Square Dance Calls
(Nurturing Well-being and Health)
Natalie Phelps is a square dance caller and musician from Potter County who, through a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Apprenticeship grant, has learned traditional calls from master callers Harry Erhard and Raymond Wetherby.
“When we revived the dances at the Odin Grange in 2006, they hadn’t happened since 1961. Some of those folks who came lived right around here and hadn’t seen each other since the last Odin dance. Lots of crying went on.”
Odin is part of the rural community in Potter County rocked by the scandal of Adelphia Communications' collapse. People lost their jobs, retirement savings, and trust in a company that had been considered a “hometown” corporation, despite its Forbes 500 status. Natalie started learning square dance calls when she realized that no one was calling in the area anymore and that the community needed something positive to rally around. Over 200 people attended her first dance.
“When Adelphia folded, emotionally, it was quite a shock. It’s been kind of scary for folks since then. When we had a square dance, there were people there of all types who would never get together for any other reason. In fact, we are still getting calls to please keep the dances going. No one had ever experienced anything like that. It was very healing.”
Natalie Phelps notes that the calls in Potter County (in Pennsylvania’s northern tier) has a very specific kind of square dance call: “This region has what they call singing calls, there is a specific call for a specific song. If you tell a band you want “Oh Susanna” there are specific calls for that… [This is different from the “southern style” that uses many songs for specific calls.] The dancers up here like it because they know the calls. They sing right along... they have a following, and people call right along with them. They know every step, which some people would find boring, but it seems to be a real comforting thing… I don’t know how big this region is with the singing calls… That was the only style [when I started playing]. It still is, up here. They don’t do contras or line dancing, or anything like that. And it’s the same calls, very same calls. People who danced in the 1950’s, now it’s their grandkids who are doing the very same steps.”