Marshall Flippo · My Thoughts · square dance

Flippo & Obstacles He Faced

Young Flippo—Obstacles he faced
Flippo as a Young Caller

To think the Flippo we knew faced many obstacles as a young caller! Square dancers all over the world know the refined quality of the program Marshall Flippo presented at any dance he called—smooth rhythm, wonderful choreography and a beautiful voice. It wasn’t always that way.

“Marshall Flippo’s calling career could easily have not happened. In fact, Flippo missed his first night of square dance lessons. Initially, he couldn’t connect with the music and find the beat. Being a shy man by nature, his temperament could have stopped him from becoming the well-known caller who’s so well- loved. Just one of these could have been fatal, but Flippo faced all three and over-came the challenge placed before him.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 81.

Flippo and Neeca and their good friends, Hub and Hazel Evans, arrived at their first square dance lesson late, so the guys refused to go in. The women made sure they were on time the next week. Thank God for Neeca and Hazel’s unflagging commitment. Once there, Flippo fell in love with what the whole activity offered: physical contact, friendly people and movement to music.

After their lessons, Betty Casey, their class caller and Flippo’s mentor, encouraged them to go out to a local dance at the YMCA. She assured these fledgling dancers J. C. Wilson, the caller, would be good to them. This time they took a complete square with them, squared up and the first call J. C. called they’d never heard. So, they tried to sit down, but J. C. noticed their evacuation from the floor, so he stopped the dance and separated the dancers.

“Flippo added with a laugh, ‘And God, strangers coming up thar and getting us. I never did see my wife again until the end of the dance, so they split us all up, and we had one hell of a good time, you know.’”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 82.
J. C. Wilson-Obstacles he faced
J.C. Wilson

What they experienced as beginner dancers at the hands of J. C. Wilson and those experienced dances exemplify true square dance hospitality. What happened kept these couples and a great caller wanting to dance.

Flippo and Neeca’s love of square dancing continued to grow, so his becoming a caller seems like a natural progression.

When I asked Flippo why he started calling, he answered,

“I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this in time.’ I loved to sing. I was out of lessons about a year before I ever started. Thar was two square dance clubs, and they were both full. They both had waiting lists for people to get in. The list wasn’t that long, probably ten to twelve couples. So, we put our names in for that one downtown. They could only dance twenty-five squares.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 83.

So, Ed Hall had a chicken coop in Wylie, near Abilene, that he offered to clean up for a small square dance hall. It would dance three squares. Twelve couples signed up, and they danced to records for a while and then had a live two-piece band, but they needed a caller.

“One night someone had a suggestion. Thar’s twelve of us here. Why don’t we all learn to call? And we won’t have to have a record or a band, so we’ll just be our own caller.’

So that’s the way it started. Flippo remembered the first one he called. Singing calls didn’t appeal to him too much at that time, so he learned patter. First one he learned was ‘Dip and Dive.’ So, they all learned some kind of calls. “Some guys were good. I wasn’t one of the good ones.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 83.

After deciding to call, Flippo faced one of his obstacles as a caller: he couldn’t keep the beat. Would this be the obstacle that would block our world-renowned Flippo?

“At one point, Neeca told him, ‘You can’t stay on beat. What’s wrong with you? Can you pat your foot to the music?’

‘Yeah,’ Flippo explained. He had a ‘Turkey in the Straw’ record, and he would go in the front bedroom of their house because they had no furniture in there and he had a little record player.”

Larada Horner-Miller, Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo, (2020): 83-84.

Neeca would listen to him practice and stand it as long as she could, then she’d question him about his ability to stay on the beat. She finally suggested to say something every time he pat his foot with the beat, and that seemed to help.

Recently I heard a long-time caller friend of Flip’s say that Flippo said more words in his calling than any other caller because of his problem with keeping the beat.

Flippo persistently worked hard at mastering his craft. He would not let this get him down. Feeling a little confident, he ventured out after a time. First, he made his calling debut in Abilene at the CrossTrail square dance club, one club that they had been on the waiting list. He made a mistake on his first try and had to restart—he saw Neeca duck into the bathroom.

Melton Luttrell-Obstacles he faced
Melton Luttrell

For his next calling adventure, Flippo and a group traveled out-of-town to Cisco, Texas, to dance to the legendary Melton Luttrell. Two couples that came with Flippo told Melton that he had started calling. The hospitable move then was to invite the visiting caller to the stage to call. So Melton invited Flip up to call (this was when he was having trouble staying on the beat). Scared to death, he didn’t share with me how he thought the evening went.

Before they left the dance hall to go home, Flippo had seen the two couples talking to Melton after he called, so Flip asked them what he said.

They said, “Melton told us to tell you, ‘Don’t quit your day job!’”

Instead of discouraging Flippo, he went home and continued his practice, working hard on keeping the beat. The next time they returned to Cisco, Melton again invited him to call a tip, but this time, Melton noticed a marked improvement and told Flippo.

Wagon Wheel Dance Hall-Obstacles he faced
The Wagon Wheel Dance Hall

From those early days, Flippo called locally in Abilene, first at the Hayloft and then helped build the dance hall, The Wagon Wheel. He faced adversities that might have made someone else quit, but that was not Flippo’s nature. Because he never faltered but persisted, his calling career exploded so the obstacles never stopped him, and we’re the luckier for it.

Did you know this about Flippo? I would appreciate any comments! Scroll down below the information for the Comment section.


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