Forming squares - Eric Clamons
Eric Clamons was a square dance caller in Minnesota in the 1940s and 1950s. A chance conversation with his son in 2013 revealed that Eric had taped numerous recordings of square dances from the early and mid-1950s, some 50 of which were donated to this project. (The collection also included many boxes of printed matter, festival programs, newsletters, correspondence, and more.)
We have included on this site three examples of Eric's calling, recorded at a dance in Evansville, Indiana, where he was a visiting couple. In this one, he's demonstrating his method for moving dancers into squares.
Dean Clamons, Eric's son, shared this brief biography with comments about other items in the collection that is now at the University of New Hampshire's Library of Traditional Music and Dance:
Eric was born Erik Chlamtatsch in Vienna, Austria in 1919. He grew up in Austria and Bucharest, Romania. He spoke Austrian, German, Romanian, and French before he came to the US. He immigrated to New York City in 1939. His experience working several jobs in New York taught him that having a German accent was a hindrance to promotion, so he proceeded to lose his accent. He moved to St. Paul to attend Macalester College where he was offered a scholarship. There he met Marjorie Dawson, his soon-to-be wife. They married in 1944 (I think), and he joined the Navy to join the war effort. I, Dean, was born in 1945, the first of five children.
Eric changed his name to Clamons, a name used by one of his cousins, while teaching at the University of Minnesota because his students continually mispronounced his name. Eric was trained as a mechanical engineer and received electronics training in the Navy. In 1952, while working on a secret project for Honeywell, the family spent a year in Fort Walton, Florida. I later found out that the project was design and test of an autopilot for Air Force planes. When we moved back to Minnesota he joined Remington Rand UNIVAC, and started to work on the design of new computer systems. He later moved into computer standards activities including serving on, and eventually chairing, the committee that designed the ASCII character code for computer communication.
I’m not sure when my parents started dancing, but I think it was early in their relationship. He quickly became a caller, and by the mid-50s was calling several times a month. He attended the American Squares Dance School in 1950, I believe. As was frequently the case with my parents, he was on the staff within a couple years. My mother soon also joined the staff.
Eric called dances mostly in the Twin Cities area, but sometimes traveled further to various places in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. He sometimes called at college in southern Minnesota (maybe St. Olaf’s) where dancing wasn’t allowed. That was obviously going to be a problem, but it was solved by teaching play-party games instead. That was perfectly OK.
At some point Eric was asked to call squares for a TV program in St. Paul. One of my birthday parties was held at the broadcast of one of these programs. When one of my friends told his parents that he had been on television they didn’t believe him. They brought him back to our house to find out if was lying to them. Being on TV in those days was, indeed, very rare.
Dances in the 1950s in Minnesota were mostly accompanied by recorded music. Live music was rare. Dance programs typically started with round dances that were mostly mixers. Most of the succeeding program was square dances with both patter and singing calls. A few contras, round dances, and international dances were thrown into the mix.
In 1960 Eric’s job took the family to the Philadelphia, PA suburbs. My parents found that the club dancing there was not to their taste, and they stopped actively dancing at that point. Eric continued to occasionally call dances for school and church groups.
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This collection is from my parents, Eric and Marjorie Clamons. They were active dancers, teachers, and organizers in the Twin Cities in the 1940s and 1950s. My Dad was also a caller. I’m not sure when they started, but by 1950 (about when I start remembering things) they were very active. I know that they were members of several groups:
• Highland Square – a small group of about two squares located in the Highland Park section of St. Paul where we lived. It meet in the members’ basements. I remember being drafted to fill in when it was at our house and they were short a man. There are a few flyers in the collection.
• Swingmasters – a regional group in the Twin Cities area. I think they met about once a month. There were a lot of callers in that group, and many of them called at their meetings. There are some flyers and dance programs in the collection.
• Folk Dance Federation of Minnesota–a statewide group dedicated to all types of folk dance. It subsequently became the Square Dance Federation of Minnesota. They published a small magazine called ‘Round-Up’ which for several years was printed in our basement. I think my Dad was instrumental in drawing up the by-laws for the organization. There are a lot of documents from this organization in the collection including letters, magazines, dance flyers, and dance programs.
• Festival of Nations – this event was organized by the International Institute in St. Paul. I think it is still going on. My parents were at times involved in the organization of the event, and several of my brothers and sisters and I, along with several others, danced in a group representing Austria where my Dad was born. There are several programs from these events in the collection.
• American Squares Dance Camp – this was a dance camp held at YMCA Camp Iduhapi outside of Minneapolis from around 1950 to 1959. My Dad was on the staff (though not quite from the beginning). My Mom joined the staff as secretary a couple of years after my Dad. They also served as registrars for several years. It was attended mostly by people from the upper midwest, though staff members also came from New Jersey, Florida among other places. There is a lot of material from the camp in the collection including advertising flyers, song sheets, syllabuses, dance descriptions, and letters from various staff members and attendees.
My Dad called at events of all of the above organizations as well as many school and college events. He also was the first caller in the Twin Cities to call on television. There was a program on KSTP that featured (I think) country music, square dancing, a comedian, etc. There are at least a couple of play lists from those programs among the collection. In 1952 my family lived in Fort Walton (it wasn’t a beach yet), Florida. While we were there my parents stayed active with local groups, and Dad called dances on TV in Mobile, Alabama (or was it Pensacola?). I’m pretty sure there are a few documents from those events.
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