Old California Dances (2023 program)

Jim Letchworth & Los Arribeños
Workshop Area 4 / 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm

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

In the 1980s, Jim and his wife Marilyn directed the Fezziwig’s dance area of the Dickens’s Christmas Fair. This is when he refined his style of ensuring the dancers have fun. Hallmarks include: taking simple steps, enjoying the music, and having the dancemaster (or tecolero in Spanish) taking responsibility for any errors, so the dancers are off the hook.

Coming from the point of view of an improvisational actor rather than a dance teacher, Jim’s focus is more on the “big picture”, the atmosphere. When he looks out across the dance floor, he is more interested in seeing smiling faces than perfect feet. When people are not smiling, he feels he is not doing his job. This is especially true when trying to recreate the feeling of a 19th century ball for a 21st century audience.

Jim 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. They 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! He also touches on the manners and mores of early California, and will also have a couple of challenging dances for the more knowledgeable crowd. Have you ever danced the California Waltz Jota?

This event will have live music courtesy of Los Arribenos de San Francisco.