Hal Barnes – Square Dance Caller

    Hal’s mom and dad both learned to square dance when his dad was stationed in Albuquerque, New Mexico in the 1950’s.  When his dad retired in Colorado Springs, his parents began to think that square dancing might be a good activity for their teen age sons. So they started a square dance club for junior high and high school students, the Pikes Peak Promenaders. The Promenaders became a very active club which spun off an exhibition team, the Renegades, who gave many dance exhibitions throughout Colorado during the 1960’s and 1970’s. Hal started calling in 1965 while in high school and began teaching a grade school club, the Little Peaks, which fed into the Promenaders. Hal’s brother Randy also learned to call but his interests led him into folk dancing. Randy also became a very accomplished hammer dulcimer and concertina player and plays for traditional dances along with his wife Carol.

    When Hal went to the University of Colorado, he began calling for the University club, Calico & Boots. He met his wife, Elaine, at one of those club dances, although she had just come with a friend to watch and didn’t dance. The Calico & Boots club remains very active to this day and gave outstanding exhibitions when the National Festival was in Denver with many of the dancers being the children of the Club members when Hal and Elaine were there.

    Hal’s ability to pursue calling was made possible by his supportive parents. They ran the Promenaders Club for many years, giving Hal a place to work on his calling. They took the family to the National Convention in Dallas (1965), many Colorado State Conventions, and countless dances while being a constant source of wisdom and encouragement during his high school and college years. Hal’s dad taught the classes and his mom taught styling and etiquette. Hal still uses quotes from his mom during classes: “Son, the only polite way to leave a square once you have joined it, is on a stretcher.”

    Besides his parents, three people have had a great influence on his calling. Frank Lane, from Estes Park, Colorado, was the principal caller influence on Hal’s calling. He was a founding member of CallerLab and had a large dance hall (The Dance Ranch) in Estes Park where he would draw large crowds of dancers through the summer months. Hal and his family would frequently dance at the Dance Ranch. Hal would take along his bulky old reel-to-reel recorder to tape Frank at the dance and then take it home and study how Frank called. Frank was superb at calling smooth, interesting choreography which instilled in Hal a desire to do the same. Hal and Elaine later attended Frank Lane’s caller’s college. Here is a sample of Frank Lane calling from about 1985.

    Another big influence on Hal’s style of calling came from Don Franklin, a Denver caller who called regularly in Colorado Springs. Don had a great voice and was a master at using vocal techniques to add energy and drive to the dancing. Hal also tape recorded Don and in his early years of calling sounded like a teen-age Don Franklin. Don went on to start the Wagon Wheel record label which set the standard for excellence in square dance music. Here is a short sample of Don Franklin from Fall of 1965.

    The other great influence on Hal’s calling came from Dorothy (Mrs. Lloyd) Shaw, who together with her husband “Pappy” Shaw made a huge contribution to the promotion of square dancing with their program at Cheyenne Mountain School near Colorado Springs and his book Cowboy Dances in the late 1940’s. Mrs. Shaw put on a week-long dance camp each summer which Hal’s family attended along with many of the former Cheyenne Mountain dancers. The camp promoted a broad range of dancing: square, round, folk, English, and contra. Mrs. Shaw gave a short lecture at the start of each day on the gracefulness, beauty, and joy of dancing. While Hal’s style of calling came from the callers, his philosophy of dancing is directly from Mrs. Shaw. Hal still uses quotes from Mrs. Shaw in his lessons: “Gentlemen, your purpose on the dance floor is to make the ladies look good!”

    When Hal went to graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, he thought he would quit calling to focus on studies, but he and Elaine (now married) discovered that the money ran out about half way through the school year. So Hal had his dad ship the calling equipment to Pittsburgh while Hal prayed for some calling jobs, even though he was unknown there. And the Lord heard his prayer, because Hal was soon offered a position calling for a new club south of Pittsburgh which had already lined up 8 squares of beginners, but didn’t have a caller. So Hal became the first caller for the Friendly Squares of Cannonsburg, PA, and Elaine took the beginner class right along with the others and learned to square dance.

    Since then Hal and Elaine have lived in Chicago, Denver, and Washington DC area, calling for clubs in each location. He called for two clubs, the Belair Square Cats of Bowie, MD, and the Wagon Wheelers Camping Club for almost 20 years. Hal and Kenny Farris also called a January weekend together in Lancaster, PA, for 19 years. Elaine goes with Hal to every dance and lesson that he calls, providing great support and assisting with the teaching, but Hal knows that getting a compliment from her is hard-won indeed. Hal and Elaine have four grown daughters, all having danced while growing up. One event that demonstrates the generosity of the square dance community is when their daughter Allison was tragically paralyzed in a car accident in December of 1998. Over $23,000 was raised in a benefit dance which allowed them to buy a wheel chair van for her.

    Hal and Elaine enjoy a wide variety of dancing. They enjoy swing dancing to big band music and country music as well as round dancing. Hal has an active interest in traditional square dancing and called for a traditional dance group in Northwest DC. Hal and Elaine also had an English dance group (see any Jane Austen movie) which did English dances from the 1700’s and dress in period costumes for elegant Balls twice a year. They both cherish the many good friends they have made through square dancing in the DC area. This year (2015) is Hal’s 50th year of calling, but he says he’s going to keep working on it until he gets it right.

    In April 2015 we ended a 28 year chapter of our lives with a move from the DC area to Rocky Ford, Colorado. While it was really hard to leave all the great friends in the DC area square dance community, we are excited to see what the future will bring with a new start in southern Colorado.

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