by Ben Bennett
If you believe in “what goes around comes around” (in a good way), you need look no further than Brian Crawford.
A square dance caller for more than 20 years, Brian certainly gets around. He has been all over Eastern Ontario and to points beyond, but his home club is right here in Lanark County.
Born in Perth, Brian has been calling for the Mississippi Squares since 1999, guiding Basic and Mainstream dancers on Tuesdays and the more experienced Plus dancers on Fridays. During dancing season (September to April), you’ll find him at Brunton Hall, Blacks Corners (just south of Carleton Place) on Tuesday and Friday evenings.
The next season begins with two open houses for anyone who would like to give square dancing a try with no cost: Tuesday, September 10 and 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Brian and his then-girlfriend, Amy, started dancing with the Mississippi Squares in 1991. Three years later they were married.
They had met at the arena in Perth, where Brian worked for the town’s recreation department. In classic Canadian tradition, Brian soon found himself making the rounds as a Zamboni driver.
But it wasn’t hockey that was in Brian’s future. Amy was from a musical family and it wasn’t too long after they met that she got him onto the dance floor, making the rounds as square dancers. And they’ve been there ever since.
In square dancing, the participants form groups of eight, known as squares, and they follow the instructions of the caller. Responding to these calls, the dancers perform a series of moves that end up making a pattern designed by the caller, and in step with upbeat music.
“We were a little taken aback by the traditional clothing (it’s not like that today), but the people were so friendly and the caller was both fun and funny,” says Brian. “I was interested and surprised by it all. I was also intrigued by the culture and how organized it was. There was an entire network, with many clubs in small towns as well as in cities. They met weekly and held big dances that attracted hundreds, even thousands, of dancers.”
Brian and Amy served on the local club’s executive in those early years, but they also acted as “angels,” temporary partners for single dancers. This is something that all experienced dancers do at some point, which means you don’t have to be part of a couple to make square dancing a regular pastime.
In 1995, Brian started learning how to be a caller, taking an introductory course with John Charman, and over the following two years received ongoing tutoring from then Mississippi Squares caller Mel Wilkerson. John currently calls for the Meri Squares in Ottawa and Mel has since moved to Australia and is calling there.
In 1998, Brian and another local caller, Geoff Clarke, started the Town and Kountry Kickers in Stittsville. Geoff took over as full-time caller for the Kickers in 1999 and Brian started calling for the Mississippi Squares. Over the years, Brian also called for the Dynamite Tays in Perth, the Bytown Squares and Shadowcasters in Ottawa, and the Swinging Saints in Brockville.
“In the early 2000s I was calling five nights a week, but work commitments made that unsustainable after a while,” says Brian. By day, Brian is regional manager for Benson Auto Parts in Carleton Place; he has been in the industry for more than 30 years. “We now do lots of guest calling, but the Mississippi Squares are now our only permanent gig.” Brian has also been invited to square dance conventions across Canada and “literally hundreds of other dances.”
“Our club is very honoured to have Brian call for us,” says Mississippi Squares co-president Vince Guthro. “His skills in calling tips are amazing. He uses humour to make everyone feel at ease, he shows us new moves and says things like ‘easy peezee, lemon squeezy’ or ‘smooth like store-bought pudding.’ We are blessed to have Brian and Amy as part of our square dance family.”
Enthusiasm, camaraderie and sense of community are alive and well with the Mississippi Squares. Making the rounds as a square dancer could be in your future too.
See you on September 10 and 17.