It was 1945 and Dudley had just turned fifteen when he traveled from Arlington, Massachusetts, to begin work on the Mistwold Dairy Farm in Fremont, New Hampshire. It only took one summer of this labor for the young man to know that this was not the career for him, but he did find the passion of his life on that farm. On an early fall Sunday the family invited several of their relatives and neighbors over for a corn roast. After lunch the group sang hymns and then the farmer pulled out his fiddle. His wife sat down at the piano. Soon music and dancing filled the house and lasted until late that night.
His voice is wistful as he remembers the evening that became a turning point in his life. He makes an arch over his head as he describes the rugged low-ceilinged, wood-hewed house filled with the mingling smells of wood smoke, pies and clothes damp with perspiration. His eyes twinkle and we all smile as he describes how the glow of the fireplace light shone on a young girl's yellow hair. To keep the memories and images of such good times and close community alive would become a driving force of this romantic young man. Thus Dudley Laufman began a fifty-five-year agenda to perpetuate authentic New England contra dance figures and tunes so that others could feel the same resonance, the same sense of community that he still feels.
His Mentor: Ralph Page
The next decade of Dudley's life began by following Ralph Page, the caller credited by many people in New Hampshire as the man responsible for the renewed interest in New England country dancing. Although he attended a few other callers' dances, Dudley didn't like seeing beginners, adults and children being left out of the more complicated dances of other callers. He agreed with Ralph Page's manner of choosing music and dances that allowed everyone to participate most of the time. To this day Dudley is swift to express his respect for Ralph Page and he is proud to participate annually in the "Ralph Page Legacy Weekend" at the University of New Hampshire.
In order to play in the band and thereby take on a more active learning role, Dudley taught himself to play first the harmonica and accordion and then the fiddle. He sought out musicians who could teach him not only the tunes that Ralph was using, but ones that went back to sources from the British Isles and French Canada. Tunes like "Prince William" and "La Grondeuse" were among his favorite "new" old tunes in those early years. Dudley began to call a few dances himself and then he taught himself to play accordion or fiddle and call at the same time.
But as the years went by, Ralph Page wasn't moving with the dance community that he had created. As they became more experienced, Ralph's audiences wanted more complicated dances and more than just the same few well-known pieces at every dance. Dudley's innate talent was soon to be put to use. He was a quick learner and a dedicated student. The young man was ready and the timing was right. Dudley was naturally gathering a following of his own.
The Mystique of Dudley Laufman
The word most often associated with Dudley is "charismatic." He is an independent thinker, an attractive man and a leader. He has always written poetry and still wears his hair in a boyish, unkempt look that is long enough to hang over the turtlenecks that he loves. He is also rugged enough to have built the cabin that he heats with wood that he chops himself.
His return to this more primitive life was in accordance with the free-spirited ideals that were prevalent during his youth. Many other young people drove long distances from their homes and schools to attend his dances because they, too, were searching for a more idyllic way of life. By just being himself and following his own star, Dudley became a guide in a movement that brought country dancing back to the grange halls and church basements of small-town New England.
As Jim Collins said in his article in the December 1995 edition of Yankee Magazine, "He took the torch of a dying oral tradition from the hands of a few old-timers and fired up an entire generation of young people. He took contra dancing out of the history books and made it part of a living lifestyle." By the late 1970s, Dudley became the caller in New England. "Dudley Dances" developed a following that cut across socioeconomic groups throughout the state. The movement of renewed interest in contra and square dancing was firmly established.
[For the rest of this article, purchase the Fall 2002 issue of Fiddler Magazine!]
[Janet Farrar-Royce is a professional classical musician and teacher, as well as the fiddler of The Reel Thing, an ensemble that, with caller Patricia Campbell, continues Dudley's work in the southeast Connecticut area.]