Advertisement

Hagerstown man calls square dancing a work of art

March 25, 2013|By JANET HEIM | janeth@herald-mail.com
  • Art LaVigne calls square dances for the Gad-Abouts Square Dance Club in Hagerstown.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

It was a campground square dance that prompted Art LaVigne’s parents and older sister to take up square dancing. Art was called into action because his sister needed a partner, even though the 12-year-old had no interest at the time.

“My parents volunteered me. They dragged me kicking and screaming,” LaVigne said.

That attitude changed quickly.

LaVigne, 49, who lives in Hagerstown and works full time as an IT support specialist in Rockville, Md., has been caller for the Gad-Abouts Square Dance Club of Hagerstown since 1997, one of the largest square dance clubs in the four-state area.

He said he doesn’t practice calling as much as he used to, but uses his long commute for that purpose.

LaVigne teaches dance classes on Monday nights at the Wilson Ruritan and calls for Gad-Abouts dances on the second, fourth and fifth Saturdays of the month at the Wacohu Grange. The Gad-Abouts dance at a Plus Level, which is the second level of difficulty. Mainstream is the first level.

“We are doing well. We are growing,” LaVigne said.

After more than 35 years as a caller, LaVigne, who capitalizes the “v” in his last name only for square dance purposes, has added something new to his résumé. He recently made his first recording of a square dance singing call to the tune of Huey Lewis’ “Hip to be Square.”

Recordings like this involve buying music from a recording company, going to a recording studio and taping the calls to background music provided by live musicians, LaVigne said. He debuted the recording to the Gad-Abouts in July 2012.

“Making a singing call is not a money-making proposition. It’s more a very expensive calling card, so people get to know you. It’s a perfect song for square dancing,” LaVigne said.

He promised his wife of more than 26 years, Amy, that he’d recoup a certain dollar amount on the first recording before making a second recording, which is now in the initial stages.

LaVigne and his sister danced with the Teen Travelers in Lowell, Mass., where they grew up, with Phil Kandrut, a caller in his 20s.

“Wow. This guy is good. I love square dancing. I decided I wanted to do it,” LaVigne said of square dance calling.

The week after square dance graduation in June 1977, Kandrut announced an amateur caller night. To prepare, LaVigne taped Kandrut calling a dance and spent hours memorizing the calls, which he repeated verbatim at caller night.

He impressed both Kandrut and his parents, who purchased an old sound system for him. LaVigne was 13 when he called his first solo square dance in New Hampshire.
 
Now, his equipment consists of a small laptop, an amplifier and a set of speakers. “Everything’s on the computer now,” LaVigne said.

LaVigne, who moved to Hagerstown with his family in 1991, attended callers school at East Hill Farm in Troy, N.Y., in 1980. He was a regular caller for a club in New Hampshire and two clubs in Massachusetts, and was a guest caller at many clubs in New England.

LaVigne’s years of experience allow him to size up a crowd and tailor the music and calls to them, depending on whether they need “rip-roaring music or party music” or are in the mood for softer music.

“I don’t call by memory. I call by watching dancers on the floor. I don’t know three calls ahead what I’m going to call,” LaVigne said.

He is quick to add that square dancing is different than it used to be and more contemporary than people think. He uses a mix of music, from current hits by Lady Gaga to ’80s favorites to country.

“It’s no big secret and my dancers know this — I’m not a big fan of country music. I’m a big fan of ’80s music and that influences my decisions. I use country music, but pepper it up a little bit,” LaVigne said.

Advertisement
The Herald-Mail Articles
|
|
|