The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 5


“I Was A Teenage Square Dance Caller!”
By Paul Silveria

Paul Silveria calls a dance to the music of the Tallboys. Photo:Jon Warren

I was sitting on a couch in a Seattle warehouse where tattooed and pierced figures hustled about setting up decorations and stocking a makeshift bar with gallons of vodka and whiskey. I had been asked to call square dances at a CD release party for the Infernal Noise Brigade, a protest-based marching band. They had gone to extreme lengths with their theme, sort of a demented county fair. There were stereotypical hay bales and overalls, a livestock peep show, “pig” wrestling (a man in a full police uniform in a straw covered sty), and a barbeque grill that was outfitted with a pedal operated gas jet that sent a ball of flame into the rafters.

The partiers were decked out, either in hillbilly costumes or their sleekest hipster outfits. Everyone was getting drunk and listening to loud rock bands. At midnight the big warehouse doors swung open and the Noise Brigade rode into the party, playing their drums and horns on top of an old El Camino, and tossing live fire crackers into the air. They played their set on top of the car in the middle of the floor, then rode back out the way they came. It was now around 1 AM, and it was my job to get the sloshed crowd square dancing.

That might be an odd situation for many callers, but not for me. You see, these were my peers. I was 21 when I started calling. So, even if I wasn't quite a teenage square dance caller (I couldn't resist the title.) you’ve got to admit that I was at a pretty tender age for a Northwest city-kid to take up a pastime that I had always associated with rural, septuagenarian Texans. Nevertheless, there I was, telling middle-aged folk-revivalists and dreadlocked 20-somethings to do-si-do.
I was born in Vancouver, Washington just north of Portland, Oregon. My parents fostered my creative side, but there was nothing related to square dancing in my upbringing. We didn’t know any musicians or dancers, and we didn’t have any kind of old-time music in our small record collection. Until the age of 20 I was a square dance virgin. So, how the heck did I start calling square dances?

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