Dudley Laufman is a familiar figure in New Hampshire — he’s practically a part of the geography, after playing and calling for barn and contra dances for more than 60 years, most recently with his partner Jacqueline Laufman, performing as “Two Fiddles.” We take a lot of our natural wonders for granted here, so it’s nice when someone from outside the state takes notice and gives credit where it’s due. In May Laufman was bestowed the nation’s highest honor in folk and traditional arts — a Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, becoming the third Granite Stater ever to receive it. The award comes with some cash — a $25,000 honorarium — and a task. He has to stage a performance in D.C. in September. As Dudley might say, that’s pretty good pay for one gig.What got you started as a caller? I loved the dancing when I was 18 years old listening to performers like Ralph Page or Joe Perkins. Sometimes they weren’t working and I wanted to dance, so I learned to call. I went to an agricultural high school and besides milking cows and feeding pigs they had a square dance club. I was on the hockey team, but I noticed that the boys who did the calls got a lot of attention from the female segment of the school.What makes a great dance caller? It’s hard to tell. Dances today are sometimes too “teachy.” Many of the callers are fairly new and not that sure of the material and just want to make sure it works. But you’ve got to give the benefit of the doubt, there’s a dancer in everybody. They’ll figure it out. As long as they aren’t killing each other, let them do it their own way.What’s the largest dance you’ve called? Probably it was a thousand dancers in Port Townsend, Washington, at the American Fiddle Tunes Festival. The largest crowd we’ve played for was 16,000 people at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Others playing that year at Newport were Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Donovan, Theo Bikel, Pete Seeger, Peter, Paul and Mary. That was the year that Dylan got booed off the stage when he came out with his electric guitar. Do you see the barn dance continuing into the future? I saw a video the other day where they were dancing to hip hop, rap music, and there was not even a caller as far as I could see. It was contra, they were dancing in line and doing all kinds of moves. You’ve got to be different to make a mark. I did the same thing. I elected to do more contras than squares and used live music and let them clap hands and come to dances with bare feet. Young folks today are pushing the envelope and staying on the cutting edge just to be recognized. Some will fall by the wayside, but those who are good at it will leave their mark.
This article appears in the July 2009 issue of New Hampshire Magazine