Tuesday, January 22, 2019

It's Got A Kick To It

Here is one dance your servant wishes he would have learned had he decided to start putting on a kilt in his teenage years.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
The whole idea of the sword dance is to dance around the swords without touching them -- otherwise, legend has it, you will die on the battlefield. Note the sword pointing towards the audience is on top. That's just in case an enemy should approach you while you're dancing. You can pick up that sword and point it at the bloody redcoat or whoever may be threatening to take your life or your kilt or both.

I have faked a sword dance at least once. At a friend's house one Christmas, I put down a couple of brooms and pranced around them as best I could while wearing three layers of 18th Century clothing in addition to the kilt, including a long frock coat. My heavy piping shoes also weighed me down. But I capered and high-cutted and pas-de-basqued around those brooms as best I could.

"You're a lord-a-leaping!" somebody remarked.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Don't Let It Get You Down

Today is supposed to be a day on, not a day off, in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. But inevitably, people are going to stop and pause and think about the legacy. Maybe some people will be hopeful, maybe not. This tune doesn't fit the day, but it fits all the other Mondays.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Princess Sherri recently reminded me of it. I actually had it in my playlist, and I have for some time. It's almost prophetic, especially in the opening photos before we get to the actual promotional film. You had to wonder what Karen Carpenter was thinking about in those early days, when she and her brother were rocketing up the pop charts with their wholesome style of pop love songs. Karen was battling a negative self-image, and I wonder how often she thought about what it would take to become her own woman.

Princess Sherri has worked to assert her own image as a mixed-race woman. She has had to battle both bigotry and false impressions from people who would also pigeonhole her into one compartment or another. That's the kind of thing MLK was fighting against. Go back and listen to his "I Have A Dream" speech. It's not a black speech; it's an equality speech.

"Sometimes I'd like to quit, nothing ever seems to fit," Karen Carpenter sang. "Nothing is really wrong, feeling like I don't belong."

Both my princess and your servant have had to battle depression in various forms. Some of that was related to prejudice or bullying.

"No need to talk it out, we know what it's all about," Karen sang.

Yes we do. Now let's go do it.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Let's Learn A Minuet From George Washington

Not many people think of George Washington as a great dancer, but he loved to dance -- as did many Virginians. So why not let him teach a young lady the art of the minuet?

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Minnesota History published the above clip on YouTube nearly 8 years ago. They said at the time: "The official Mount Vernon George Washington re-enactor teaches a student at Washington Middle School in St. Paul, MN how to dance the way that the General and Mrs. Washington would have done at their wedding. General Washington was visiting the school in connection with the Discover the Real George Washington exhibit."

Can you just imagine how beautiful that wedding would've looked like? And I imagine Mrs. Washington wasn't the only one who wanted to dance with His Excellency.

I also imagine a lot of ladies would like to dance at Mount Vernon...

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Drawing The Line

Not too long ago, I was sitting in a parking lot in north Phoenix, my designated rendezvous point for meeting up with Princess Sherri for an evening outing, when this came on the radio. The unmistakable sounds of the Oberheim OBX synthesizer, the same one used for Van Halen's "Jump," drew me in.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
I didn't grow up listening to Rush (at least not this Rush), but they've started growing on me, and this song especially. It addresses in its own Rushian, sci-fi way, cliques and growing up.

And yes, that's Atari's legendary "Tempest" at the end of this video.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Okay, Here's An Easy One

It's called "Nyandolo," and it's from Kenya. It may be the easiest circle dance I've ever learned, apart from a hands-six in Scottish Country Dancing.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
You don't have to think very much. Just move in tight with your friends, knuckles to knuckles, and enjoy the ride. It's the perfect dance for late in class, when your brain doesn't want to work, but your feet still want to move.

When this video was recorded, your servant was breaking in a new pair of red dancing slippers. They had already gotten a workout this evening, and by the end of the session, all the pinching in all the places was gone.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

I Heard It On The School Bus

One day in 1981, when I was probably in the third grade, I heard some kids on the school bus singing "nah, nah, na-na-na-nah, na-na-na-nah, nunna-nunna-nah-nah" repeatedly. I thought they were riffing on a country and western song until I heard the above from the J. Geils Band.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
This is one of those songs you hear as a kid, and then when you hear it again as an adult, you wonder, "How did our parents ever let us listen to that," with lyrics like, "take you to a motel room, and take 'em off in private." And that video -- with the scantily clad ladies. MTV was a guilty pleasure for us young ones in those days, back when it played music and broke bands, or made small bands big. And if you heard it on the school bus, you knew you had a hit, or something your parents didn't want you listening to.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Saturday Night Frock Coat

Here's a flashback from nearly a decade ago. It's a Saturday night in June 2009, at the historic Kenilworth school in Phoenix. It has to be at least 80 degrees outside. And I'm driving up from Tucson for a contredance in my late 1700's powder-blue coat and white weskit and breeches, with the stockings. Where on Earth did I get all this energy from, and where the heck did it all go?

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Once upon a time in my dancing history, I felt like a colonial Tony Manero, consistently getting that Saturday Night Fever to go boogie in that tricorn and breeches, even if that meant a 90-minute drive sometimes. I had it bad. I gather that was because I got so much joy out of it at the time when so many other things in my life didn't seem to be bringing much in the door. By this time, I had gotten right with GOD, so that wasn't the problem.

Fast forward ten years later, and I've mellowed out a lot in that respect, finding other curiosities -- and other dance groups to wet my whistle. And I gather my internal chemicals have shifted a bit. That's what happens when you've been around for 247 years!

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

It's Still A Smelly Olds To Me

June 1980 finds your servant and his kid brother in the back of an Oldsmobile on the way to Niagara Falls with the Queen Mother and Royal Father. On the charts, this song by Billy Joel is on its way to number one, and I'm hearing it several times during the course of the trip.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
That trip would also include several instances of the Royal Father lighting up his pipe. He had a system: while steering with his legs pressed against the bottom of the wheel, he would pack some Bourbon Riff into the end and get out his lighter. Positioning the lighter upside down into the pipe opening, he'd give it a few flicks. Of course, it would never light on the first try, as much as he huffed and puffed to get that pipe smoking. Something did invariably light, however, because soon clouds of tobacco smoke filled the front seat and drifted to the back.

Dad would then realize the imminent danger to our health and safety, probably with a complaint added in from the Queen Mother:

"Dave, haven't we had this conversation about you smoking in enclosed places?"

That's when he would crack the driver's side window and let air pressure perform its natural duties. But the car still smelled like a pipe. Or a cigar.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tripping The Light Foot Fantastic

If I could only remember what I dreamt, would I remember this?

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Above is a recreation of an 18th Century ball -- at least a vision of what one might have looked like. It's highly choreographed, and a lot less populated than something that a king or queen or lord or lady would have hosted. But you get the feel of it.

This is the way your servant wishes he could move, if only those buckled shoes weren't so durned heavy. I've recently turned to using dancing slippers, which work well for folk dancing and Regency occasions. Not only are my feet lighter, I get a little more traction.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

On The Road With Sara

A Saturday morning in March 1985. I'm in the back of a church van on a junior high weekend trip to St. Louis from Kansas City. On our agenda: The Magic House, the Gateway Arch, the St. Louis Zoo, Union Station, and a whole bunch of us crammed into a couple of hotel rooms at a Holiday Inn near Lambert Field. For now though, as we roll through Wentzville, on our way to the main destination, I'm in my own world, headphones on, with Countdown America playing in my ear and this song by Starship in the top ten. They had just scored a number one with "We Built This City" a few weeks earlier, and the follow-up single was headed for the top.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
The lyrics are about a lost love, and I gather I remember this because I was feeling more than a little lost at that time myself. I was part of a church group, yet I was feeling the separation, feeling my church group mates really didn't get me, didn't get the nerdiness phase I was going through and didn't really care. I don't think I helped much, because your servant was prone to mood swings at the wrong moments.

This would be the beginning of my separation from GOD -- being among Christians but feeling you're not really a part of them. It would take many more years for me to return. But here I was on the road with the gang, because I wanted to travel, wanted to get out of the house, wanted a road trip. Adventure topped introversion.

That weekend was memorable, fortunately, for a lot of fun. I don't remember a lot of specifics about it, except for hearing a cool jazz group at Union Station and that attempt by Johnny to take a photograph of a pillow fight in the middle of the night.

"It didn't come out," he later told me. "I got elbows."

Saturday, January 12, 2019

"How Can You Dance In All Of That?"

People have often asked your servant how he can possibly cavort in so many layers of historical clothing without burning up. It's simple: I just learned to deal with it as I figured my Colonial ancestors did. Wearing a kilt helps in the summer, when I need more airflow. When I started making my own historic clothing, I aimed for thinner fabrics friendlier to Arizona climates -- and that breathed.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
I also avoid wearing a sporran with my Scottish ensembles.  That takes off a little weight and avoids it hitting in all the wrong places.  No need to elaborate there.

But, in the totality of everything, when I'm enjoying a dance, I'm not thinking of the heat or the cold or the weather or anything else. I'd rather just focus on being elegant and stately. You can see it here in these pictures taken about a decade ago at the Scottish games in Phoenix. A group there let me try out Scottish dancing.  It didn't take long to hook me.

Friday, January 11, 2019

When Jazz Got Reel

This jazz classic from Dave Brubeck reminds of when I first heard it: on the Royal Father's Sony reel-to-reel tape deck. Those open-reel beasts were the highest-end part of a high-end hi-fi system back in the 1970's. Dad's sat inside a cabinet when his system moved from my baby brother's bedroom upstairs to the newly-finished study. He didn't need any more shelving on bricks. Everything had a nice little spot behind a door.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
This tune comes from Brubeck's landmark album "Time Out," which Dad had on pre-recorded 4-track open reel format. The four tracks represented the two stereo tracks on one side, and the other two stereo tracks on the other side of the reel. Just like a record or cassette, you flipped the reel over once one side had played its way onto the take-up spool, and played the other side, which wound back onto the original reel. It wasn't convenient for playing individual tracks, but the quality was as close as you could get to the original master tape. The tape still had noticeable hiss, something you could work around.

I discovered one reel in Dad's collection that had four Bill Cosby albums on it, and I secretly threaded it up one day while I was off from school and my parents weren't around. He still has that reel. As for that Sony, it's now in possession of my uncle, perhaps gathering dust. Perhaps not.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Round And Round

(This is a 360-degree video. Swipe around with your mouse to go full circle and spot the Cossack!)

This may be the easiest folk dance I've ever learned, period. Marin Congo comes from France. The steps: in and out and twirl around to a new partner. Repeat as needed.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
This is the kind of dance I can teach to kids and their families in less than two minutes, which makes it an ideal dance for those times when I call a historic ball. As you read this, I haven't taught it yet. I'm waiting for the right ball to teach this at for a possible last dance, or something near that.

I'm thinking it would work at a Colonial ball, even though it's not a Colonial dance. In fact, the notes I have date it back to the 1980's. Still, it feels like the kind of dance I should be doing in my tricorn hat, knee breeches and frock coat instead of my puffy Cossack attire.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The Truth About Cats And Dogs

On a summer night, circa 1992, the Royal Father has just picked my brother and I up from Six Flags, where we had both been working. Todd Rundgren was on the radio via WXFB (aka "The Fox"), and we were talking about getting another family dog.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
Dad has been set on getting another dog, even though the Queen Mother has done her best to talk him out of it.

I made another suggestion: "What about a cat?"

"Cats are snotty!" my brother grumbled.

"Cats aren't appreciative," added the Royal Father.

So much for that idea. Some time later, we had a black-and-white English Springer Spaniel puppy in the house. Dad dubbed him Toby after the dog in the Sherlock Holmes' story "The Sign Of Four."

I think the Queen Mother would've still preferred a cat. We had to cat-sit at least once for my Aunt Shirley while she and Uncle George went on vacation, and the experience was nearly trouble-free. Nearly, because we couldn't get Sara to come out from under the upstairs sofa. Many of my aunt's cats had the tendency to hide under furniture for hours at a time without budging. It finally took some sliced turkey to lure her out. A few weeks after the cats had departed, I found a rubber mouse under another sofa.

Steve Martin immediately came to mind:

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Watch Out For Those Puffy Pants!

Back in 2016, when I first started dipping my toes into international folk dancing, I was still trying to perfect the idea pair of puffy Cossack-inspired pants. In this mixer dance, you can see that I overdid it.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
They had what I wanted -- that swish, just like the kilt. But they also had these annoying loops of fabric in front that somehow hadn't gotten tucked in or tacked down correctly, so they just flew around. My long tunic shirt and the belt helped hide it, but they couldn't eliminate it. I made another pair, and this time the fabric was too heavy and too droopy. Finding the right bedsheet to experiment on proved elusive until I finally nailed the formula: a king size sheet, preferably of lightweight cotton, and so many inches from waist to knees. (No, I won't give you the amount here. It's my personal version of the Colonel's secret recipe.)

I figure I have made at least half a dozen pairs of puffy pants, with varying degrees of success. You can't have too many colors, either.

Monday, January 7, 2019

My Alternative Rock

It's a late night in my dorm room at the University of Missouri, circa 1991. If I was working on a Pascal program for one of my comp-sci classes, scanning online bulletin boards (before the Internet came home), or working on a long-nurtured novel, I had Columbia's KARO radio on my headphones. That's where I first encountered this record by Chi Coltrane. For a long time, I thought it was a Carole King hit. Only a YouTube search decades later finally set me straight.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.

I considered working at the Mizzou student station, KCOU. But here was the problem: I had zero knowledge of alternative rock music, and the DJ application asked, "Name the first three bands you would play." That pretty much doomed me. I had no desire to crash-course on music, especially when I had so much other stuff to get in there.

So I stuck with what I knew, even though I tuned into KCOU's uncensored Friday-night rap and hip-hop show, where the announcers would hype tracks with, "That record is so dope."

Otherwise, I was content with classic rock, oldies, and some AC or AAA (Adult Contemporary or Adult Album Alternative for those of you who don't read Billboard). I flipped my FM tuner between KARO in Columbia and KKCA in Fulton -- the call letters standing for Kingdom of Calloway, a reference to a Civil War separatist enclave that actually existed as a sovereign state within Missouri until after the war. (According to the Kingdom of Calloway Historical Society, "We were proud that we had faced adversity, had stood strong against it, and had won our right to be who we wanted to be.")

KKCA played oldies, and one day in the early 1990's, I gather they decided to pull out all the disco records they had lying around from a bygone era. So for one day only, the Kingdom of Calloway was treated to the "Disco Nightmare," one that brought a surprisingly positive response from listeners.

These two stations considerably expanded my mental playlist more than college radio ever did, or ever tried to. Alternative is in the eye of the beholder.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Swish, Swish -- The Peasant Prince Knows Bliss

Continuing our conversation on swish, it takes on a little different meaning when I trade the kilt in for the puffy pants and stockings. This is one of the dances from from the Tuesday night international group I cavort with. I'll let you guess where I am in the line.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
In this dance from Albania, we all get to hold handkerchiefs and swish a little bit between some simple steps which can still throw my feet. It's a beautiful deception. I can watch oodles of YouTube videos showing dances like this, think I'll have no problem with them, and then when my feet take the floor they knot themselves up.

Somebody said to me, "You have to put your whole body into it." Yeah, but that still doesn't help my feet. I gather my outfits will at least take the ladies eyes away from my missteps. Your servant wagers more than a few peasant ladies would love to dance with an overdressed peasant prince.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

The Hi-Fi Is Alive

Before my younger brother was born, his bedroom served as my Dad's stereo room. He had his turntable, tuner, open-reel tape deck, cassette deck and records stacked up on at least two levels of wood, supported by bricks on the end -- as was tradition in the 1970's.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.

The above song by Gary Wright is one I remember him playing when he was showing off the system. He also liked to throw on Linda Ronstadt's Heart Like A Wheel LP every so often.

Downstairs, meanwhile, the Queen Mother would do housecleaning to the soundtrack from The Godfather Part II on the giant Zenith console. That was if Andy Williams wasn't playing from one of at least a dozen of his albums.

Friday, January 4, 2019

We Must Have Swish

Laddies, you have so many good reason reasons to wear a kilt -- among them, the swish.

Why should the lassies get to have all the fun with the twirling of their gowns? You should have your own equivalent. The livelier, the better, as demonstrated by this group of merry Highlanders.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.

I insist on my kilts falling at or below the knee. Not only does it show modesty, it allows for more swish, especially in the back where it's pleated. If I'm wearing a frock coat over it, the effect is multiplied.

I know certain ladies like it when the lads spin up their kilts. We shall leave it at that. I have seen people throw money at lads who did so. That has yet to happen to your servant. I haven't pushed that envelope yet.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

What You Won't Do, You Do On I-10 In The Dark

My smartphone is loaded up with road music, designed to help get your servant through a six-hour drive from Tucson to the family compound in Upland, California -- mainly at night.

A mix of your servant's favourite music
and moves, set to stories and observations.
This is one of those songs that rings mellow and fitting as you're zooming through the desert darkness, somewhere between Blythe and Indio, California, maneuvering around caravans of 18-wheelers. At this point, I'm probably sipping down the last of dinner on the road -- usually three double cheeseburgers picked up at the McDonald's across from the Pilot in Quartzite, Arizona.

Off into the night we go. Let's get mellow.