Bring Back Money Musk

By David Smukler and David Millstone


Links to: Cracking ChestnutsData from March 2009Data from March 2010


Money Musk is a classic American contra dance, one of a group of dances frequently referred to as the “chestnuts.” It has a venerable and fascinating history, which is explored in depth in the 2008 book Cracking Chestnuts. Two of us, David Smukler and David Millstone, worked together on this book, and also created this web page. Our book is available from the CDSS Store.

Cranes Dancing 1

Money Musk Animation by Ariel Barton
OK, maybe it’s silly…. But, if you are unfamiliar with Money Musk, these origami cranes can teach you the basic geography of the dance. Music on this video is from a recording called “New England Chestnuts,” and features:

  • Rodney Miller, fiddle
  • Randy Miller, piano
  • Sandy Bradley, guitar
  • George Wilson, bass

The Ever-Expanding “Money Musk Moment”

In early 2009, as a way of celebrating the publication of Cracking Chestnuts, a book we’d worked on together, we two Davids proclaimed that March 14 would be the date for the first ever International Money Musk Moment. Callers, musicians and dancers heard the call and celebrated this great old dance in 22 locations, including Switzerland, Denmark, and New Zealand. Granted, not everyone was able to participate on that exact day, so the grand tally (involving 1,376 dancers and 88 musicians (the same number as keys on a piano) included dances held on or about that mid-March date. Many people wrote to us to describe their experiences, and we collected their comments.

Emboldened by the success of that moment, we decided to broaden our horizons, and declared March of 2010 to be International Money Musk Month. Callers everywhere were encouraged to add Money Musk to their program provided that the musicians knew the tune and the dancers were capable of doing the dance. We were especially delighted to see many callers and musicians rise to the challenge and presenting the dance for their first time. There were many successes, and some glorious failures. (See the 2010 comments page for descriptions of both.) As a result, well over 2,000 dancers experienced this grand old dance in March of 2010.

Since that time, we’ve stopped trying to collect all the instances of Money Musk being danced. We are optimistic that Money Musk has a bright future in the repertoire for today’s dancers. So, just as McDonald’s eventually just gave up counting and declared “billions and billions [burgers] served,” we hope that we are beyond a need to count, and that Money Musk can be simply declared alive and well. In the places it survives best, such as Nelson, NH, certainly Money Musk never really needed our declarations to continue to thrive!

It does not really matter if we declare a particular month to be “Money Musk Month” or the 21st century to be “Money Musk Century.” In the end, it is strength of the dance itself and not our declarations that will carry Money Musk into the future. It’s simply a great old dance, and we encourage you who are callers to continue to include it in your programs. No need to wait for March. Please consider calling it any time that it is suitable for your dancers.

If You’d Like to Call Money Musk…

Money Musk is a classic in the repertoire and is finding a legion of enthusiastic new fans. However, the dance is not without its challenges. For example:

  • Money Musk is a triple minor proper dance. Since these appear rarely on contra dance programs nowadays, many 21st century contra dancers do not understand how they work, and extra instruction is typically required.
  • The style of the dance is old-fashioned. It involves a same sex (proper) right and left through, and the number one couple is an active couple, while two thirds of the dancers are in a support role at any given time. This is not difficult, per se, but the style is unfamiliar to many. Again, more instruction or explanation may be required.
  • Money Musk has no neighbor swing. It also has no partner swing. That’s right–no swings at all! In contemporary contra culture, some dancers complain if they don’t feel they get their quota of swings.
  • The timing of the center portion of the dance is subtle, and there are many variations. This creates a teaching challenge.
  • Many curmudgeonly traditional dancers have developed strong opinions about timing and style, which can create some tension on the floor, or between such dancers and their caller. There are callers who prefer not to walk into this hornet’s nest.
  • The tune called Money Musk is a challenging one to play. And yet play it they must, as the tune is so closely associated with the dance. The most common versions of the dance also use a 24-bar tune, and most contra dances are done to tunes 32 bars in length, which simply would not fit. (If you are a musician who would like to start practicing the tune, you can click here to download it.)

“Bring Back Money Musk” T-shirt design by Bill Finch

The bottom line: we know that Money Musk has been around for centuries, but it is still a new experience for many of today’s dancers! Despite these challenges over twenty callers agreed to call the dance for our 2009 Money Musk Moment, and that number more than doubled in 2010 for Money Musk Month. For more detail, check out our very thorough data compilations for 2009 and 2010.

Callers in particular may profit from reading the collective experiences of their peers; the comments include many useful tips about how to present this unusual dance with a greater likelihood of success.

By the way, we continue to hear regularly from callers who are trying Money Musk for the first time. We are delighted with this; it is wonderful to hear about Money Musk being danced any month of the year! We apologize for not being able to continue to post all the comments that continue to come to us.

Money Musk on the Web

Videos from the 2010 International Money Musk Month

  • Canterbury, New Hampshire with Dudley Laufman, calling and dancing; music by Jane Orzechowski, Neil Orzechowski and Sylvia Miskoe
  • Deerfield, New Hampshire— Tony Parkes taught the dance, but had dropped out calling by the time the video started; music by Burt Feintuch, Emery Hutchins, John Carew and Bill Zecker
  • Tunbridge, Vermont— Money Musk danced at an open house hosted by the Ed Larkin Dancers; calling by Adam Boyce and music by Harold Luce and Donna Weston
  • Holstebro, Denmark with John Tuck calling to recorded music
  • Toronto, Ontario at the Earth Hour Dance (cutting the power and dancing in the dark!) with Bev Bernbaum calling and music by Anne Lederman, Tom Leighton and Greg Renault

Videos from the 2009 International Money Musk Moment

Other sites of potential interest…

  • John Michael Seng-Wheeler’s “Bring Back Money Musk” video documenting Nils Fredland calling the dance at the Swallowtail 30th anniversary weekend, held at Camp Becket, Massachusetts in the fall of 2008.
  • A page from Walter Lenk that documents a Duke Miller dance from 1965. Clicking on the links on this page allows you to listen to a recording of the dance. You will find Money Musk in a common spot on the program: the first dance after the intermission.
  • Alan Jabbour’s page about his visit to Monymusk, Scotland.

Cranes Dancing 2

And here’s another Money Musk animation by Ariel Barton. This version has slightly different timing and features Ralph Page calling with:

  • Dick Richardson, fiddle
  • John Trombly, piano
  • Junior Richardson, bass