Ralph Page


Squares, contras
Squares, contras

Ralph Page


Ralph George Page was born in Munsonville, New Hampshire, on January 28, 1903, into a Scottish-Irish family whose ancestors included Irish minstrels, a grandfather who was an Irish dancing master, an uncle who was a square dance caller, and a father who was a fiddler.

Based in Keene, New Hampshire, "Uncle" Ralph became the top authority in the field of New England Country dancing. On December 6, 1930, Ralph started calling contras, almost by accident. He was playing fiddle in an orchestra when he had to substitute for a caller who had come down with laryngitis. That day was December 5, 1930. From that beginning, he rose to the top of his field as an Eastern contra caller, becoming one of the country's first full-time professional callers in 1938, known as the "Singing Caller of New England." He was a featured caller at the 1939 New York World's Fair. His choice of music was great, the dancing smooth and elegant, and always there were the pithy, clever remarks from Ralph over the microphone.

In 1943, Ralph began leading a weekly square and contra dance evening at the Boston, Massachusetts, Y.W.C.A. He continued this class session for the next 25 years.

In 1945, Ralph married Ada Novak of New York City, whom he met at Camp Merriewoods in Stoddard, where she was assistant camp director. He wrote to Michael Herman, "I think that most of the International dances are grand and the tunes and figures delightful, but because of my background I specialize in the American dance and keep the others as a sideline. Throughout the years I have come to appreciate both types of folk dances more and more. One other thing -- I insist on my sessions being clean and wholesome. I will not tolerate drunkenness or rowdyism. I let people have a good time, you understand, but there is a difference between a good time and a brawl." (Folk Dancer, Vol. 6, No. 1, January 1946) That same year, Ralph was one of three founders of the Natick, Massachusetts, New England Folk Festival Association (NEFFA), and was its president for many years. Ralph was NEFFA's first Master of Ceremonies at their First Folk Festival on October 28 to 29, 1946.

In 1946, a daughter, Laura Susan, was born to Ralph and Ada. Laura would bless the proud grandparents with two children of her own, Seth in 1970, and Erica in 1974.

From 1949 to 1984, Ralph single-handedly published 165 mimeographed issues of his Northern Junket magazine, which contained editorials, recipes, stories, dance notes, and sheet music for squares, contras, and international folk dances, and sheet music for many folk songs. He took great pride in publishing 18th and 19th century dances which his research had uncovered. His interpretation of obscure dance directions from old books and manuscripts found in the Library of Congress and elsewhere made it possible to revive many beautiful old dances such as The Market Lass and British Sorrow. Some fifty of these dances appeared in Northern Junket and his books, Heritage Dances of Early America and An Elegant Collection of Contras and Squares.

He became a recording artist in 1946 on the Disc label for Moe Ash. He made his first trip to the West to "sell" the dances of New England to West Coast (particularly California) folk and contra dancers in 1949, teaching at the Stockton Folk Dance Camp. By all accounts, his trip was a success. In 1950, when Michael and Mary Ann Herman started Maine Camp, now Mainewoods Dance Camp, Ralph joined their staff and he was associated with the camp the rest of his life, editing the camp's newspaper, Pioneer Press. Dick Crum and Gordon "Gordy" Engler wrote the Hungarian Waltz Quadrille that appeared in a spoof edition of the Pioneer Press, in 1962. Dick and Gordy wrote take-offs on every section of the Pioneer Press, then substituted their own mimeographed versions for the originals that everyone found at their tables at breakfast!

In 1951, he became a recording artist for the Herman's Folk Dancer record label. Ralph also complsed many a good tune for dancing such as "East Hill Breakdown" and "Year End Two Step" on the Fireside String Band album, published on the F&W label. During his teaching tour in England, the English Folk Dance Society produced a record album by The Southerners Orchestra of Kent, England, titled Southerners Plus Two Play Ralph Page containing 11 of Ralph's original tunes and accompanied by a English Folk Dance and Song Society book titled The Ralph Page Book of Contras.

In 1950, Ralph began his square and folk dance camps, the first in New Hampshire, after having left school and holding a number of full- and part-time jobs. He also was invited to teach at dance camps in other areras of New England, as well as in California, Georgia, and parts of Canada.

In 1956, Ralph was sent to Japan for seven weeks by the U.S. Department of State Exchange of Persons branch, travelling all over the country teaching contra dances to folks who had never seen one before. In 1966, he went on a teaching tour of England under the sponsorship of the English Folk Dance and Song Society (ESFDS).

Ralph lead his November Square Dance Weekend (known as "November Weekend" to many of the dancers of the time) for many years at East Hill Farm in Troy, New Hampshire. Of that weekend, George Fogg, who taught the camp for 17 years, writes, "They were unforgettable years! The staff was amazing and all were basically square / contra dance callers, but each had such a varied style that it made each class not to be missed. The evening programs were unbelievable, as Ralph would invite any local caller / leader there to do a small piece. My, what an evening's entertainment and what a variety was presented out of nowhere. Of course, every year it would be different as various folks would be there."

In 1966, Ralph taught and called a contra dances in England in a series of 37 events.

In 1967, he received the New Hampshire "Granite State Award" that acknowledged him as an outstanding citizen for his talents as a dance teacher, caller, and musician, as well as for his community contributions.

In July, 1976, resplendent in top hat and cutaway coat, Ralph was the Grand Marshall of the Keene Bicentennial parade.

In 1980, the international square dance organization "Callerlab" honored Ralph in a Miami Beach ceremony with their "MIlestone Award."

For the rest of his life, Ralph kept up a busy schedule running many dances in the New Hampshire and Massachusetts area, as well as doing landscape painting, carving picture frames, and reading history and mystery stories voraciously. He even wrote mystery stories and an unpublished mystery novel. He was considered one of the leading callers of his time and an important figure in the history of traditional dance in America. He died on February 21, 1985, in Keene, New Hampshire, where he had been living for many years. He was buried in Munsonville in the family cemetery plot.

In 1986, the accumulated papers of Ralph George Page were purchased from Ada Page jointly by the University of New Hampshire Library and the New England Folk Festival Association. The 36 Hollinger boxes of material, processed in February of 1995, "contains Ralph's correspondence (from the early 1940s until his death), personal notebooks, daily calendars, scrapbooks, numerous manuscripts (including an unpublished novel), dance calls and instruction, programs from folk festivals, camps, and dances, typescripts of early books on dancing, subject files that contain information on folk song and dance, folk culture, and other subject areas in which Ralph was interested, as well as, memorabilia, and photographs, his library of approximately 600 books, as well as periodicals (including a complete run of his own The Northern Junket), pamphlets, dance camp syllabi, sheet music, printed musical arrangements, instructional notebooks, films, and 1,600 recordings." Around 1988, Ralph's library was donated by the Ralph Page Memorial Fund, NEFFA, to the Special Collections, Dimond Library, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire.

Among Ralph's publications are

Dances Ralph taught include All the Way to Galway, Antigonish Square, April's Hornpipe, Arkansas Traveler, Ashuelto Hornpipe, Atlantic Hornpipe, Atlantic Polka Quadrille, Banks of the Dee, Beaux of Albany, Beaux of Oak Hill, Big John's Breakdown Contra, Big John McNeil, Bold Highwayman Contra, Bonita Two Step, Bonny Lass of Aberdeen, Braintree Hornpipe, British Sorrow, Camden Y Contra, Canadian Breakdown Contra, Canadian Lancers (Ontario), Cape Breton Square, Cayuga Reel, Cheshire Hornpipe, Chorus Jig, Christmas Hornpipe, Cincinnati Hornpipe, Cloverleaf, Cocheco Hornpipe, Connecticut River, Criss Cross Reel, Dandies Hornpipe, Doubtful Shepherd, Downfall of Paris, Dud's Reel, Easy Does It Contra, Fairfield Fancy, Fallen Timber Reel (Timber Salvage Reel), Fiddle Hill Jig, Figure Eight, Fisher's Hornpipe, Gents and Corners, Glover's Reel, Go Halfway Round, Gone a Rovin' Contra, Good Girl, Goodman's Fancy, Grand Square, Griffith's Fancy, Halfway Round, Happy Polka, Hard Times, Haymaker's Jig, Heel and Toe, Heel and toe #2, Hofbrau Square, Homosassa Hornpipe, Hull's Victory, Interchange Freeway Ioca Reel, Isle of Skye, Jack's Life Contra, Jackson's Jig, Jefferson's Reel, Jenny Nettle, Judge's Jig, Kiss Your Granny, Kitchen Hornpipe, Lads of Kildare Contra, Ladies of Kildare, Lads of Kildare, Lady Bogart's Reel, Lady Walpoles Reel, Lancers, MacArthur's Reel, Maple Leaf Jig, Maple Sugar Gal, Marching to Pretoria, Market Lass, McCarthy's Reel, Megunticook's Reel, Miss Parker's Fancy, Monadnock Reel, Money Musk, Montreal Breakthrough, Morning Fair Hornpipe, Morning Star, Morning Star (Northern Vermont Variant), Naughty but Nice, Needham Reel, Nellie Gray, New Century Hornpipe, Newlywed's Reel, None So Pretty Contra, Odd Couple Promenade, Old Colony Hornpipe, Old Countryman's Reel, Opera Reel, Patience Waltz, Patronella, Portland Fancy, Presque Isle Eight, Queen's County Hornpipe, Queen's Favorite, Queen Victoria, Reel Salle St. Andre, Rickett's Hornpipe, Rival Contra, Road to Californy, Roger's Square, Rolling Off a Log Contra, Rory O'More, Sackett's Harbor, Shoe-Skidoo, Silver and Gold, Sn(y)orkel, Spanking Jack, St. Lawrence Jig, St. Patrick's Day in the Morning, Star and Chain, Star on the Sies?, Swing Two Ladies, The Bold Highlander, The Bold Highwayman, The Crooked Stovepipe, The Devils Own Jig, The Geud Man of Ballingigh, The King's Return, The Kitchen Hornpipe, The Nelson Lancers, The Nova Scotian, The Graces, The New Englander, The Orange Tree, The Rival, The Tipsy Parson, The Tourist, Three O'Clock Waltz, Timber Salvage Reel, Twilight Two-Step, Verona's Favorite, Washington's Quickstep, Ways of the World, Wishful Waltz, and Yankee Reel.