David Smukler

The Chrysalis

COVID-19 has changed so much about our world. For those of us who love social dancing and song, it has put everything we are used to about these activities on hold. (For example, see my schedule of upcoming dances on the right….) Without a doubt it has been very hard. But take heart! Although the virus has eliminated face-to-face dancing for now, the pause will NOT last forever! We are in a chrysalis. A lot is going on in here. When we emerge, it will be beautiful!

What have you been up to while face-to-face dancing is on pause? I have been organizing my messy dance library, rewriting dance notes, working with some online events, trying to play some music, and donating where I can to help other dance folks out of work. I have also created several new dances that you can check out here.


Photo by David Murray

As a teen in the mid 1960s, I started doing this thing called “contra dancing” at a summer camp in New Hampshire. I loved it! I Dancing became a lifelong habit.

In 1981 I began calling for dances in Salem, Massachusetts. I was asked to step in, because the local caller took summers off and we did not want to stop. I soon discovered that being a caller is a great opportunity to facilitate other people’s sense of fun and discovery while having lots of fun myself!

Before the onset of the pandemic, I led many evenings of contras and squares, English country dances, family dances, school programs, and special events such as weddings, festivals, etc. I also presented workshops on numerous dance related topics. My taste in dances is eclectic, and I tended to present a wide variety of dances when I called. My repertoire of American dances includes plenty of New England-style contras, as well as an assortment of squares, singing calls, mixers, old chestnuts and freshly minted dances. I also have a special fondness for English country dances, and my English programs likewise blended old favorites with new gems. Fortunately, there is no dearth of wonderful dances to draw on!

I am mostly a New York State caller, but I have often traveled farther afield, including gigs on both coasts, and in Canada as well as the US.

All in the family

David attends the ball

My entire family has long been involved with dance and music. It was my mom who started me off playing the guitar many years ago. My wife is an excellent musician who plays recorders, whistles and oboe for English and contra dancing. My oldest son plays numerous instruments quite well. He will list them for you if asked. The next one is a devoted dancer and great singer who has composed some very intriguing dances. The youngest raps in English and Vietnamese, and has expanded my tastes in music. The grandchildren will not be far behind….

And, yes, it’s true. My wife, children and I have all been (at one time or another) Bassett Street Hounds. The Hounds are Syracuse’s finest (and only) border Morris team. Woof!

Dance organizations

I am a longtime member, supporter and board member of my local dance organization, the Syracuse Country Dancers. I also did a six-year stint on the board of the Country Dance and Song Society, a vibrant organization dedicated to “continuing the traditions and linking those who love them” throughout North America, and I’m a longtime supporter. If you are connected in any way to traditional dance and song in the North America, you have certainly felt the influence of CDSS, and I’d encourage you to join!

Dance projects, large and small

The links below may be of interest to other dance geeks.

  • My Dances: These include both tried and true dances, and some experiments that might benefit from further development. There are also several new (though untested) dances created during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Cracking Chestnuts, my book, which is intended as an introduction to–and appreciation of–such wonderful dances as Hull’s Victory, British Sorrow and Rory O’More (video examples of all the dances in the book)
  • Syllabi for the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend. Some of these were created by other people, but I did lots of them. My first was 1998, and then I did all but one through 2014. When some missing tapes were discovered for 1997, I went back and did that year as well.
  • Ted Sannella Dance Index: all of his published dances, for others who appreciate (as I do) Ted’s rich contribution to contra dance choreography
  • A list of Petronella “spinoffs” (The list is long out of date and no longer maintained, but you can still go and read all about it…)
  • Bring Back Money Musk (“It’s once, and a half around, once and a half and you go below…”)
  • I also offer a repository for some interesting dances by friends and neighbors who do not have them published elsewhere