CALLERLAB came to life because the future of square dancing looked bright! All over the United States this dance craze exploded during the 50s and 60s. But with no organization in place, dancers faced mayhem if they traveled just fifty miles away from home because there was no standardization of calls. So, at home one call meant one thing; over there, something totally different.
Bob Osgood, being a futuristic thinker, caller and the editor a popular national square dance magazine, saw a gigantic need and provided an answer. Producing his square dance magazine provided him contact with callers from all over the United States, and this same problem kept cropping up.
Something of this magnitude took time. Organizational meeting started in 1964, and Bob used his magazine, Sets in Order, to report the progress of his group to the dance community. After organizing, they realized they had other issues to address in this group besides the standardization of calls.
In 1974, the first CALLERLAB convention occurred, with ten callers working with Bob to form this new organization, the international association of square dance callers. “Marshall Flippo was one of the eleven founding members of CALLERLAB.” They meet annually with banquets, training, calling and conversations.
The founding fathers were Bob Page, Marshall Flippo, Ed Gilmore, Lee Helsel, Arnie Kronenberger, Bruce Johnson, Joe Lewis, Bob Van Antwerp, Dave Taylor, Frank Lane, and Bob Osgood.
Flippo had a close association with Bob Osgood because he had worked with him at Flip’s favorite festival at Asilomar, California, and several of these callers worked there, too. Interestingly, Flippo had close relationships his whole calling career with all the founding fathers. He told hilarious stories about many of them and wanted them included in his biography.
Flippo’s Thoughts About CALLERLAB
When I interviewed Flippo for his biography, Just Another Square Dance Caller, he labored over his responses to my questions about this group he loved.
Flippo wondered about CALLERLAB, “See, we were getting great, huge, humungous classes at that time. I wonder if CALLERLAB hurt it, or did it? I believe it might have. It could have made the longevity longer, you know. Anyway, I thank, but it might have hurt it in a way like I go into a town and the guy following me, he called the same type of dance. So now you went in, at that time, you went in as a person, but now you go in as ‘He’s a Mainstream caller or Plus caller or, at best, caller.’ They still used your name, but it’s just incidental.”Larada Horner-Miller, “Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo,” (2020): 223.
As he processed his feelings, he recalled specifics, yet still wavered about CALLERLAB’s influence on the activity he loved.
Flippo was on the Board of Governors for ten years, “but I got off it and decided I’d never get back on it. I had enough. I wasn’t much of a leader, Larada. I was just in thar, and I’d be real quiet. Sometimes I wouldn’t say anythang the whole meeting.” Flippo never envisioned himself as a leader—he helped get this organization off the ground and running but didn’t want to participate in the governing anymore; however, he was a regular attendee right up until the 2018 CALLERLAB Convention, the year he died.Larada Horner-Miller, “Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo,” (2020): 222.
How Did CALLERLAB Standardize Square Dance Calls?
CALLERLAB’S standardization divided the square dance calls into separate lists at five different levels, with each level becoming more difficult. It started with Basic and then Mainstream. Originally, they had Plus1 and Plus2 but consolidated into Plus. Then they had A1 and A2 with the A standing for Advanced. The last level was Challenge divided into five levels. Today we still dance and teach these levels.
This topic was hard for Flip. “Geez, this is tedious.” So, when the list came out and everybody was teaching the same things, it became easier for a caller to go some place and they say, “Now we want Mainstream.” Then he knew they could probably dance Mainstream pretty well.
Pretty soon they were hiring callers for the level they could call, and a lot of the festival were all Mainstream, and then Plus got in there and most of them now are Plus. “So, damn, I can’t say it the way I want to say it.”
But once the list came out, it seemed all the callers began to call the exact same things. “Basically, if you hired one caller, the next caller you hired would call basically what the other caller called. Do you see what I mean? Before . . . it seems like they hired callers for their name and how they called . . . so pretty soon, they were hiring them for their level instead of for their name.”
After the lists came out, Flippo remembered that he was to call over in Lubbock, Texas. “Man, I knew those guys over thar were good dancers, so I made up a whole dance of stuff that I wanted to call. Well, when I got over thar, I started calling. Well, I thought they could do what I had written down, but every time I’d try somethang, it would go under. I knew the first tip that they weren’t going to be able to dance what I had written down and what I thought they could dance, so I had to kind of fall back on really what I thought they could do. It was tedious for a caller in a way to go somewhere without the list.”Larada Horner-Miller, “Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo,” (2020): 227-228.
Finally, to end our discussion
Flippo’s statement, “We took ten lessons, and we were square dancers” demonstrated the evolution in square dancing. Today’s weekly lessons average four and a half months—a far cry from ten weeks.
He responded, “Yeah, that’s about all you had to do. You know, Betty [Casey, one of his mentors] taught four or five classes a year because if you just did ten lessons, you had two and a half months. She could teach another class, and that’s what I did when I first started calling. I’d teach a class, and two weeks later, I would start a new class. So that way, I thank, we got too uppity, uppity or somethang.”
Looking back, CALLERLAB came up in fourteen interviews with Flippo, a topic he loved to talk about yet wrestled with often. No matter what, he loved it!Larada Horner-Miller, “Just Another Square Dance Caller: Authorized Biography of Marshall Flippo,” (2020): 229.
CALLERLAB continues to be a major influence on square dancing and has endorsed a new program, “Social Square Dancing” which can be taught in twelve weeks. Interesting how similar its length is to Flippo’s original experience of lessons so many years ago. The pandemic has affected our activity, so hopefully this new mindset will provide a movement that makes Flippo’s word come true, “I thank it’s going to survive it.”
For more information about CALLERLAB, visit their website: https://www.callerlab.org
Did you know about CALLERLAB before this blog? For more information about square dance history, here are two other books to look at:
- Bob Osgood, As I Saw It, Humbug Enterprises (2017).
- Jim Mayo, Step by Step Through Modern Square Dance History, (2003).
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