Bob Brundage - Well hi again. This is Bob Brundage in Albuquerque, New Mexico and tonight we’re talking with a young lady from back in New YorkState who is a very … busy, very busy gal with the handicapable program of square dancing, Michelle Mabie. She is also the President of the US Handicapable Association and Chairman of the Callerlab committee on the handicapable program. So Michelle, tell us a little bit about your background, where you were born and brought up, etc,
Michelle Mabie - All right. I was born and raised New Jersey all of my life until just a year ago. Around the age of fifteen - actually I started square dancing as a teenager and used to compete in 4-H and everything. And my parents got me involved and told me - unfortunately at that age you’re getting used to, you know, boys and all that good stuff - told me there was a cute boy there so I went. The boy stopped coming to square dancing but I took square dancing so …. and have been square dancing ever since and have met so many wonderful people and friends and everything through all these years.
BB - Good. Was yours a musical family?
MM - Musical in that we enjoyed it. My mother used to play … used to play the piano a long time ago but we weren’t overly musical. All of my family did dance at one point. My brothers don’t any more but my parents have square danced and everything so ….
BB - I see. Yes. Well, at one time you were married to Mike Jacobs. Whereabouts did you two meet?
MM - We met actually at a square dance festival down in the Baltimore area, down at the Hunt Valley Festival down at the Mason-Dixon Square Dance Festival and he was calling at the festival and came up and just started talking to me and my daughter was quite little back then. We started dating from there and then Mike had moved up to New Jersey and we got married and became a family with his daughter Kristy and her half-brother Billy and continued, you know with his square dance calling based out of New jersey. Then he began a New Jersey group and continued to travel all over then.
BB - I see. Well, had you taken any caller’s schools yourself?
MM - Actually I’d taken the caller’s school that Mike and Randy Page had done up in Sturbridge, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. I actually did that probably at least three times. First, I had to laugh, was the summer when we were married and it was a small school that year so they needed some more students so I got snookered into that one (laughs) ….
BB - Ah ha.
MM - …. which I found very … which was very intense. So it was a very interesting first caller’s school experience.
BB - Yes, right. Well, have you been involved in a lot of festivals and things like that?
MM - Every dancer … I’ve have always gone … my family was into going to a lot like the WASCA Festivals down in the Washington, D.C. area and the Mason-Dixon Festival down there and in New Jersey had, their, state festival and everything so we used to enjoy going to many of the festivals for dancing purposes. Calling, I pretty much have always stuck to just, you know party nights and doing my handicapable groups ….
BB - I see.
MM - …. and helping people when necessary or maybe to help them with the Basic or Mainstream level.
BB - OK. Well, all right. Now how did you get involved in this handicapable program?
MM - Well actually my calling career and my handicapable career sort of started similarly at the same time. I figured … actually, my occupation … I’m a special education teacher so I have already had the love of working with individuals who have disabilities. So, I had…. I was married …. my first marriage I was also married to a caller. He had received a phone call from one of the … the ARCs which used to be the Association for Retarded Citizens asking if he could call for them. And he wasn’t interested in that so I thought, well, wait a minute ,OK, I’m a Special Ed teacher, I’m a square dancer and I figured at the pace that the dancers were going to learn that I could probably be able to work with them and teach them and everything like that. So I told them I would do it and gave it a shot and that’s been about seventeen years ago.
BB - Oh, I see. Well, then how did you get involved in the US Handicapable program?
MM - I actually, I remember I was out at a weekend just spending time with my Aunt and we were surfing the web here and I found the US Handicapable Association on line and made contact with the President at the time who was Dean Emery who was also the founder of the Association. I contacted him and he told me that there was a Handicapable Convention every other year. I think really the first one that my group went to was back in 1998 down in Daytona Beach, Florida. So we got in contact with them and we’ve been going ever since. My group has been going and Dean … two years ago they celebrated the 20th anniversary of the US Handicapable Association and he had asked me if I would take the leadership position as he was ready to move on, but he would definitely be there to help out. So I have been very proud to take, you know, to take that on, and to continue the wonderful legacy that he had started.
BB - Yeah. OK. Well, tell us a little bit …. I understand that many of your members are developmentally disabled. I understand there are actually sort of two factions. You have the ones that have a problem with Autism or Cerebral Palsy and then there are others that are not disabled in that manner but are simply in a wheel chair but still fall under your program. So tell us a little bit about each of those programs.
MM - All right. I’ll start out with the one where the dancers, like you mentioned, the dancers have developmental disabilities which is a very wide umbrella like you said. It can be anything from Autism to Cerebral Palsy to Down ’s Syndrome to just learning disability. So, that group is …. the groups that I actually still have down in New Jersey and stuff, the dancers are primarily developmentally disabled. Not all of them, we have actually … the convention has been, you know for everyone. We tend to have more dancers at the convention who are developmentally disabled. The ... as you mentioned there are the two factions so there is definitely different timing for the dancers who dance in wheel chairs as compared to the dancers who are developmentally disabled.. But, as you mentioned, the dancers who are in wheel chairs, some of them do have developmental disabilities. Some of them do not. There’s a wide range. Some of them are in electrical wheel chairs, some of them have pushers as they call them so … and some are … individually wheel themselves. So there is definitely so many different components when you’re talking timing and everything like that. And it’s primarily just the differences. We had at one of the handicapable conventions, we had everyone there and it was a group from Taipei, Taiwan and Jennie Wang was the caller. She brought a square of her dancers who were in wheel chairs and we all danced together. They pretty much stayed together in their own square just because of knowing their own timing and their own need for their certain space because of the chairs and being able to turn and everything. But it was actually a nice, wonderful mix of everybody. But definitely, in reference to calling for them, you know, timing is definitely a big factor. Everybody will ask me well, you know, what can you call? As a caller you have to kind of have to cater to your floor and that’s just the big thing with handicapable groups no matter what type the group is. You just have to see where your floor is at and kind of detail your calling according to that. But one thing everybody has in common is their love of square dancing and they love it very passionately and are just wonderful people. I miss the groups I have in New Jersey right now. I don’t get to see them as often and everything but they are definitely a part of my family as are all the rest of the dancers that I’ve met over the years through all the groups.
BB - Well, how large a group was it?
MM - Bob, I had two groups in New Jersey and there were … there’s two squares apiece. For one possibly on a good night we’d have three squares. I’ve lucked out to have a friend of mine take over the group and then keep them going. They’re getting ready shortly for the Handicapable Convention which is in ‘Gatlinburg, Tennessee this year, as well as going to the National Square Dance Convention in Louisville this year.
BB - Great. I notice there is quite a bit of activity around the country. I added up seventeen different states that had handicapable programs.
MM - Yes, definitely and we’re still finding out through our web site and through Callerlab we’re constantly getting referrals. And when I get referrals, even for people who want to have dances … actually there’s been a …. one of the USDA members, she was actually one of our representatives and then went back and started her own group. So we’re constantly finding out about new groups. There’s handicapable groups in Australia, Canada, Denmark and Germany and China so we definitely continue to find out about more groups which I think is wonderful.
BB - Yes, right. Well …. (Laughs)…. I notice you have quite a list of callers that are friendly to your program as well. I guess not every caller would really be able to adjust to such a situation. You have quite a prestigious group. You’ve got Tim Marriner and you’ve got Marshall Flippo and various national callers like that plus a lot of other callers around the country. Tell us about some of them.
MM - Actually that’s been a wonderful work-in-progress as we continue to go to the National Square Dance Conventions. I remember, my first exposure to a National Square Dance Convention in taking my group was, you know, those were interesting times for the first time. I mean I didn’t know what to expect taking the group, and the hall at that time they didn’t program callers to call in the hall because they felt that the groups would want to dance to just their own handicapable callers. That was one thing I found a little frustrating because, I know myself as a dancer, I want to dance to different people at the national. So one thing I’ve worked on very hard, and the committees have been wonderful working with me, is just trying to get, you know, I want an awareness too of handicapable groups that are out there and for other people. Like you said, not every caller can call for that group and it’s definitely …. I would like to encourage more people to do that. I think more can than they think they can, and they need to give themselves a little bit more credit. But you know everybody ... we all have our gifts. As I said, the committees have been wonderful letting me ask people and I started just in the beginning just with people that I knew when they would give me who were registered for the National Convention. I would proceed to ask them “would they call in the handicapable hall” and our list has just continued to grow and grow. And the word’s getting out there between the US Handicapable Association, between Callerlab, and being out there. We’ve done sessions at different things and just getting the word out there, about how wonderful these dancers are. I think it’s as much a gift for the dancers but as much a gift for the callers to be able to call for them and realize what a special group that they are. So I’m thrilled that our list is growing and growing. Now, when we go to the conventions, before it was like who wanted to call, and now we’ve got people asking to call in our hall which I’m just ticked pink by.
BB - Tell me (coughs) excuse me - of the two groups you had in New Jersey did either of them turn into an exhibition group?
MM - Actually yes. The two groups … my groups in New Jersey they pretty much traveled together as one group even though they were separate entities but they kind of traveled together as one because of the way our trip has been planned and everything, because both groups are run through the ARC and everything. We actually ….I started having them do exhibitions oh, I think Portland may have been our first one that they have done an exhibition at least for the Nationals but we’ve done your local …. like membership picnics and we’ve done a couple like your nursing homes in the area and things like that. So, they’ve actually been doing exhibitions for quite a while but we’ve been doing that pace since probably Portland, doing that and continue to do it every year at the National.
BB - Yes. What’s the name …. do you have a particular name for the groups?
MM - The one group is called the Hunterdon Stars and the other group is called the Mercer ArcAngels.
BB - I see. OK. Have you performed at the Nationals?
MM - Yes, We’ve performed at the Portland National and actually the past couple after that. I believe San Antonio we did not go to but we’ve been to every one since then basically - Charlotte and Wichita and the committees have just been wonderful and very welcoming to us and have been wonderful.
BB - Yeah. Was this a wheel chair group or not?
MM - No. The group that I have, the dancers are developmentally disabled.
BB - I see.
MM - I have members in the group who do dance in wheel chairs periodically, especially in the one group the Mercer ArcAngels but the dancers don’t tend to be able to go on the trips with us because it’s a humongous financial responsibility to be able to go on the trips and everything.
BB - Well, I’m sure you’ve seen many exhibitions with wheel chairs and they’re quite astounding I assume.
MM - Oh, they’re amazing. I remember … actually it was my first actual square dance National which was in Baltimore back in 1984 and we saw the Yes Wheel Chair Dancers and they were just, they were wonderful. They’ve been dancing for quite a long time. I think just recently they stopped dancing the past couple of years but it was just amazing. They were just wonderful and the ability that they have. All of them,. everybody worked so hard and their hearts are into it. It was just awesome to watch.
BB - Did they do fancy figures, you know, something like Venus and Mars or something like that?
MM - Each group is different and definitely I know some of them … I’m trying to remember … I believe they’ve done some of the different moves like that and even Grand Square and Grand Colonel Spin. There was a group out of Pensacola…. they just recently kind of retired the group … the Pensacola Special Steppers … they’ve been doing exhibitions and dancing for years and they actually had a large group that actually could do quite a few of the Plus moves and were mainly exhibitions and they were doing a lot of the Venus and Mars and different things like that. So, each group is definitely different and, like I said the Yes Wheel Chair Dancers I now they just did, you know, like you said, similar types of … even though there’s more … they have to be more specific with some of the moves just because, you know their spinning ability or they have to somehow maybe adapt a move a little bit for timing purpose and things like that.
BB - Right. I noticed you have, just like modern western has, Basic and Mainstream and Plus etc., you have two different sets of calls. You call one ’Basic’ calls with nineteen basics and then you have more advanced that adds another twenty-four or twenty-five for a total of forty-four. Your mentally disabled, how far along are they able to get?
MM - Actually every person is definitely … it’s an individual thing. Like I said the group down in Pensacola many of them were developmentally disabled and they were doing Plus and could probably dance circles around some people who are doing Plus. I have some dancers who can do a little bit more in my group and then there’s other dancers who cannot, so I think every group kind of, you know, you kind of have to adapt your group a little bit. There are dancers who may be able to for a little bit more and some dancers who will not be able to. So I think …. I actually know of a dancer, I believe ….I’m not sure if it’s true, if his true diagnosis is Autism or Asperger’s. I’m not sure 100 % what it is, but I know he’s dancing C1. So, I think, you know everybody … it just depends on their ability but, as I say you don’t want to underestimate what they can do. There are some that may only be able to dance to our Handilab Basic list but there may be others that can even go to classes and dance Plus and, like I said get even higher. It’s just depends on, you know, shoot for the moon and see where they can go.
BB - Right. Well, do you feel that this is an advantageous program as far as developing mentally for those that are, developmentally disabled?
MM - I do. I think it’s just a wonderful for square dancing for so many different components. I mean, yes cognitively I think it’s good because it does help with some of the processing and being able to think. And square dancing in some ways is concrete, because you’re physically moving through it but as we know some of the calls are somewhat abstract and being able to take you anywhere. You need to turn and spatially and stuff so I think those square dance moves in that respect definitely help. But I think the whole social component of square dancing which all of us know, whether you’re developmentally disabled or not. There are so many different people and the groups and just the community. The handicapable groups are giving as much as they receive, just like you said, exhibitions in different places. A lot of them do community, things out in their community and parades in their towns and things like that. So I think there are so many different components that it’s all wonderful for everybody involved.
BB - Right. Well, since you moved to upstate New York have you gotten involved in another group?
MM - Not just yet. It’s taken time with …. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to move after forty something years (laughs).
BB - Right.
MM - So it takes time trying get my job going and everything but I anticipate …. I’m hoping in the next year or so that I’ll definitely get something going up here and hopefully we’ll have everything settled in New Jersey. The one group’s taken care of and we’ve got to get the other one going here so once I get those guys settled I definitely want to get something started up here.
BB - And you’ll be going to the National convention in Louisville?
MM - Yes. Yes. Taking my groups there and I’ll also be hitting the Handicapable Convention in the beginning of August there in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, so it will be a busy summer for everybody.
BB - How many people are in the group that you’re taking?
MM - I’m not one hundred percent sure yet because we’re actually in the process of putting the trip together. I have the Recreation Director for one of the ARCs [Patti Johnsen]. She actually has done a wonderful job helping me with this ever since we began traveling with everybody. She gets all he information, the hotels, the flights and she organizes everything and puts it all together but then we have to see …. she puts it out …. we put it out to all the dancers but it depends on who can afford it and things like that. So that’s going to be the defining factor because we have two trips this year and then of course, the trips are never, never cheap. So, we do some fund raising and I have … we do a couple things like ‘Adopt A Dancer’ just trying to raise some money for the groups ….
BB - Sure
MM - …. to help out in any way. Many of the handicapable groups …. we find that not a lot of the groups get to travel just because of the financials, you know maybe their local festivals and things like that they get to go to but it’s difficult for the National or even the Handicapable. I’m hoping I’ll at least have a square go from each group but we’ll see how that goes. It depends on how expensive the trips are going to be and everything.
BB - Yes. Do you have parents and other care givers that go along with you?
MM - My group does not actually. Since it’s an ARC sponsored activity, then part of the recreation program, it’s kind of we …. I’ve had some volunteers over the years. Some angels and square dancers have come out and occasionally come out still but most of the parents …. we’ve had a few who have gotten involved and actually a couple of parents who have taken lessons and eventually square danced on their own and everything but my parents are not active. But many of the groups that we’ve met at the handicapable convention they have everything from … you know people who still live in a group home situation some of their home workers have come and parents and chaperones and everything so each group is a little bit different that way. My group, yeah. The parents are not … I mean they’re involved but not very much. But the other groups …. many of the groups that we’ve met from down south and out in California and everything the parents are very, very involved. So each group is kind of an entity to itself depending on how it’s run, if it’s caller run or parent run or like mine is agency run.
BB - I see. Let me ask …. for help with some of these groups, do local recreation departments usually get involved?
MM - I haven’t found that. Either the groups have been either the parents have gotten involved and found square dance connections or, like I said, some of them through …. some of them either have lived … I can think of the one group in Louisville, they actually live in a community and I believe the community decided they wanted to do square dancing and got a hold of Charlie Wheatley down there and he’s been calling for them ever since. So each group is kind of different. Mine is actually run through the ARC. But then I know there is another county in New Jersey that I’ve done and they have brought me in periodically and that’s been the county recreation program. They have a special needs component of it and I’ve gone and done some things for them. So it kind of depends on, you know how everything is set up and, I guess where the funding and everything is also.
BB - I see. How much has Callerlab been involved in this?
MM - Actually quite a bit. I’m trying to remember. When Mike and I got married back in 2000 …. it was either back in 2000 or 2001 probably we had …. I had asked about doing a ’Birds of a Feather’ session back then kind of like that, you know, this is what it’s about and like, what is handicapable square dancing, who’s involved and everything and there was so much interest after we had done that, that Callerlab started a committee and we’ve had sessions for many years because of it. We have a committee meeting every year. The committee has done everything from working on just newsletters trying to get the word out. We’re trying to get together a video right now for people who ask how do I serve a handicapable group for different things. And we have our directory and there’s helpful hints that we continue to work on between finding more groups and trying to get more people to put some more … just different ideas and, as I said there’s definitely different ways of teaching everybody so we’re trying to think of more helpful hints. So Callerlab has been wonderful about that. They’re sending the booklets to whoever needs it and they’ve been just wonderful and everything and definitely very supportive, Dana and Donna who are in charge of Callerlab Home Office now are definitely wonderful supporters of our handicapable group and the committee meetings and Callerlab and everything and all of them have been very supportive and helpful all these years.
BB - Well, that’s great. That’s great. OK. What other calling do you do beside the handicapable?
MM - I have called for a couple of Mainstream dances. I tend to do …. I tend to fill in for different people who’ve needed assistance whether it be their classes or things like that but my primary area … the big thing I like to do is party nights. I enjoy doing that. I’ve had the question would I like to do more calling? I probably could but I enjoy being a dancer very much. So I think I’m probably just going to hang with helping out if somebody needs somebody to fill in. I’ve been kind of helping out here in New York. They’ve found out that I can help with classes and stuff and hopefully to get my name out there to do some more party nights. I just enjoy doing that and teaching people. I guess that’s just the teacher in me coming out.
BB - Yeah. OK. I’ve asked almost everybody that I’ve interviewed - do you have any regrets? Have you had any thoughts about anything you wish you’d done differently in your career?
MM - In my career, hmmm. I think I can say if I could change anything that I wish I could have just …. when I found out about the handicapable dancing, just I guess … been a little bit more aggressive maybe, just to get out there and, I mean it just, for me actually … being with Mike and then getting the connection with Callerlab going … but I guess for me it would be just trying to work on things a little more personally. I’m grateful that I had the connections but I just feel like they’re definitely a wonderful part of my life and I would like to share that with everybody and get the word out ….
BB - Right.
MM - …. just, you know to help people see them as people and not as a label that many people place on them.
BB - Yes. That’s great. Now, where do you think square dancing has been and where do you think it might be going?
MM - Where do I think it’s been? Yesterday, what with all the numbers and the many, many dancers on the floor so I do miss all that. Where do I think it’s going? I hope it’s going in a good direction. I’m thinking of my daughter and stuff. I hope it does continue and begin to grow again. I think it may change a little bit. I’m not sure exactly how yet but I do believe that, you know I believe that there is still a place for square dancing in the world out there. Even at the party nights, when people begin to do it and they realize like, “Hey, this isn’t bad” and my daughter tries to tell her friends how great it is and even when we take them once in a while Hey, this isn’t bad. So I guess what I think …. square dancing is going to be there. I hope it does turn around and we can get the numbers back again. I would love it to continue because I would love it to be there for my daughter and her children and continue on with something I’ve enjoyed doing most of my life.
BB - Do you get involved with round dancing at all?
MM - Say that again for me, Bob
BB - Round dancing?
MM - Round dancing, yes. I am a round dancer. I can do some basic rounds - maybe a little bit more.
BB - Ah ha
MM - I enjoy that. I also did some clogging for a period of time.
BB - Good for you. How about contras?
MM - I’ve only done contras at Callerlab but I enjoy doing them actually. We just missed the festival up here at Saratoga Springs, the Flurry. I really wanted to get there because they do some contras and a bunch of different types of dancing that I would have done but I missed it this year but look forward to doing it next year.
BB - Right. So, you’re pretty well ensconced in the northern part of New YorkState then? Anyway, it seems like quite a move from New Jersey.
MM - Yes, Definitely a big change, even in terrain, way of life. We’re definitely out more where there’s farm country. My daughter and I had lived closer to Trenton where you’re talking the Capitol of New Jersey there so, definitely a big change. But, I mean we definitely love it up here. I love the terrain and everything and my husband [Rickke] now is taking lessons and everything so we’re even getting him involved in square dancing.
BB - OK. Well, you don’t have any other square dance clubs that you’ve started up there or anything or are you finding one night stand type of things?
MM - I haven’t been finding any yet. I actually just recently spoke to one of the callers who came to fill in for another caller who is down in Florida right now, where my husband is taking class, and he let me know …. he added me to, you know to a list here of different callers in the area and things like that so …. just for people for recommendations and things like that .
BB - Yeah.
MM - I found there wasn’t really a central organization up here in New York compared to what New Jersey had. CCNJ was very, very active ….
BB - Yeah.
MM - …. and they have a wonderful web site and everything and I actually got quite a few party nights and things like that because they found me on the CCNJ web site. So that’s been a little frustrating for me but I definitely would like to be able to do it. But I think, you know with time that will definitely …. with the move and everything takes time. So, hopefully, down the road here once my name gets around a little bit hopefully I’ll get some referrals and then we’ll go from there.
BB - Right. Well, you mentioned CCNJ, We should mention that that’s the Callers Council of New Jersey. And you have some high level talent in that group actually.
MM - Definitely. There’s a wide range of talent and years of experience and new, wonderful, energetic people who are excited and getting involved. So, CCNJ I know has been around for quite a long time and had a wonderful leadership and they’ve always been very, very active in trying to, you know a very big advocate of square dancing in trying to keep square dancing going and everything.
BB - Right. Well, I think we’re kind of winding down here Michelle. Do you think of anything else you’d like to mention for the tape?
MM - I can’t think of anything.
BB - OK.
MM - I appreciate your asking me most definitely.
BB - Well, I did want to get some sort of notation on this series of interviews that I’ve done. I started in 1996 with this project actually and have accumulated about 130 different interviews so far ….
MM - Wow.
BB - …. and I also want to mention on the tape that these are available to listen to and to read on the Square Dance Foundation of New England’s web site which is sdfne.org and I’d be happy to have anybody plug into them. It’s a free service from the foundation of New England. So, I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me this evening Michelle and I certainly wish you a lot of luck in your new environment and continued good luck with your handicapable program and if there’s anything else I can do I hope you’ll give me a jingle some time.
MM - I appreciate it and thank you so much for asking me. I really appreciate it. Thank you for all you’ve done for square dancing.
BB - Well, thank you very much. So, with that let’s call this the end of the tape. Why don’t you stay on the horn while I shut the tape off.
MM - OK
(End of interview with Michelle Mabie)