You have found David Smukler’s dance website.

photo by David Millstone

I am a dancer, caller, choreographer, and organizer of contra dances and English country dances.

I went to my first contra dances as a teen in the mid 1960s and have been a devotee ever since. My initial experience with calling was in 1981 in Salem, Massachusetts, when I was asked to step in, because the local caller took summers off (and of course no one wanted to stop dancing!). I love being a caller! It is an ongoing opportunity to learn more about dancing while getting to facilitate people’s sense of fun and discovery!

I call extensively in upstate New York, and I have often traveled farther afield, including gigs on both coasts, Canada, and the Czech Republic. To learn more about me, you can listen to this podcast.

There has been a lot of change in country dancing over the decades that I’ve been involved. I love that! Participatory dancing is a living and breathing tradition. It was great then, and it is different now, but still great.

Please contact me if you are interested in having me call for you. I can lead contras, squares, English country dances, family dances, school programs, or special events such as weddings, festivals, etc. I also offer workshops on numerous dance related topics. I generally use positional language for teaching and prompting, but I’m happy to call using whatever language your group prefers.

My taste in dances is eclectic, and I endeavor to present a wide variety of dances when I call. 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 blend old favorites with new gems. Fortunately, there is no dearth of wonderful dances to draw on!

All in the family

Laurel and David at the ball

My entire family has long been involved with dance and music. My mom started me playing the guitar many years ago, and I still play some. My wife is a truly fine musician who plays recorders, whistles and oboe for English and contra dancing. My oldest son also plays numerous instruments quite well; his favorite is the mandolin. The next one is a great singer (a tenor) who enjoys dancing and has composed some very intriguing and mathematical dances. The youngest raps in English and Vietnamese, and has expanded my tastes in music. Our two grandchildren have started lessons early and enjoy family dance camps. I expect them to be forming bands before you know it.

And, yes, it’s true. My wife, children and I have all, at one time or another, been 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.

Having earlier served a six-year stint on the governing board of the Country Dance and Song Society, I recently became their board president. If you are connected in any way to traditional participatory dance or song in the North America, you have certainly felt the influence of CDSS. Please join! (PS- Working with CDSS means that I’m busier than ever, so you can expect this website to be updated sporadically for a while.)

Various Dance projects

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 (listed as “beta”). There are also a number of as yet un-tested dances created during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • I also offer a repository for some interesting dances by friends and neighbors who do not have them published elsewhere.
  • Cracking Chestnuts, a compilation of columns I wrote for the CDSS News with contributions by David Millstone. The book includes all the columns (slightly refined), and adds some more material from David Millstone as well as appendices with directions for 20 more chestnuts and a list of our sources. Cracking Chestnuts is both an introduction to and an appreciation of such wonderful dances as Hull’s Victory, British Sorrow and Rory O’More, and includes notation for appropriate tunes for the dances. David and I have also created a set of video examples of every dance in the book, including those in the appendix.
  • Bring Back Money Musk (“It’s once, and a half around, once and a half and you go below…”) At the “Cracking Chestnuts” release party we, of course, danced the Money Musk as the first dance after the break, and–oh my goodness!–many others agreed to do the same thing at the same time. I created these web pages to track correspondence related to what turned into a grassroots movement to “Bring back Money Musk!” Read stories about both the train wrecks and stunning successes.
  • 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 created a syllabus for that year as well.
  • Sannella Stories is a webpage I created in collaboration with David Millstone to acknowledge Ted Sannella, “The Dean of New England Callers,” on the 25th anniversary of his death. The site includes many people’s memories of Ted, a collection of photographs, audio files, and videos, an index of all his dances, various other people’s dances and tunes dedicated to Ted, and links to other sites with information of interest.
  • Petronella Spin-offs. I used to try to track every contra dance that borrowed the spin-to-the-right move from Petronella (yes, the chestnut that started it all…). I gave up after 200 or so. The best way to do this now is to go to The Caller’s Box, type “petronella” into the “Figures match” box, and click “Search!” Last I looked it was well over 1,000.