Recording Rekindles Memories Of Newfane Square Dance

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Sometimes a certain photograph or a familiar smell can trigger a rush of memories.

Other times it can be a long forgotten song.

For Marcel Proust it was the taste of a Madeleine dipped in tea. 

In the case of John Stone, a recording he made years ago brought back vivid memories and illuminated a part of Vermont’s cultural past.

Recently Stone heard for the first time in decades a recording he made in 1956 at a square dance in Newfane.

"The memories were so strong that I recognized every dance," Stone says. " A particular girlfriend that I had at the time came to mind."

Stone, 81, lives in Hanover now. As a young officer in the Navy he was stationed in Rhode Island.  His parents owned a home Newfane, and visiting on weekends Stone discovered a nearby Saturday night square dance.

Typically the music at square dances was played by two or three musicians. In Newfane, the music was provided by the Dick Perry Orchestra, which played the popular hits of the big band era. It was very unusual for a square dance.

"I must have said to myself, ‘Boy you ought to record this – this is fabulous stuff,’" he recalls. "So I took my tape recorder in there one night and set it right up on the stage next to the band and I would run up and start it and stop it, then run back to join the square I was in."

Wherever he went, Stone carried along the reel to reel tape he made on that October night in 1956. 

But for years the tape remained boxed up and never listened to.  Finally, at his wife’s urging Stone gave the recording to the Vermont Folklife Center, which had the recording digitized.

Although he still has vivid memories of the Newfane dances, Stone’s earliest dancing days were in Greensboro, beginning in the 1940s.

There was a Wednesday night dance at the Greensboro Grange Hall, which featured both square and round dances, such as fox trots and waltzes.

Stone says for young adults growing up in Vermont in the 1940s, the dances were the only social events there were. 

"I would have described them as earthy. I remember coming up in October when I was in the Navy and I went over to Wolcott. I didn’t know anybody else there, but I went.  It was 8 o’clock at night and young ladies came in still wearing a tee shirt and blue jeans.  They came straight from the barn where they’d been milking cows or something and they came straight to the square dance."

Stone says in that day the intermissions were an important part of the evening. The dancers would slip into the darkness with a date and some alcoholic refreshment before the caller struck up the band again.  

Stone square danced until about a decade ago, and the names of the musicians and callers he stepped to over the years are a catalogue of Vermont square dance history:

Al Monty and the Green Mountain Steppers.

Bernie and Linda Lussier and the Craftsbury Vibrations.

Times have changed and the music at square dances is usually recorded, not live; but Stone says if his health allowed he’d still be out on the floor.

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