Dances of Old California

Jim Letchworth & Marilyn Prince w/ Los Arribenos

Dance 1 (Gym 1) 5:00-6:30

Jim Letchworth writes: I started square dancing when I was in the first grade at El Cerrito during the late 1950's. Today as a dancer, actor, director and musician my personal philosophy for dancing is simple: get out on the floor and have fun!

In the 1980's, my wife, Marilyn and I directed the Fezziwig's dance area of the Dickens's Christmas Fair. This is when I refined my style of insuring the dancers have fun. The hallmarks include: simple steps, enjoy the music, and I, the Dancemaster (or Tecolero in Spanish) take responsibility for any errors, so the dancers are off the hook.

I was the dancemaster for the annual San Juan Bautista Fandango for close to twenty-five years. Other venues have included The Presidio of San Francisco, the cities of San Jose and Monterey, the National Civil War Assn and other groups at various locations in California. We have a repertoire of Old California dances, many from the Spanish and Mexican periods and some with American and Western European influences. These simple, fun dances are not danced enough! I also touch on the manners and mores of early California. We will also have a couple of challenging dances for this knowledgeable crowd. Have you ever danced the California Waltz Jota?

Again, this year we will have live music courtesy of my friends and colleagues of Los Arribenos de San Francisco. Look for Los Arribenos in concert at this year's SFFFF, too.

Coming from the point of view of an improvisational actor rather than a dance teacher, my focus has been more on the "big picture", the atmosphere. When I look out across the dance floor, I am more interested in seeing smiling faces than perfect feet. As much as I enjoy those perfect feet, it is the social success that I seek. When people are not smiling, I feel I am not doing my job. This is especially true when trying to recreate the feeling of a nineteenth century ball for a twenty-first century audience. I want the dancers to think about their great, great, grandparents and the people who lived and danced in those times: those folks got out on the dance floor and had fun!