Dan Fishman: You’ve led so many square dances throughout the city – what makes for a great square dance?
Dave Harvey: The most important thing is having an enthusiastic crowd. It doesn’t matter what I do or what the band does if the crowd doesn’t bring a lot of energy and excitement to the event.
DF: Do you think Bryant Park crowds bring that kind of enthusiasm?
DH: [chuckles] Yeah, definitely. And it’s just a fantastic mix of people in a fantastic space. Makes for a unique experience for everyone – myself included.
DF: I’m still amazed that New Yorkers have become so enamored of square dancing. Obviously the square dance has its roots as a rural event. What do you think has made it so popular here in the city?
DH: Well, it’s rural in origin but there’s nothing about it that should make it unappealing to an urban audience. Maybe one difference: in a small community you’re used to knowing everyone around you and in a city we don’t pay all that much mind to all the people around us. But everyone enjoys interacting with others and events like these remove inhibitions and create a safe environment for people to interact. It’s social dancing with some structure: even if you don’t consider yourself an amazing dancer, you can express yourself within a structure that allows for some comfort.
|Dave has led at all three of the previous Bryant Park Square Dances.|
Photo: Jusay Photography.
DF: Are there any tricks that you have as a caller to help people feel more comfortable?
DH: Keep it easy. Easy and energetic – that’s the key. It’s important to keep things at a level that people can enjoy.
DF: Especially at Bryant Park: many of the people who square dance here have never done it before in their life.
DH: Yeah! There are folks coming in and out at different times and at very different skill levels. The best way to keep it interesting is to add variety: long-ways dances, big circle dances, squares, 8-person squares, 4-person squares. And as I like to say: it’s not a dance class, it’s a dance party.
DF: How do you prepare for calling all of those dances? How much is improvised?
DH: I tend to over-prepare and I usually use all of the dances I prepare over the course of a night. That being said there’s improvisation in a sense: the timing and sensing what the crowd on the floor wants. It’s the same with musicians: there are musicians with great technical skill but they are not interesting dance musicians. They’re flawless but it lacks energy. Musicians also have to have a feel for how people move to their music – rather than just play the tune impeccably. Calling square dances is the same thing.
DF: Speaking of music what do you think of bands for this weekend: The Remedies and The Calamity Janes?
DH: They’re fantastic. Great energy. They know each other well and listen well. Very experienced, talented musicians. I’ve worked with them a lot, in particular The Remedies, and they know my style and the tunes I like. I don’t really have to ask anymore: they know well.
DF: You’ve been talking a bit about your experience as a caller. Can you tell me more about how you got started?
DH: There wasn’t a single moment. The first dance I went to was at Bates College, where I went to school. I was told it was a good time and it was and I started going a lot. There was a point when I would go to two or three dances a week. Basically I learned how to do it by going to a lot of them and by paying attention. I also am a person who likes to organize and to get a party going – so it seemed like a fun thing to do. At some point I was asked to lead a dance as a volunteer and did that well and eventually did enough of those to get a paying gig. And it just went from there. In New York I organized my own gigs: bought a sound system, brought in bands, advertised – and it’s been nine years now that I’ve been doing that at NYC Barn Dance.
DF: One more question: let’s say you’re talking to a New Yorker you’ve never met before and they’ve never heard of Bryant Park Square Dance. What do you say to them to get them to come?
DH: It’s awesome music under the lights in the middle of Manhattan with hundreds of people and you don’t have to know anything about it to have a great time. And people at the event are always smiling – that’s what makes it interesting for me.