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CONNecticut CONNtra Dance Callers

Al Brozek | Patricia Campbell | Bill Fischer | Jim Gregory | Christine Hale | Steve Holland | Rich Sbardella | Ralph Sweet

Al BrozekAl Brozek
Contact: e-mail; phone: 203-888-5049
Al's first exposure to dancing was in 1951 in a phys-ed class at New Haven State Teachers' College, which later became Southern Connecticut State University. He was 19 at the time and no contras were taught there.

The first public square dance that he ever attended was in Bethany, CT. There was an every Friday live music session that featured mostly singing calls. Foxtrot and waltzes were played between squares. No contras were done there, either.

He graduated from college in 1955 expecting to be drafted into the army, but wasn't, so he became a substitute teacher in Naugatuck and since he was interested in becoming a caller, he'd even occasionally practice his calling skills in the classes he was substituting.

By 1956 Allan was teaching full time and regularly attending public dances in Bethany, Stratford, Stepney, YWCA in New Haven, Middletown, North Guilford, and Durham. Nearly all these dances featured singing calls such as Red River Valley, Bell Bottom Trousers, and Golden Slippers. No contras were done at any of these dances.

The first contras that he ever danced were in square dance clubs. Bob Brundage, Al Brundage, and Stan Bristol were callers who would call contras on occasion. He found that he especially enjoyed contra dances because the music used for them was the same as the music which was played in fife and drum corps. For many years he was a snare drummer in a number of CT drum corps. He'd also played in the college band. In 1959 he was the CT State Champion Snare Drummer and also won the Northeastern Championship that same year. Some drum solos he wrote were included in Earl Sturtze's book on rudimentary drumming. When finally drafted into the army, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division band at Fort Campbell KY.

While in Kentucky and nearby Tennessee he would go to the local "square dances." Live music featured string bands playing about 140 to 150 beats per minute. He would occasionally "sit in" as caller at the Hopkinsville, KY dance.

Sometime around 1955 or 56 Allan heard about Ralph Page and his Tuesday night contra dance at the Boston YWCA. He made the three-hour drive to Boston many times to dance to Ralph, mainly because he liked dancing contras and he liked Ralph's melodic style of prompting squares. Sometimes when he got to the dance he found that Ted Sannella was filling in for Ralph. Upon discharge from the army, he went back to teaching in Naugatuck. During the next few years the only calling he did was in after school programs at the school and at a school in Waterbury.

In the early '60s he became the caller at Medlicott barn in New Milford with the Pioneer Trio, doing lots of singing calls, foxtrots, polkas, waltzes, and an occasional schottische. But at this point contras were still essentially unknown in Connecticut

The first club type square he called was as a fill in for regular caller, Stan Bristol, who could not call on a particular night, so several of the dancers learned a call to try for the evening. Sometime around 1960 he called of whole evening of club dancing for a New Year's party at the Easton grange.

Shortly after that he became "club caller" for Nutmeg Squares, Buttons and Bows, Oxbows, T-Squares, and Middletown Square Dance Club. Although contra dancing was not in vogue at square dance clubs, he'd often sneak one in when he thought the crowd would appreciate one, and he still does. Over the years he's also taught for Rhythm Squares of Bristol, Milford Singleton, Milford SDC, Rockin Roosters, Valley Squares, and Seaside Swingers. He's also called for Central Valley Squares once a year for about 28 years and has even called at Ralph Sweet's Powder Mill Barn three or four times.

Over the next 40 years, he guest-called for square dance clubs throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey. He was busy teaching square dance classes four nights a week and on weekends would call for various clubs. He would almost always call a contra whenever it seemed one would be appreciated. Allan called at the New York World's Fair in 1964 and 1965 and at Lincoln Center's Damroche Park, in NYC, seven times over the years. Around 50 squares of dancers and non-dancers show up at these dances.

Around 1976 he attended a contra dance in New Haven—either Ralph Sweet or Chip Hendrickson was calling that evening. It was a live music traditional style dance, which he enjoyed greatly. He started going to Ralph's dances in West Hartford fairly often, as well as the dances in New Haven and at Round Hill in Greenwich. He'd copy contras that he liked into a little notebook. The first time he ever called a regular evening of live music contras was probably when he filled in for Ralph Sweet. Soon afterward he'd be the occasional guest caller at these various dances. He has called contras in New Haven, Greenwich, Wethersfield, West Hartford, Garrison, NY, and the Thursday Night series in Cambridge MA. He's also called contras and squares at the NOMAD festival every year since it began.

Allan continues to call and teach modern western style squares for various clubs as well as senior center groups, schools, private parties, camps, synagogues, traditional contra dances, church groups, and numerous girl scout father-daughter dances each year. All told, he does about 200 sessions/gigs a year and enjoys every minute of it.

Dances he's written have appeared in Ralph Page's magazine, Northern Junket, Sets in Order, Larry Jenning's Zesty Contras, and on several web sites. His latest contra is Wingnut Whirl, on the Conntras website. He named it for the first time he called it in Wethersfield with the delightful Wingnuts [now the Wild Notes] supplying the music.

After teaching for 36 years he retired. He's been married to his wife, Lois for 35 years and has three grown children and one grandchild, so far.

Click here for CONNtra dances Al has written.

Patricia CampbellPatricia Campbell
Contact: e-mail; phone: 203-364-4554
Patricia started calling in the late 1980s when a church festival organizer who knew that she was a long-time dancer asked her to call a dance for their summer gathering of three regional churches. When she told the person that there was a big difference between dancing and calling, she was simply told "Well, why don't you learn?" She found a wonderful mentor in John Foley (one of the founders of NOMAD), and, unaware of all that she didn't know, Patricia's first calling event was for about 200 families and with about twelve musicians who had one rehearsal together in the afternoon. It was an incredible experience; at the end of the evening, she said "To have all that great music right behind me—I was higher than anything and had the worst headache of my life simultaneously!"

Patricia is a dance leader with experience and a love of calling for barn dances, school, community, religious, and organization dances (everything from libraries to scouts). She has performed at NOMAD and has served on the NOMAD program committee for many years. Her repertoire includes New England contra dance, Colonial/18th-century dance, square, and folk dances.

Bill Fischer Bill Fischer
Contact: e-mail; phone: 203-393-3464
Bill has been calling dances for over twenty years, starting out in New Haven with the contra dance series that has been a fixture of the folk music and dance scene there for more than twenty-five years. In addition to contra dances in and around the northeast, he has called at various festivals regionally. Somewhat accidentally, he has focused on groups which include a lot of beginners—of all ages—and has done events at schools, parties, special occasions, and nursing homes including square dances for people in wheel-chairs! Besides calling, he plays several folk instruments—primarily penny-whistle—and has danced in and played music for performing dance groups at many events and festivals in and around the northeast.

Jim Gregory  Jim Gregory
Contact: e-mail; phone: 860-561-5585
1974 was the year. In that spring semester at Cornell Jim finished up his studies of philosophy and enjoyed his first evenings with the Cornell Folk Dance group. By May '74, attending a country dance weekend at Hudson Guild Farm, Jim was hooked. Returning to CT, he sought out folk, English and contra dances. Live music was not prevalent, however. By 1978 Jim had started his own dance series that grew into two contras per month with live fiddle bands. Hartford Country Dance was born. There would also be eighteen years of lovely summer evenings in Elizabeth Park at the Concert & Country Dance series. Jim called at most of these but he liked to open it to guest bands and callers. Jim has been a performing dancer/choreographer with several groups totaling about 33 years experience. Count among them Sedenka (the International dance performers), Mountain Laurel Cloggers, Reel Nutmeg as founder and director, Crackerbarrel Revue, and the Elm City Vintage Dancers. These experiences were recounted in Jim's column "Your Contra Corner," which ran 1982-1985 in Folknotes.

Jim became a full time dance teacher and caller in 1980. Senior citizen classes and school programs are a big part of his day's work. Adult classes, contras, and weddings are big evenings and weekends. Jim has developed specialties in family dances and colonial American dance. Camp Salomon hired Jim full time for a 10 week summer and that went on three more summers. Jim has also been on the staff at Rowe Camp's Liberation Week and Pinewoods Camper's week. He has called at NEFFA, NOMAD, and the Dance Flurry. Jim was the stage choreographer for two Connecticut musicals, Robber Bridegroom and Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. In addition, half a dozen of his original contras are in print, including Zesty Contras, Fiddler Magazine, and the Country Dance & Song Society News.

Click here for CONNtra dances written by Jim.

Christine HaleChristine Hale
Contact: e-mail; phone: 860-233-6603
Christine came to contra dancing in the fall of 1988. She was brought to a Greenfield contra dance by an acquaintance who quickly realized she was totally confused and actually danced with her all night long. Soon she began attending dances on her own in the Pioneer Valley of Western MA. She moved to CT in 1989, began dancing in Hartford and other CT venues as well as traveling back up to the Pioneer Valley. It was important to dance frequently, usually three times per week. Best were holiday weekends when it was possible to dance Thursday in Cambridge, Friday in Greenfield, Saturday in CT, attend the Sunday Dawn Dance in Brattleboro and then Monday's dance in Amherst. In 1991 or 1992, after attending an event where an out of town caller's "unusual" instructions left the crowd dazed and confused, she determined that she could do a better job. An opportunity soon presented itself in Hartford when the local organizers held a "come all ye callers" dance. The dancers and organizers seemed pleased at her performance and she decided to try again. The Monday night dance in Amherst provided an opportunity and Eric Smith who called the dance generously allowed her to call two dances each week. Ralph Sweet provided excellent advice and she began to collect and even write dances. Eventually this led to being hired at regular dance series in CT (Hartford, New Haven, Greenwich, Stonington, Chaplin), central MA (Worcester, Berlin, Northboro), NY (Poughkeepsie), and NJ (Chatham), as well as the NOMAD festival. She averages about 25 gigs a year and is generally recognized for calling at regular series where first time dancers comprise a significant proportion of the crowd. She serves on the Hartford Country Dance Board, the Contra Committee, and the CONNtra New Year's Eve committee.

Click here for CONNtra dances written by Christine.

Steve Holland Steve Holland
Contact: e-mail; phone: 203-288-7476
Steve is a modern contra dance caller, calling dances for all levels from the novice to the expert with dances ranging from traditional reels, southern style squares to the most current contra dances. Steve is especially known for the one or two experienced dances each year that include medleys- dances that change each time through the dance. The current record is 29 separate dances in a medley.

Click here for CONNtra dances written by Steve.

Rich SbardellaRich Sbardella
Contact: e-mail; phone: 860-684-3466

Rich currently calls dances for several local contra dance series; traditional square dances series; corporate, family, and community dance parties; and modern square dance clubs. His geographic focus is in New England and New York, but he has called in West Virginia, Florida, Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Nevada as well.

Rich began calling contras, squares, and dance parties earnestly in 1992, but his first exposure to calling dances was really around 1966. At a young age of eleven, he was exposed to square dance through his parents, who were avid dancers. Rich was captivated by the singing square "Love in the Country," and was constantly singing "Dosido and you promenade... Oh girl, you'll be dreamin' of, the birds and bees, the flowers and the trees, till you're up to your knees in love." (I am not sure that he even knew what the birds and the bees were!)

Rich and his wife Lynn began actively dancing with caller Lori Morin in October, 1991 and by April, 1992 they were calling dances. Lori Morin, introduced Rich to New England legend, Dick Leger, and Rich quickly learned from the master. Rich called his first full square dance program at Dick Leger's kitchen table without any dancers, and within weeks, he called that exact program to live dancers. Of course, Lynn's exciting harmonies made Rich sound better than he was, and the harmonies of "We Duet Right" brought them many bookings in the square dance world.

As the mainstream dance clubs declined in southern New England, Rich, with the help of caller Bob Livingston, began calling to live music, and also began calling more contras and traditional squares. At present Rich has contra bookings throughout southern New England, and organizes and calls for "The Stafford Stomp" in his hometown.

Rich is the president of the Connecticut callers association, and is chairman elect of NECCA (New England Council of Caller's Associations), as well as a lifetime member of the New England Square Dance Foundation.

Ralph SweetRalph Sweet
Contact: e-mail; phone: 860-749-4494
Ralph started doing traditional square dancing in 1944 and began collecting dances and practicing at home. He also began participating in local fife and drum corps. In fall of '48 at a dance at the Ekonk Grange with caller Al Lindell, Ralph called his first live dance. Over the next few years Ralph called and danced in CT, Vermont and New Hampshire, and then took up modern Western Style square dancing. During the Korean War, Ralph was stationed in Texas and in Boston and there he continued square dancing and began to take up Irish Ceili, English Country, Scottish, International Folk and contra dancing. After the war he taught Western style square dancing, raised a family and bought the Powder Mill Barn in Enfield, renovating it for square dancing. He gave up his engineering career in favor of teaching high school physics and science to allow more time for calling at dance classes and square dance clubs.

During the 1950s, 1960s and well into the 1970s, there was little or no contra dancing in Connecticut. Then, to celebrate the Bicentennial, Ralph formed a costumed exhibition group that demonstrated colonial-era contra dances. This led to local interest in holding regular contra dances. Throughout this time, Ralph continued playing with the fife and drum corps. His son, Walt was an excellent fifer and Ralph played accordion for the contra dance series that were forming in Hartford and at the Powder Mill Barn. However, most drum corps fifes play in B♭, and most fiddle tunes are written in D, G, or A. Thus, he began making flutes and fifes in other keys to play with the fiddle in the newly formed Fifer's Delight band. This led to the formation of the Sweetheart Flute Company because people kept asking if they could buy one of Walt's instruments. (

Ralph continued holding regular dances in Enfield, Hartford, and eventually South Amherst, Ma. He retired from teaching after 29 years and then devoted himself to making flutes and fifes full time. He called at local dances throughout Connecticut, the rest of New England, and even as far away as California. In addition he called at camps and festivals, including CDSS's English and American week at Buffalo Gap, New England Folk Festival, Wild Asparagus' Dance-a-Rama, Dance Flurry Festival, Falcon Ridge, and Winterhawk. He was sought after for his expertise with beginning crowds, but seemed best loved for his rendition of '50s-era singing squares. When not calling, he danced contras in Greenfield, MA, Quebecois squares in Montreal, and Irish set dances in Glastonbury, CT. He celebrated his 50th year of calling in the fall of 1998.

Click here for CONNtra dances written by Ralph.

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Last modified July 7, 2018.