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Ryan and Brennish


Contra dances in California

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1970's Contra Dance Scene in Southern California

By Ryan Thomson

These memories were recalled when I visited some of the many contra dance pages on the

web, and sent letters to the owners:

Hi Gary, I just found your page. Its great! reminds me of a dance I once played for in Isla

Vista in the 70's. It was out doors in a grassy field, Joe Taulane was calling, I was playing

fiddle, and we did a circle dance "big set," and counted, at one point, over 400 people in

the circle. I played a number of dances in Santa Barbara. My friend, David Gibbs, had a

airplane, and he would fly us up from San Diego for the Friday night dances. The airfield

was next to Isla Vista and Joseph, who was going to college there at the time, would drive

over to the field and pick us up in his bright blue 56 chevy!

Dear Jeff, I got a message from Gary Shapiro about a book that you are doing about

Southern California contra dancing. I was involved in the scene quite a bit in the 70's. I

attended my first contra dance in 1973-1974? with Mary Gray Taulane, Joe Taulane's sister,

whom I was dating at the time. I became a regular, started learning how to play banjo and

fiddle, and moved into a house with John Tuoey and Mike Mulderig. I had a tape of Fred

Brunnig playing New England Contra dance tunes, that I got from John, and I listened to it

many many times, and eventually learned every tune.

At one point when the folks from La Jolla Country dance orchestra discontinued their

regular dances, I was so disappointed that I started up a new contra dance series at San

Diego State University(then called San Diego State College), at which I was a student. The

first band consisted of myself on guitar, with David Brown on fiddle, Pam Ostergrand on

banjo(The Chicken Cheek Tweakers), and other guest musicians. I reserved the former

women's gym on campus for our weekly dances, and when it became too warm to dance

indoors in the summer, we moved out onto the basketball court and danced there

throughout the summer.

Other people that became involved with the San Diego State dances were Gary Moore on

fiddle, Judy Lipnick on fiddle, Mike Schway(spelling?) on fiddle, Ed Cormier on banjo,

Barsha (last name?) on accordion, and others. Two women whose last names escape me

(Marge and Laura) did much of the calling, and at one dance when no one else showed up

to call, I called my first contra dance. (I still have one of the original posters that I hung in

a glass case at the SDS student center advertising the weekly dances)

In 1976, the local dance scene was in a bit of disarray as I recall and at the end of the

summer I packed up my instruments, books, and typewriter, and drove to New Hampshire

to be in the middle of the thriving dance scene there. I had only been in NH a couple days,

living in a tent in the woods, when I saw a notice that Dudley Laufman was doing a dance at

the Durham Grange. I walked in with my fiddle, and Dudley looked at my case and asked me

If I knew "Farewell to Whiskey," since he was without a band.

I took out my fiddle and played my first dance in New Hampshire and have been living

there ever since. I started a weekly contra dance in Newmarket, NH, which went on for

several years until the Town Hall burned down. regards, Ryan Thomson.

This article by Ryan J Thomson,  2001