come to Laramie until the mid 80s. There were only quarterly dances, so I ended up driving to Fort Collins or Boulder to dance more often.
Also, as a child, my parents took me to modern square dances when they started being popular in the 50s.
SL: Tell us about the history of the Sage Assembly. Whose idea was it? How long has it been held? What venues has it been held in?
NF: I don’t recall who first suggested having a ball. Many dancers had attended balls in other parts of the country and came back excited about them. They probably said, “Let’s do one.” The first EC Ball, The Enchanted Assembly, was held June 30, 2007 in Albuquerque at the Heights Community Center. We moved to St. John’s College in 2013. This will be the 9th Ball.
William DeRagon was the most knowledgeable EC caller in New Mexico at the time and he called the first balls. Gemma DeRagon, Della O’Keefe, and Karina Wilson played for the first balls.
One of the things I love about EC dances is that each one has its own specific music. You can hear the first few bars of the music and you know which dance it will be.
SL: What’s the cost and where can folks read more about the Ball and sign up?
NF: Admission is $22, students $11, St. John’s students FREE. You can register on-line here and either pay via PayPal or by mailing in a check. You can also pay at the door.
SL: Any final thoughts?
NF: Special thanks to Mary Beath and Kit French for sustaining the Sage Assembly over the years. Mary’s fantastic graphics have graced the flyers and programs, which have become collector’s items. Kit’s knowledge of callers and musicians has brought us amazing guest artists from near and far. And without William DeRagon and Gemma DeRagon starting the Second Sunday English Dance in 1992, there wouldn’t be a group of interested and able EC dancers in New Mexico.
Thank you, Nancy!
Kit French tells us about this year’s talent:
[Caller] Bruce Hamilton is from the San Francisco area. He has been dancing since college in the late 60s and has been teaching workshops for ECD callers for over two decades and has written a short informative booklet on the topic. He is not so much interested in fancy patterns as he is in encouraging dancers to move to the rhythm and phrasing of the dance, be comfortable in their movements and be good partners to dance with. He is past president of Country Dance and Song Society and, in fact, one of the dances at this year’s ball , Mr. Hamilton’s Inauguration, was composed for him when he took on that job.
For anyone interested in calling, the workshop with Bruce the night before the Ball is a must and for all, the Ball will be a chance to enjoy one of the country’s top callers up close and personal.
[Musicians] Della O Keefe and Juli Palladino are indeed Kindred Spirits who merge their love of English dance tunes into a delicious mix of keyboard and strings that will be supplemented at the Ball by the clear toned clarinet of Doc Litchman. They all reside in New Mexico and we are lucky to have them here at our Sage Assembly.
Mary Beath added the following:
A Ball in Albuquerque was originally Kit’s idea. He’d been to many Playford Balls elsewhere in the country and thought they were lots of fun. The first one was in June, just after May camp. Originally there was substantial hesitation about holding it, since some claimed “people in Albuquerque don’t like to dress up.” That first Ball had 90 attendees and proved that ECD (and dressing up) causes much enthusiasm in NM.
Thank you Kit and Mary!
I hope to see you at this year’s festivities.