The Society of Folk Dance Historians (SFDH)
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Information: Conny Taylor, folk dance teacher.
Although he was a giant among folk dance leaders, Conny's legacy has been overshadowed by that of even greater giants like Ralph Page and Michael and Mary Ann Herman. Born in 1921 of Cherokee, Creek, French, German, Irish, and Jewish heritage, he passed as a native among many ethnic groups such as Mexican, Greek, and Scottish.
Conny began dancing in social ballroom dance classes in high school. Feeling that the social aspect of ballroom dance did not extend beyond the couple, he began to frequent Greek and Armenian picnics in the 1930s and 1940s. Conny earned a B.A. in Recreation from the University of Massachusetts. Ralph Page asked him to train as a contra dance caller, but Conny felt that the contra caller's stage did not lend itself to socializing. He also studied with other folk dance legends: Michael and Mary Ann Herman, Dave Rosenberg, Dick Crum, and Gordon Tracie.
Conny first influenced international folk dancing at Maine Folk Dance Camp starting in the 1950s, where he taught dance and almost single-handedly effected repairs, new construction, and maintenance of the site. Conny's influence increased in 1952 when he married the talented and energetic Marianne. Full-time folk dance teaching began in 1955. A fight and broken facial bones kept Conny from teaching with Marianne at the 1958 Christmas Festival in Wisconsin, but his 1959 performance rated "a great job" from the organizer.
August, 1958, found Conny performing Hopak with Mary Ann Herman on eight Don Messer television broadcasts from St. John, New Brunswick. Messer filmed four of those broadcasts, and Conny would have liked to have videos of those films. The Taylors taught around the United States, primarily east of the Rockies. They refused two offers to teach at Stockton Folk Dance Camp, preferring to devote their energies to Boston. It worked.
The Taylors personified folk dancing in Boston for many years. Together, Conny and Marianne founded institutions, some still successful. They founded and learned to yodel at Oktoberfest in Stowe, Vermont, held in part on the Von Trapp ("Sound of Music") family estate. They helped found the New England Folk Festival Association (following Ralph Page and Mary Gillette). They founded the Folk Arts Center of New England. As Michael Herman began to refuse to sell his Folk Dancer line of phonograph records to individuals, the Taylors began a record vending business, only to be stranded as Herman reacted to the apparent "competition."
After producing a wonderful set of children, the Taylors divorced and illness forced Conny into early retirement.
Throughout his career, Conny emphasized folk dance as a vehicle for social interaction rather than an exercise in dance mechanics. He early rejected the lack of socialization inherent in ballroom dancing. He then recognized the exclusivity of Balkan dancing in international folk dancing, although he would be among the first to approve of it in a demonstration setting.
Conny passed away on November 3, 2006 and Marianne passed away on August 19, 2008.
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