NEFFA Essay: A Thank-You To The Zesty Boston Dancers And Minutes Of The Larry Jennings Fan Club Meeting, 17 July, 1997

Prepared by Larry himself

The meeting took the form of a multi-caller dance in the regular West Cambridge VFW series arranged by the Thursday Night Dance Committee of NEFFA. Most of the organizing was done by Chairman Dan Pearl and I thank him for a lovely evening. Music was provided by Amy R. Larkin, Dave Langford, and Peter Barnes. The evening was titled “Salute to Larry Jennings” and featured dances composed by me. I was absolutely delighted with the production and say “thank you” to all the people involved.

Four callers spent the night at my house and we discussed ways to describe a dance which would be rewarding to people whose tastes are similar to ours. The usual techniques are 1) by invitation [too exclusive]; 2) “For Experienced Dancers” [includes those who have experience dancing like bumps on a log and/or unconnectedly and/or unmusically]; or 3) “Challenging Dances” [sometimes a euphemism for “in group only,” sometimes indicates a dance which is overly cerebral]. The callers rejected those three and came up with a description that I could hardly dispute: FULLY ZESTY.

We had a FULLY ZESTY evening July 17, probably the closest to a perfect dance I’ll ever see.

There were, from the moment I came into the hall, things to remind me of me. There were fixin’s for making name tags. There was an operations schedule detailed down to the minute, not only in clipboard size but also in display size with a clock. Dan had brought a tape recorder. (Do you understand? Iconoclast Larry thinks that we should have more name nights; that telling people when their time is up is, in the long run, more “friendly” than just letting things go their own way; that recording and discussing leadership will do more to help a caller than routine praise.)

The sound check was an overture to superb music all night.

Dan, knowing my opinion that the mic belongs to the next caller immediately after the previous dance, introduced each caller from a remote mic. I have to confess that it was a very nice touch.

Here’s the program:

Bob Golder: “Thursday Night Special”
Bob had impressed me by his quick appreciation of a suggestion. You may note that I asked Dan to feature callers whose reputation is yet to be established; I am still interested in the future of dancing.

John McIntire: “Spaelimenninir Reel”John makes every word count, and is imperturbable besides. He came to the dance directly from vacation and got his calling assignment only minutes in advance. Dan again outdid me at my own game: he quoted from my book, “phones never work just before deadline.”

Tamara Golden: “J.B.’s Tease”
Tamara took over the running of the CDS multi-caller sessions when I had to give it up. She says that, as a mentor, I shoot from the hip. J.B. Sweeney also took me on as a mentor, and I gave her a homework assignment. Taking my position as mentor seriously, it occurred to me that I should do the assignment myself. “J.B.’s Tease” earned only a “B”; it doesn’t fully respond to the assignment; J.B. got an “A” . The “tease” comes about from your being right shoulder to right shoulder with your partner three times before you get to swing.

Annette Kirk: “Larry’s Becket”
Herbie Gaudreau’s seminal “Becket Reel” is double progression. I much prefer single progression dances so I composed this one, which is supposed to be based on the same figures as the original. Annette is good at picturesque expression; she told us to identify our shadows “by their markings”. Try to get a listen to her tapes of Tom Lehrer style satire.

Linda Leslie: “Roll Me Over In The Clover” by Merilee Karr
Linda said some kind words about me and also noted how much encouragement a musician can give, in her case from Amy Larkin. The dance features a roll to swap, which I call “wowee!,” to get you into a swing on the other side.

Rick Mohr: “Larry’s Leadership” by the caller
I like the choreography, which uses a progression that is new to me. Rick gave a favorable slant to the characterization of my role at the VFW series: “Larry’s Listening”. (I.e., Larry is checking up on the caller’s precise and effective use of words.) Iconoclast Larry is happy to take the phrase as an approbation; others might hold contrary opinion. In fact, I can still laugh at myself; I suggested to Rick that I wouldn’t mind “Larry’s Listening” as a title.

Ridge Kennedy: “Salute to Larry Jennings” by Ted Sannella
Ridge got highest marks for his perseverance in getting the hands four to the bottom before the walk-thru. I enjoyed his individualistic calling as well as the nametags he brought for some 30 people. I may have been the only one at the dance that had two picture badges: one from Ridge, one from my high school yearbook.

I find it remarkable that I can waltz for about three minutes before having to rest; for a contra the limit (if there is no figure in which I am idle) is about one minute.

Morris dance by the Black Jokers
Membership in the Jokers is available based on interest alone yet everyone is expected to do his best. That’s my kind of deal. My relationship with the Jokers was very satisfying. I was effectively Executive Officer, though my influence was by force of example, not title. To understand one of my fondest memories, you must appreciate that teams do a lot of dancing on a tour and often more people want to rest than dance. After one tour the team teased me: “Larry did every dance!” I am a participatory person and can’t really understand anyone’s sitting out a dance by choice.

Lisa Greenleaf and Sue Rosen made an absolutely magnificent vest for me, embroidered with some words and lined with musical symbols. Lisa credits my attempts at mentoring for an appreciable part of her development. I can’t believe that the little I did was more than 0.01% contributory. The rest was hard work on Lisa’s part. I am really overwhelmed by Lisa’s beautiful embroidery of these words: “Larry; Zesty Contras; Mentor; Black Jokers; TNDC (Thursday Night Dance Committee); Give & Take (a figure I invented); FSSGB (I was Membership Chairman of the Folk Song Society of Greater Boston); NEFFA; Adviser; Revels; MIT Folk Dancers; CDS Tuesdays; NEFFA Contras; …and more!” This vest is already a prized possession. I will treasure it always.

My response
I noted that the zesty Boston dancers are my second family; that, as with my first family, I am occasionally exasperated or disappointed; but that I always love them and try to treat them with high expectation; and that I like being with them, and that you have to rely on family to tell it like it is, for example, when it’s time to cease cutting in.

Learn to do it well and your feet can carry you through in the face of two chronic diseases.

Sue Rosen: “Larry’s Birthday” by the caller
Sue and I go back a long way. She is good at anything she undertakes, including her recent foray into dance calling and composition. She can waltz in a way that her partner forgets all about Parkinson’s Disease and Congestive Heart Failure.

Michael Resnick: “Double Rainbow” by Jacob Bloom
Jacob and I also go way back, as Black Jokers and in other ways. Michael reminded us of the many years I ran Sunday dances. I can’t understand why we have so few of them now.

David Millstone: “The Trial”
We discovered the lack of familiarity with triple minor dances. I believe that I was the first to use, and have trouble with, “1’s & 2’s swing neighbor, while 3’s swing partner; all face into the center of the minor set.” To emphasize the importance of doing exactly that, I used the phrase “come hell or high water” when calling a then-unnamed dance of Al Olson’s using the figure. David remarked that I am a very opinionated man, a fair assertion, so long as you remember that one of my opinions is that YOU should have a well considered opinion, even if it differs from mine.

Jim Saxe: “One for Larry” by Mary Devlin
Jim has a perfect attendance record at my NEFFA discussion sessions, flatters me with questions about my theories of contra dance, and by far came the fartherest to be with us. Mary sent a lovely letter of regrets on attendance, as did Tod Whittemore, Carol Ormand, Donna Hunt, and Erna-Lynne Bogue.

Patrick Stevens: “Common Tern”
As with Bob (the first caller), I have not heard Patrick much. But he, also, impressed me with his uptake on a suggestion that I made, and I assume he will be part of the future of contra dancing. He noted that I was reputed to be a man of few words, but that was not his experience. The distinction is whether the topic is contradance or anything else. In any case, I invite my second family to join me in my corner at the VFW to talk about contra dance, discuss some other topic of your choice, or, perhaps best of all, just to be together for a couple of minutes, wordlessly. The Common Tern was the traditional last dance, called by me as I danced (without portable mic), at the early NEFFA Contras. That was before the fine art of composing dances with both partner and neighbor swings was so well developed.

As with the entire evening, the music was perfect, the tempo just right, but only I had Sue as a partner.

The Last Words used to be mine, but now are appropriately Dan’s: among other things he invited entries in my scrapbook. I plan to make a few sheets available if you want to say something.

The Penultimate Word, however, was mine. I noted that almost 25 years ago I had a dream of what Fully Zesty Dancing could be, and that I was a part of it. And now my second family, aided I must confess by having a name and a spokesman for the objective, has made reality more like the dream than the dream was itself. Thank you for that. And thank you for sharing this realization beyond the dream.

Provided by New England Folk Festival Association

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