Lansing State Journal
Barn dancer calls 'em like he sees 'em
Dudley Laufman promises 'reel' good time this weekend
By Kate O'Neill For the Lansing State Journal
Legendary caller and fiddler Dudley Laufman and his partner Jacqueline Laufman will lead festival goers through the easy old-time dances that people have been dancing in southwestern New Hampshire for generations.
"We prefer the simple dances," Dudley Laufman said via phone call from his Canterbury, N.H., home last week. "Virginia reels, circle dances, waltzes and polkas. These are dances anyone can do. No experience is needed."
Laufman may include a square dances and at least one session of contra dancing (which uses many of the same figures as square dancing, but is done with couples in two facing lines).
"But if there's nobody going to be able to do them, we won't do it; we'll revert to the easier stuff," he said.
That's not likely, given the large number of enthusiastic contra dancers in the Lansing area, who fill the monthly dances held by the Ten Pound Fiddle and Looking Glass Music and Art Association.
Julie Levy-Weston, president of Looking Glass and Technical Director for the Folk Festival, said the contra dance community had asked for some kind of New England contra dancing at this year's fest. That led Levy-Weston to contact Laufman. She had seen a video of his work, knew he had been at the 1999 Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington, D.C., and had heard about him from contra dance friends around the country.
"Dudley has seen a lot - how the contra dance tradition has changed and grown," Levy-Weston said of Laufman, 72, who has been playing and calling dances for over fifty years.
He became hooked as a teen working a summer job on a New Hampshire farm. The farmer and his wife would push back the chairs in the kitchen on a Sunday evening, and neighbors would come in to play fiddle and piano and dance the Virginia Reel.
In 1959, Laufman moved from Massachusetts to New Hampshire. He bought himself a couple of acres of land for $25 and set about making a living as a musician and a caller.
"Contra dancing began catching hold around 1963, when it was discovered by the hippies in the back-to-the land movement," Laufman said.
Soon they were flocking to "Dudley Dances."
Today, the hippies' kids have become computer programmers, he says, and are dancing "urban contra dances, very aerobic with complex figures." Laufman prefers simple dances, "the kind they do in Nelson, New Hampshire, where they still have a regular Monday night dance."
Now he and Jacqueline play about 300 dates a year as Two Fiddles - school programs, Elderhostels, weddings, community dances, and an occasional dance in the small "ballroom" they added on to their house.
Jacqueline Laufman is some 20 years younger, and, like Dudley, a self-taught musician. "I don't read music; neither does Dudley," she said.
She had played accordion before switching to fiddle. "I had been playing it only a few months when Dudley hired me in 1986. He said the (dance music) would sound good on two fiddles.
"Then changes in our lives enabled us to be together," she added. They have shared a home since 1989. Jacqueline later changed her name to Laufman. "But we are not married," she said.
They live in a cottage they built themselves. They heat with wood and get most of their food from the big garden out back. They've always had electricity, but indoor plumbing was a recent addition.
Earlier, Jacqueline Laufman had decided a computer was important for their business. "Dudley kicked and screamed at the idea of our having a computer. But I was determined to get one and learn how to use it."
Mostly self-taught, she created their Web site (www.laufman.org). Only then did Dudley, who is also a poet and essayist, discover the merits of word-processing.
Now they have a second computer - dedicated to his writing.
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