Two Fiddles, Canterbury, NH

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Two Fiddles: A Canterbury (NH) Tale
By Theresa Ludwick

A minstrel there is, and he a durable man
Of  seventy-five, but eighteen when he first began
A tenable life of music and poetry,
Candor, determination, and autonomy.
Full conscious was he of music’s prose,
And therefore did he call out to those,
By voice and fiddle, who would hear,
And would answer to the clarion clear.
In New England and beyond
Feet move, hands join, hearts dance to his song.

Like Geoffrey Chaucer, I have a pilgrimage to recount, though mine was to a
barn dance rather than a shrine. Even so, devotees of Dudley Laufman, fiddler
and traditional dance caller and Jacqueline Laufman, who together make up
Two Fiddles, reminded me of the Knight, the Wife, and the Merchant of
Chaucer’s tales. The Laufmans, soon to celebrate 20 years as a twosome joined
at the fiddle, invited me to a kitchen “junket” at Wind in the Timothy, their

I arrived at the Laufmans’ in the tiny hamlet of Canterbury, New Hampshire,
shortly before a whirlwind of varied types blew in. There was a father with two
young daughters; both fiddle students of Jacqueline, 51. The girls came to play
alongside the Laufmans and an assemblage of instruments that included 7
fiddles, a flute, banjo, guitar, hammered dulcimer and mandolin. This was the
girls’ first time playing in the Two Fiddles “orchestra,” their dad said. They
did remarkably well.

A young couple, perhaps more accustomed to mosh pits and crowd surfing,
was eager to do-sa-do and swing each other into a happy delirium. Tall, short,
young, old, Hispanic, Indian, fat and skinny: merriment barred no holds for the
participants this night. In all, forty-two people attended, the number swelling
as the evening progressed.

We congregated in the dance room and Dudley, dressed casually in slacks and
a dark sweater, got right to business. “We need dancers on the floor,” he said.
Five or six people sauntered to the center, but it wasn’t enough and he let us
know with a growl that brooked no dilly-dallying. I enlisted along with several
others and the revelry began.

In the official phraseology of an encyclopedia, what we did might be called
“traditional American folk dance,” but among laid-back rural folk, it was just a
good old barn dance.

Contra -- Not "Square" -- Dancing

“The broad term that was used, until fairly recently, was ‘square dancing.’”
Dudley says. “Then the contra dance came along and the people who were
doing it didn’t like the word “square,” so they started calling it contra

“Fairly recently,” would be the early 70s, when a young, hip, yet rootless
crowd began to take an interest in the homespun, natural elements of folk
dance. Barefoot and inspired, they attended Dudley’s junkets, looking for a
sense of community and re-identification with the “basics” of life. To them,
square represented the older generation; the enemy “Establishment.” In reality,
square dancing and contra dancing are two different things.

The square dance has four couples who begin and end the dance in the
formation of a square, with each pair making up a side. They move through a
succession of steps as instructed by the caller (in our case, Dudley). In a contra
dance, several couples form two parallel lines and move through a sequence of
steps, progressing down the line. Even so, both dance types share many
moves, such as swings, promenades and dos-a-dos.

I danced with a nameless partner through seven pieces while feet stomped,
fiddle bows jutted, and smiles were passed around. In the small dance room,
we moved like bees in a teeming hive, minding the steps as Dudley called
them out. His voice was as lyrical as his playing and, when I took a break and
watched him, I saw an artist absorbed in his gift.

Dudley doesn’t think of himself too loftily, though. When asked about his
reputation as a champion of the resurgence of traditional folk dance, he shies
away from heroic descriptions.

“A lot of people say I’m the one that revived contra dancing, but I just
happened to be ‘Johnny-on-the-spot.’ If it hadn’t been me, it would have been
someone else.”

Jacqueline disagrees: “I don’t think that’s
necessarily true. He had something about him:  
charisma and drive; a love of the music and
a love of the dance and those things uplifted
people to carry it on. He also invited other
musicians to sit in. He kept the door open
and didn’t shut it.” The door has been open
for 58 years.

From Apprentice to Star Caller & Fiddler

Dudley began calling dances in 1948, learning
under Ralph Page, a star caller at the time.
He eventually taught himself to play the harmonica,
accordion, and fiddle. Eventually, Dudley
accumulated his own following and surpassed his mentor.

“When I first started, Ralph was doing quite well; using live music and
traveling. As his popularity declined, he fell back on using records. He said it
was easier, that ‘Records didn’t get drunk.’” Dudley’s own ensuing popularity
rebooted Page’s for a time. “Ralph’s popularity went up again once I came on
the scene because I was using live music and talking a lot about him.”

Dudley is quick to pay homage to Page. Others are quick to do the same to
him. In 2001, he was awarded the New Hampshire Governor’s Folk Heritage
Award, thanks in part to a rousing endorsement by David Millstone, a contra
dance caller from Lebanon and producer of two contra dance documentaries:
Paid to Eat Ice Cream and What’s Not to Like? In his letter of recommendation,
Millstone described Dudley as “the single individual most responsible for the
resurgence of contra dance,” and “one of a rare breed, a contemporary dancing
master, an authority on dancing.” So much for being a “Johnny-on-the-spot.”

So here I was, dancing on the floor and warming myself at the woodstove of a
duo that will doubtless live on a hundred years from now in the annals of New
England’s cultural history. Neither shows any sign of slowing. Two Fiddles
continues to play and call reels, circles, contras, and squares at gigs aplenty.
They have recorded several CDs of traditional music and calling and Dudley
has written four books of poetry, some of which Jacqueline has illustrated.
While Dudley works with the occasional caller apprentice, Jacqueline teaches
fiddle “by ear.” She recalls one of her first students, now a young adult, who
went on to start his own group and opened, one year, for the main band at the
Highland Games at Loon Mountain.

“He also apprenticed with Dudley at calling the dances. After college, he won
a fellowship to study the effects of digital percussion on traditional music and
is now traveling around Europe doing just that.” Jacqueline quickly adds that
Dudley is, in effect, the root cause of this outcome. One hopes, however, that
she realizes this: without her as a strong, nourishing branch, this young man’s
“fruit” might not be flourishing today.

I had worked up a sweat in the dance room and, when Dudley called a break, I
went into the kitchen and mingled with the other pilgrims. Some were friendly,
some were reserved. All were breathless in a way not physical. I, myself, felt
the elation of a liberated spirit. We had danced, jostled, held the hands of
strangers, and moved to the rhythms of a temporary kinship. The feeling
transcended the reality of today’s altered society, taking me briefly to a simpler
place and time. When I said “thank you” to Dudley and Jacqueline Laufman
afterward, that’s what it was for.

You can learn more about the Laufmans, their music, and upcoming Two
Fiddle events by logging onto  

See also: Dudley Laufman's book,
Walking Sticks (book review)

About the author:
Theresa Ludwick is a freelance writer whose work appears in several
magazines and newspapers. Though she currently lives in Colorado, she was
born and raised in New Hampshire, and enjoys writing about New England
and its unique people, places, and ideas.
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Celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine ~ New Hampshire ~ Vermont
Dudley Laufman, fiddler and traditional dance caller and Jacqueline Laufman, fiddler
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...celebrating the unique character & culture of Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont!
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