How Brad Caldwell found his calling
Music from the three-piece band spilled into the hall where young Brad Caldwell looked to best his friends in their board game. He and the other kids ignored the muffled laughter and the melodic voice gliding over the music—it was just another Saturday square dance for their parents. Little did Brad know that their world would one day become his world.
“It wasn’t so much that I didn’t like it [square dancing]—I just thought it was something for my parents,” Brad recalls. He relegated square dancing to the “old people’s dance category” until his young wife wanted to try something new.
As they began to take square dancing classes, Brad’s decades-old opinion began to change. “Once I got involved and saw what it was, and took the time to listen, then it became interesting,” says Brad. But it wasn’t the dancing that really hooked his attention; it was the man at the front of the room calling the moves.
Microphone in hand, the caller, Clay Hoge, crafted the enjoyment of others around him. Clay was a one-man show: directing the dance, singing here and there, and even cracking a few jokes to keep his dancers happy. The mixture of entertainment spoke to the natural performer in Brad.
“I’ve been a performer all my life. I trained most of my life to be a caller and didn’t know it. I took acting classes when I was nine and ten years old. I’ve always sung. I’ve always been a class clown,” Brad explains. “And the way I tell a lot of my [square] dancers now is: I’m not a good enough actor to make it as an actor. I’m not a good enough singer to make it as a singer. I’m not a good enough comic to make it as a comedian. But I have just enough of each one of those things that I could be a really good square dance caller.”
Clay saw Brad’s potential as a caller but made him gain the practical experience of dancing first. Brad spent over a year square dancing and learned the joyous complexities hidden within each move. While he turned on the dance floor, Brad studied his mentor’s mannerisms and presentation. When it came time to learn the art of calling, he was ready.
Brad logged many nights at the kitchen table memorizing nearly 200 square dance calls with the help of eight multicolored rectangular checkers. They represented the dancers in a group or “square.” Mimicking the moves each dancer would make, Brad continually worked his pieces until their movements flowed together like musical notes on the page. The more he understood the sheer possibilities inherent in combining various calls, the more Brad appreciated the artistry of such dancing.
“Absolutely, it is an art form. Square dance is more of a language than a dance. It has a basis in logic, but the art comes into delivering it in such a way that it’s a new presentation, even though it’s the same old stuff in some cases,” Brad says.
One way Brad keeps it fresh is the music. Unlike dancers in his parents’ day, Brad’s dancers promenade to a variety of music. Country and modern pop share the air with Elvis, the Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and even Ozzy Osbourne. Brad—ever the entertainer—also sings rousing impressions of Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and even Louie Armstrong while calling.
Since 1988, Brad has called square dances in eighteen states at events ranging from one-night dances to annual two-week-long square dance national conferences. He currently showcases his talents at the Sun City Sundancers’ weekly functions. But whether he’s on the road or just a short trip away from his next gig, Brad hopes to see more people embrace the dance he loves.
“My generation hasn’t bought in yet. And honestly, things have changed dramatically in our social environment from the time when square dance reached its heyday. In the late 1960s to mid-1970s, square dancing was huge. Was it sweeping the nation? No, but it was all over the nation,” Brad says.
Brad may walk a tough road as he challenges square dancing’s misleading reputation as a moth-balled relic of the past, but he’s up to the task. Brad’s dream is to introduce square dancing to a new generation—his. Countless parents have or will soon send their newly-graduated youngsters off into the world, and then what? For years, their lives revolved around getting kids to early morning practices or cheering at late night games. Suddenly, the house is empty and the carpooling’s done.
This past May, as Brad watched his last child graduate, he planned to coax these empty-nesters to the dance floor as well as to call dances across the country and even internationally.
“The thing is, if you’re doing something that you love, then it’s not work. You may have to work at it, but it doesn’t feel the same as the drag on you when you’re doing something you really don’t enjoy. And calling is as natural to me as anything I could possibly do.”
To learn more about Brad or to get involved in square dancing, visit bradcaldwellcaller.com.