After I had been calling a year or two, I attended a callers' school run by the late, great Bill Peters. We met once a week during weekend afternoons at Monroe Hall in Santa Rosa. There were about a dozen of us in the class, and we were all required to bring our wives or partners along.

Bill was one of my square dance heroes. By then, I had attended a couple of his Mad Hatter beginner dances, and was in awe of the ingenuity of his choreography and delighted by his vaudevillian's sense of showmanship. Bill was the dean of square dance caller coaches, the greatest teacher of callers. He had authored several of the best books in the field, like Sight Calling Made Easy and The Mighty Module. When it was time for Callerlab to define the roles and course of study for caller coaches, they turned to Bill to lead the process. I subscribed to his note service, Choreo Breakdown, which I thought was brilliant. During class, I hung on his every word. And I was thrilled to hear how encouraging he was to me at the end of the class, especially since I had seen how scathingly honest he had been to some of the others.

Over the years I saw Bill from time to time. I almost always managed to find a seat at his table at Callerlab conventions. But after he retired to Lake Tahoe, and I became less active in Callerlab, we lost track of each other for a few years.

Then, amazingly, we reconnected through the internet and our mutual love of jazz – we realized we were both posters on the web's busiest jazz bulletin board, Jazz Corner. This time we became real friends, exchanging dozens of letters, e-mails and annotated packages of music.

We discovered we were of the same mind regarding the recurrent "What have we done wrong?" hand-wringing of callers, and even used the same term – "self-flagellation" – to describe the situation. I wrote a piece on the subject – On Popularity – that reflected our views, and was reprinted in American Square Dance Magazine and in the Callerlab bulletin, Directions.

Bill had a deep appreciation and understanding of the unique charms of modern square dancing. I often use the term "multi-dimensional" to describe square dancing. Bill had figured this out long ago: he taught that people had three recreational needs, physical, social and mental. Crosswords satisfy the need for mental recreation, ballroom dancing provides for both the social and the physical, bridge clubs satisfy the social and mental... but square dancing is unique among recreations in that it satisfies all three recreational needs at once.

My most memorable experience as a caller was working with Bill at the Maui No Ka Oi Square Dance Festival in April, 2003. In ways difficult to describe, it was a rite of passage for me, as well as a chance to work and spend time with my mentor, my friend, and kindred spirit. I'll always treasure the time I spent collaborating with Bill in preparing for the weekend and talking about everything under the sun.

Failing health for both Bill and Betty forced them to return to California to be close to their children, and complications from Parkinson's eventually claimed Bill's life. He left an enduring contribution to the square dance tradition and an indelible impression on all of us who knew him.


Billís autobiography is available to read on-line here: www.dosado.com/peters

 


DJ Capabilities

My Mentor, Bill Peters

Some highlights,
memorable dances


Four newspaper
stories about me