Caller Autointerview: Don Dilges, submitted 8/7/10
Where were you raised and where do you live now?
I lived in Milwaukee most of my life, except for when I attended college in central WI. My parents were square dancers and they wanted me to try it when I was a teenager, but I wouldn’t go with them. I joined an international folk dance group in college. I graduated and return to Milwaukee in 1975. I missed dancing in a group. My parents talked me into taking square dance lessons, because they wanted the whole family to go with them to Peaceful Valley Lodge, a square dance and horseback riding vacation spot near Rocky Mountain N.P. Colorado. They had gone there with their square dance club several times. They wanted us kids to see it.
When (year) did you start dancing?
I took a Basic class in 1977, taught by Dale Wagner, in the Milwaukee suburbs. I danced with a teenage girl at the lessons, because I had no partner. She would hang on me, and her parents watched me like a hawk. I would leave the lessons and immediately go to the gay discos, where I felt more at home. I had no partner, and wasn’t interested in dancing with single women. I enjoyed the trip, with my family to Colorado. I didn’t square dance again until 1990, when the LGBT community in Milwaukee tried to get square dancing going.
I didn’t know there were gay square dances anywhere. I was right there to square dance, when I heard there was going to be gay square dancing in Milwaukee. I was taught Mainstream by Joe Frazier in 1991 in the first Cream City Squares class. Richard, my life partner since 1980, wasn’t sure about learning to square dance. He started dancing in the next class, two months after I started. I paid for his lessons, as his Christmas present. We both loved it, because we could do it together and still socially mix with other people. Mainstream with a LGBT group was wonderful!
I taught myself Plus from a handbook. I was pulled through a few Plus squares by people from Chi-Town, when they came up to visit Milwaukee and needed another dancer. I taught the rest of my club Plus next.
Plus is the highest level I dance. I’ve heard that callers should dance a level above what they call. I know about a quarter of the A calls. There is no LGBT club dancing Advanced level around Milwaukee.
I attended the 1993 Convention in Seattle with nine other Cream City Squares club members. It was great to be with a large LGBT crowd. I loved the outdoor Grand March. I loved the fun badge tour. Randy E. represented our club in the Honky Tonk Queen contest; he lost to Moolena, who was fabulous playing the saw and chewing her cud. We shared cheese and drink, from our balcony to their balcony, with the Finest City Squares rooming above us. We went to the Timberline to line dance and stayed until they closed, then found the buses had stopped running. Six of us, from Minneapolis and Milwaukee piled into a taxi to get back to the University of Washington campus dorms. We all had a great time.
Richard and I got our 10 year medallions in Chicago in 2010. Several members that started dancing with our club had medallions already; they had all moved to different clubs by the time they got their medallions.
Have you ever served on the board of a square dance club? (If so, which positions and when?)
I might have been Vice-President in 1993, the second year of our club, but I can’t remember. Our Secretary would have to find the old minutes.
I was President of the Club from October 1994 until October 1995. I started taking notes, in a notebook for myself, around then; I still take notes today at our meetings, even though I’ve never been the club secretary.
I needed details to produce our club newsletter. I put up the club website and keep it current.
We have no rules in our bylaws to keep the caller off the Board, so I have been on the six people Board all but four years.
What year did you start calling?
I really started calling in 1995, after I got a [BMI/ASCAP music] license to help out with calling for Cream City Squares. I kind of eased into it.
Where did you learn to call, and from whom?
Randy E., from Cream City Squares wanted to learn to call in 1993, but our club caller Joe said he would only coach for more than one person. I thought I’d give it a try; callers made it look so easy.
I probably never would have asked to call, but Randy E. asked me to try it. He was one of those people that got a lot of things going, but he lost interest in things quickly and would move on to something new.
Joe Frazier gave us an assignment, after a club dance, to find combinations of calls that equaled a square thru four. The next week I came to the dance with a list of 75 different combinations. Randy hadn’t bothered to do any. Joe let me use the mike to see if some of the calls worked, and many of them did.
I really wasn’t calling much, because Joe had taught us the calls, and then used records with the calls on them to dance. He didn’t like calling.
Joe had been coaching me for a while, and let me teach a Mainstream class under his supervision on Wednesdays, in 1994. I would try to teach each call using the call in as many ways as possible, according to the definition in the Mainstream handbook. One has to know the definitions and what the calls do, to really use them.
I reorganized the club record box, to have records ready to play with the calls I taught on them. I had to listen to all the records, and write out what calls were on them, to be ready to use them for the class. It was going okay.
Joe started leaving the Sunday club dances early, to try to start the club in Madison WI, in November. I used that opportunity to start teaching a Plus class from a Plus Handbook; I was teaching Mainstream in the same manner, so it just seemed natural to do the same thing for Plus. The club didn’t have many Plus records, so I started doing hash from my head and writing some calls for the club to dance to. I always found it difficult to call from what I had written down, because I was watching the dancers and would lose my place, and then would wing it until something worked.
Why and when did you decide to become a caller?
I was going to go to the IAGSDC convention, and Joe said I should consider going to the GCA Caller School. I guess that is when I really decided to be a caller. I sent a $130 check to the GCA for the caller school in early December ], and found people to room with from other clubs. Going to a caller school wasn’t cheap for me.
Joe informed me, that if I was going to be a caller one needs a [BMI/ASCAP music] license [which is generally obtained through CALLERLAB] . Joe said the club should have a person with a license to step in when he might be away, and the club paid for my license in 1995.
What caller schools did you attend?
I attended the 1995 and 1997 GCA Caller Schools.
I really didn’t know what I was doing, but because I had been on a mike before I went to the intermediate level in 1995. I was the only one to do sight calling, but that is because I really didn’t know I was supposed to have written material when I got there. I did okay, but was very nervous. I could resolve and teach a call, but I had a lot to learn.
The whole caller terminology was new to me; formations, arrangements, get-outs, modules, zeros, were all things I had never heard of before. I learned better ways for body flow, resolving, etc. I never knew calling was so complicated. Had I known there was so much to it, I might never have become a caller.
I decided, when I got back to Milwaukee, I would call at dances instead of playing records with the calls on them. Dancers like a live caller, so we don’t have to find where we left off on a record or tape to redo a song.
I took the GCA caller school again in 1997 in Las Vegas; I was better prepared and learned new things. Ed Foote pointed out my flow needed work. Anne Uebelacker evaluated the mikes we used; if it hadn’t been for her recommendation, I would be using a mike that doesn’t suit my voice. I had no idea there was such a difference before then in mikes.
I have improved with time. Members were not too excited I was going to call at first. After I called a year or two, people would ask “Who is your club caller?”, and I would say Joe. People would ask others in our club “Who is the club caller?”, and they would say “Don is our club caller”.
Who is (or has been) an influence on your calling style?
I’m not sure just what my calling style is. I only call for my home club, so I’m not around other callers very much. I still do most hash from my head, which is good some days, not so good others; a bad habit is hard to break once I get used to it.
Our club used to dance to Dee Dee Dougherty tapes, and I liked her using four different figures in her singing calls. I never did her yodeling thing, but I do four different figures in most of my singing calls.
Unlike most other callers, I’m not eager to get calling jobs or get calling time at other dances. I can call all I want at Cream City Squares. I like to dance when I go to fly-ins, attend other club dances, and conventions. I have called a few tips at fly-ins in the past (Chi-Town, Minnesota Wild Roses, and Grand River Squares), but generally leave that to those who are eager to call more. I’ve never called at any square dance convention. Most people wouldn’t know I was a caller, if I didn’t have a badge that says I am.
How often (many times per week/month) have you/do you call, and for which club(s)? I used to call more than 50 dances a year, but I cut back.
I call almost once a week, or about 46 dances a year for Cream City Squares; we dance for three and a half hours, with longer breaks between tips as people get worn out.
I rarely call for local groups or individuals looking for a caller, unless I feel it will promote our club. Generally I hand off calling jobs to other local callers that want the work.
Which fly-ins have you attended?
Dick & I have been to 17 Chi-Town fly-ins, all the Minnesota Wild Roses’ fly-ins, five of the Grand River Squares fly-ins, three of Cleveland City Country Dancers fly-ins, and one Rocky Mountain Rainbeaus fly-in. I‘d like to go to more fly-ins, because I have enjoyed all those I've attended.
It is hard to attend fly-ins, when I teach and call for my club on Sundays. I hate to leave, when I run a class, even though I know Joe Frazier would cover for me.
What are your favorite aspects of calling?
I worked at repetitious jobs, and calling was mentally stimulating. It was my way to be creative. I love to play games and puzzles, and that is what square dance is like for me.
I like keeping the dancers happy. Making everybody feel apart of something wonderful.
I like to challenge the dancers to dance better. I like to call unusual combinations of calls, or use calls from non-standard positions to keep them thinking. I have to balance hard and easy, so the dancers don’t get frustrated.
I try to remember the interesting ways calls are used, in odd or unusual ways, at other dances; I try recreating those sequences at my home club, to add more zest to our program.
I’ve been calling for 15 years and some people in our club have been dancing Mainstream and Plus for 19 years. I have to keep it interesting, or we will lose members.
Sometimes I think people move up to Advanced and Challenge levels, because many callers make Mainstream and Plus too boring. It doesn’t have to be that way.
What are your least favorite aspects of calling?
I don’t get to dance enough.