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Dick Crum

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Dick Crum 2005


Information: Richard George "Dick" Crum (1928-2005), teacher, lecturer, and author of Balkan dance.

Dick Crum Dick was born in the United States on December 8, 1928, of German-Irish extraction and was raised in a Romanian neighborhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he attended Romanian school at the Romanian church. He was the oldest of five children. At an early age, he played with Romanian-speaking youngsters, attended language classes with them, and won their respect as someone interested in learning their dances and culture, as did his sister, Lois. Dick and Lois also went to the St. Louis, Missouri, Folk Dance Festival and traveled to Hibbing and Chisholm, Minnesota, for Serbian Days. When their parents lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, for a few years, their mom, Florence (Fee Fee) Crum taught folk dancing in a group there.

Dick started folk dancing in September, 1947, at a group meeting at the International Institute of St. Paul, Minnesota, whose instructor was Morry Gelman. There he saw Gordon Engler dancing. He also attended the University Folk Dancers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. There, his instructors were Morry Gelman and Dr. Ralph Piper. Morry also was the instructor at another Minneapolis session that Dick attended, the YMCA International Folk Dance Group. At the YMCA in 1950, he participated in a special Kolo session led by Michael Herman of New York City.

Dick Crum He eventually was a teacher at an Arthur Murray studio. From 1950, he was with the Duquesne University Tamburitzans for many years, first as a dancer, then as choreographer and technical adviser. During Thanksgiving weekend in 1951, he attended the first annual Kolo Festival in New York City, sponsored by the Folk Dance House (founded by Michael and Mary Ann Herman). Dick was the program director of the Festival of Nations at St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1952 where he mastered dance dialects of many styles of international dance. He also was a choreographer and consultant for the AMAN Folk Ensemble (aka, AMAN International Music and Dance Company). He moved to Los Angeles, California, in 1972.

Dick was a perennial favorite teacher among folk dancers beginning in 1951. He made seven research trips to the >Balkan countries, doing field work and formal research with many different groups and from village dancers to exhibition ensemble choreographers.

Because of his interest in Slavic languages, he studied and received a Bachelor's degree in Romance Languages from the University of Pittsburgh and an Master's degree in Slavic Languages and Literature at Harvard University.

He taught Balkan dance at all the major folk dance camps in the United States and Canada and for innumerable master classes at colleges and universities. Not only was he a folk dance specialist and authority on Balkan dance, but published a collection of Yugoslavfolk songs for recorder and voice. Interestingly, Dick early on taught Slovenian couple dances but rapidly shifted to non-partner dances from Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Romania. His research interests included virtually all of Europe.


Recording dances as they are danced by native dancers, studying dances in their natural context.
Presenting dances on stage, involving esthetics and dance adaptation for the stage and for non-dancing audiences.
American- and Canadian-type recreational folk dance, utilizing ethnographic and choreographic dances for recreation, physical education, and fun!

For years, Dick was an editor for Agnew Tech-Tran, a foreign-language translation service agency in Los Angeles, California. In addition to English, Dick spoke Bulgarian, Macedonian, Serbo-Croatian, Slovenian, Spanish, and Romanian, and had a working knowledge of Brazilian, Chinese, German, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Polish, Portugese, Russian, Swedish, and several other languages. He even knew Old Church Slavonic – all 1,300 surviving words of that now unspoken language.

At a conference in 1996, Dick served as a panelist at a convening of the National Endowment for the Arts entitled "Vernacular Dance in America," which looked at the informal structures that support dance acivity.

In 1999, the board of the East European Folklife Center (EEFC) recognized Dick with a certificate for his lifetime of service to Balkan Music and Dance and his contribution to understanding of cultures. The National Folk Organization honored Dick at their May 2002 Annual Conference in Rocklin, California. In a booklet produced by National Folk Organization president, Vonnie Brown, "A Tribute to Dick Crum," Dick is quoted, "It is our responsibility to be well informed about the material we are handling. The steps are only one dimension. It is vital we consider the dance within its cultural context." Vonnie also included a portion of an ongoing poem about Dick that begins, "Dick, you scaled the mountain without a stop; you stuck to your dream and reached the top. You cast your spell and made your mark; you are the master and our patriarch!" She also included a list of more than 190 dances that Dick had taught, some "Crums of Wisdom," that included "You could spend your life trying to be >Bulgarian, but you'd never make it. No way!" In another booklet, "Crum Table Trivia," produced at the same time, Vonnie wrote a 15-question "Crumisms Quiz."


  1. "Bloop-bloops"
  2. "By mutual consent of the man"
  3. "Cranch"
  4. "Dance inside your shoes"
  5. "Dash, dot, dot"
  6. "Embroidery" (an embellishment on the basic step pattern)
  7. "Ethnic police" (fictional character who patrols class for foot shushing)
  8. "Ethnochoreo symmetry" (to indicate the same footwork in the opposite direction)
  9. "Ethnographical vortex"
  10. "Get your papers here"
  11. "Great ink pad in the sky"
  12. "Ker-plop"
  13. "Look less non-Serbian"
  14. "Mixed pickles" (or "Kris Kringle" during the Christmas season)
  15. "No shushing"
  16. "Old friend"
  17. "Pantherine movement"
  18. "Period. Paragraph."
  19. "Plain vanilla" that morphed into "Plain yogurt" in later years
  20. "Sandwich"
  21. "Shoulders back; earlobes upright"
  22. "Sore toe"
  23. "Strike a Pan-Hellenic pose"
  24. "...that lurk behind every step-hop in the syllabus of life."
  25. "Your other left foot"


Ed Ableson of New York recalls that Dick was doing Orijent (a 'dance' he had choreographed for the Duquesne University Tamburitzans) when another dancer – obviously not knowing who he was – suggested that "if he didn't know the dance, he should go to the end of the line or follow behind!" Jon Spratt says that Dick told them that he had joined a group called "procrastinators;" they would meet as soon as they get around to it. Wally Washington of Texas relates that Dick was teaching a dance that was to be done flat-footed so he was saying "flat, flat, flat, flat" to encourage the dancers to do the steps flat-footed; when they were to go backwards, Dick cued "go back, talf, talf, talf, talf." Yves Moreau says "There is no doubt that I based a lot of my teaching techniques and methods on Dick's style and took it as a great compliment and honor when people would compare me to him." John Filcich had this poignant comment at the Los Angeles Tamburitza Extravaganza in September of 2005: "Aren't we all glad that lady luck sent Dick Crum our way!"

For all his seriousness about folklore, however, Dick was not beyond humor. At times he would wear a vest with "Colorful Ethnic Native" on the back. A workshop he gave titled "From Folklore to Fakelore" was a hilarious, hands-and feet-on demonstration of how true folk dance "evolves" from village amusement to some unrecognizable balletic enterprise suitable for touring and tourists. Dick also was known for interjecting humor into his dance instruction.

Maybe the epitome of Dick's humorous bent can be found in the "Hungarian Waltz Quadrille," in collaboration with Gordon Engler, which originally appeared in a spoof edition edited by Ralph Page of Mary Ann Herman's Maine Folk Dance Camp daily newsletter, the Pioneer Press, in 1962.

Hungarian Waltz Quadrille

Record: Soon available from Folk Dance House. In the meantime Acme LP 412, Side 1, Band 3, "Rosebud Waltz," will serve the purpose, as long as you remember to omit Meas. 22-23 of the second and third repeats of music "A" and do a "dip-point-pause" between figures 3 and 4. "Rosebud Waltz" must be speeded up a little.

Formation: 17 people in a square, facing upright. Boys hands on girls; girls hands on boys.

Background Notes: This Waltz Quadrille could be found everywhere in Budapest at the turn of the century, but during the reign of King Wencelas the Good, dancing was forbidden except in licensed cafeterias, or szésjészeréléttén császélihögyőrtók as they were commonly called. One of the king's chambermaids was discovered cowering under a wheelbarrow in Brussels in 1948, and it was from her that Andor Czompo learned this lovely old dance.

Part I: All couples promenade face to face around the room, gradually forming a heart-shaped pattern on the floor.

Part II: Social dance position. Men give hands to partners who return them at once to their original owners. Ladies repeat same figure with opposite footwork. Step is a "bounce-dip-trip-point" with an accent on the count "and." Remember the formula "WHO the HECK do you THINK YOU are"?

Part III: "Kiskutyá" step in place for men. "Hulyébűkös" step for women. Hands are on opposite hips during this portion of the dance.

Part IV: Everyone form a large arch with everyone passing through backwards holding right hands around partner's wrists. Continue arching until fatigue sets in, or end of record. Shout "Ho!" at the end to give a native Hungarian flavor to the dance.

Styling Notes: The most difficult part of the Hungarian Waltz Quadrille is, of course, the "frocs" step which does require a great deal of practice for proper execution. It is suggested that dancers practice with two chairs side by side, standing on tiptoe on one, flinging left leg up over own right shoulder (ct. 1), then down again, then hop on same toe onto the other chair, bringing leg down again with an arch. Repeated practice of this will eventually develop the characteristic style so important to this dance.

Pioneer Press

Dick reports that he and Gordon Engler wrote take-offs on every section of the 1962 Pioneer Press (Ralph Page's report on the Maine Folk Dance Camp's previous day's activities, Henry Lash's recipe page, Mary Bunning's handicraft page, the day's dance descriptions, etc.). Then one night they waited till the Pioneer Press had been run, collated, and placed on the tables for campers' breakfast reading.

Finally Ralph, who edited the newsletter, finished his cigar and went to bed. Then Dick and Gordon went to work: gathered up all the legitimate copies and stashed them, typed up the stencils for their spoof, ran off their version on the mimeo, collated it, and placed it on the tables.

It was past dawn. They didn't bother to go to bed. When the first campers drifted in for breakfast, fully a half-dozen of them read the spoof and had no idea it was not serious! Finally, a single loud burst of laughter announced that somebody had caught on.


  1. Beginning dancer: Knows nothing.
  2. Intermediate dancer: Knows everything, but is too good to dance with beginners.
  3. Hotshot dancer: Too good to dance with anyone.
  4. Advanced dancer: Dances everything, especially with beginners.

Dick was also leader of the "Ethnic Police," complete with helmet, badge, and whistle given to him by his groupies in Minnesota at the Memorial Day Folkdance Retreat in May of 1979. He also used fictional characters in his teaching, such as "Harald J. Underfoot (Ethnic Choreologist doing a statistical comparative analysis on the Serbian kolo and exploding squares, known to lurk and evesdrop)" and "Doris Ding-dong."

Dick consulted for and supervised many fine recordings of ethnic dance music on the Folk Dancer, Xopo, and Du-Tam labels, which are available from your local folk dance recording outlet.

Dick was last seen at selected folk dance conferences, principally in a Master-of-Ceremonies role. He died at home on December 12, 2005, at the age of 77, from pneumonia and his ashes were interred in a family space in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is missed by all.

Nick Jordanoff's family were special friends of Dick. Nick sent an e-mail that reads in part: "It's been a long time since we met in California – light years ago. As you could imagine, the death of Dick Crum was devastating to me since we had been so close all of our lives. From the time he came to Pittsburgh he basically 'lived' at our home, picking my mother's brain on all things Bulgarian until the time of his death. The interesting thing about that time was that I had made a donation to my wife's children chorus for a scholarship in the name of great teachers that I had in mylife – and that was Dick. I had sent him an e-mail to him apologizing for this and I know how humble he was about this sort of thing. This happened in November and I did not get a reply from him, so I sent several more e-mails and I received no response. This was very unusual, since we made contact at least once a week via e-mail. Whenever he would come East, he would stop for a day and it would end up close to a week. I can not tell you what a loss this was to me personally and to my wife and to my three sons, Nick, Iliya, and Greg. They just could not believe that 'Uncle Dick from out of town' had passed away."

The UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive received part of Dick Crum's personal phonograph collection in 2007. This collection consists of more than 1,300 commercially-produced phonograph recordings (LPs, 78s, 45s) primarily from Eastern Europe. Many of these albums are no longer in print, or are difficult to purchase. The items are not online; you must visit the contributing institution to view them. The collection materials are in English, Croatian, Bulgarian, Serbian, and Greek.





Dick, you scaled the mountain without a stop,
you stuck to your dream and reached the top.
You cast your spell and made your mark,
you are the master and our patriarch!

You never hustle workshops or annoy in any way.
Your ethics are impeccable and you have what it takes to stay.
You write and speak with brilliance; your dance notes are always tops.
You have the uncanny ability "to raise and harvest the crops."

You never had an ego, cause you always knew so much.
Humility came naturally and was another special touch.
The ultimate professional, a master of your trade,
you were always so deserving of much more than you were paid.

Your shoes we call magic and the old floppy hat
are visions we have of the man who has "that."
The way you move, your body and mind
all make you quite sexy and one of a kind.

Dick is known for Balkan, but he does much more.
His talents are many and go beyond the dance floor.
He's fluent in ten languages plus Minnesotan,
he dances the tapatío and even the jota.
His vocabulary is incredible; his IQ is off the charts,
his wit and humor delight us and it's healthy for our hearts.

A little known fact, but it is all the truth,
Dick studied Arthur Murray when he was just a youth.
His parents decided he needed some graces
so they enrolled him in class to meet some new faces.
He became proficient in ballroom and does a mean swing,
He cortes and twinkles and does all of those things.

Dick taught us great dances, two hundred or more.
He taught us the steps and also the lore.
He taught us the difference between fakelore and folklore
and we came to the conclusion that the fake is a bore.

Dick taught us such classics and taught them so well,
we mastered the dances we thought were from hell.
He taught us odd rhythms and wild, weird beats.
He taught us to listen and to have sneaky feet.

He taught us the čukče, drmeš, and twizzle,
the bloop-bloop, mixed pickles, and a whole lot of sizzle.
He taught us the oro, the hora, and pravo,
the horo, the kolo – all with much bravo.

Dick's "Crumisms" are amazing and very funny too,
his methods so effective as are his clever cues.
The characters he created are infamous and fun,
we feel like we're related when all is said and done.

Harold Underfoot, the annoying nerdy one,
comes armed with pad and pencil and questions by the ton.
Doris Ding Dong is the rather dizzy lass;
she is always in line but never in class.

Harold and Doris are legends indeed,
they are basically harmless but cause great fatigue.
These icons Dick created are so alive and real
that any close encounter is really no big deal.

Dick weaves his magic and spins his tales,
he captivates and enlightens and never fails.
He teaches our head as well as our feet,
and riveted we sit on the edge of our seat.

A book would be better but this tells you in part,
how all of us feel deep in our hearts.
So from Harold and Doris and all of us fans,
tonight we say thank you to a really great man.

No tribute is adequate, no honor too great,
no words can express our love for this mate.
With respect and gratitude we salute and toast
the master, a legend, the best coast to coast.

Dick is the mentor we all wish we could be,
and although we try to copy him, we seem to lack the key.
He has the right ingredients, that very special knack,
to gather all us folks around tha then ably lead the pack.

Your liking for coffee and your now famous thermos
are known to all, and said to help dance drmeš.
The way you hold your cigarette, your bit of mystery,
and other characteristics are part of history.


Tuesday, 29 Dec 1998

Dick Crum! My God, what would I have done without him?

Many people probably knew him as an affable fellow with a knack for teaching in a comfortable and enjoyable way. He was that, but he was also the most incredible fount of encyclopedic knowledge about folklore and languages I've ever met.

Back in 1974, a group of us from the AMAN Folk Ensemble formed an offshoot group with the strange backward name, and recorded a record (NAMA 1). (An interesting group it was, including Miamon Miller, Loretta Kelley, Mark Levy, Chris Yeseta, Neil Siegel, Trudy Israel!) We were told we ought to have dance notes. Dick had recently moved to Los Angeles and done some work with AMAN, so I asked him if he would write them. He did, and did a wonderful job of course, but there were some problems. Being much less aware then of the origins of folk dances, I had innocently recorded some (for example, Bavno Oro, Lesnoto Oro, Rustemul) that had been outright invented by American teachers who, however, were not eager to admit that fact. Dick agonized that he did not want to contradict these people in print, but what could he say about the dances' background? He found a way.

When NAMA 2 came along in 1976, I naturally asked him again if he would write dance notes. He agreed, but his schedule was so busy that he never found time to do it. As the record release came nearer, I felt really guilty pushing him (especially for something he wouldn't take money for), but wanted to be able to shrink-wrap the records with the syllabi. He realized that, even if he took time off from work, his phone wouldn't let him work straight through on anything. So, without telling me, he rented a local motel room and went there and wrote the dance notes. Boy did I feel guilty then! But forever grateful.

I was fortunate in those days to live only a couple of miles from Dick, and spent large amounts of time over there. For one thing, typing all those dance notes on his Selectric typewriter with the exchangeable balls – Serbian, Russian, whatever! But also I went to him with almost every new song the band did. Are these words correct? What do they mean? How do we pronounce them? I'd say, "I don't suppose you know Czech?" Or Hungarian? Or Brazilian Portuguese? Oh sure. Was there anything he couldn't help on?! (Well, I did go to someone else for Hebrew and Yiddish.) He came up with the words for songs I didn't know had words, like Eleno Mome and Jove Malaj Mome. I remember once in his living room, someone suggested a dance tune that my band should learn. "No, they wouldn't be interested," he said, "it doesn't have obscure words that no one knows about!"

I also got to sit and listen to great discourses on the real history of folk dancing in America, and its strange disconnection from the reality of the ethnic groups it purported to represent. This was a major revelation to me. It had been to him too, and I remember, for example, the real sense of disappointment and betrayal he expressed about the time he found out that one of his favorite dances, that they used to end each dance evening with – Jovano, Jovanke – was not real and came about through a mistaken understanding. I have on several occasions encouraged Dick to write an article (well, probably a book) on this history, but his work, folk dance, and family obligations left no time for such a thing. But he is the only person in the world I think was qualified to write it.

Around 1964, when I had just discovered folk dancing, I went back to Harvard to visit some friends, one of whom I stayed with in a graduate dorm. I asked him if he knew anything about folk dance groups in Boston, and he said no, but the guy across the hall might. So I went over and knocked. It was Dick Crum! And even then he regaled me (a complete stranger and beginner) with wonderful tales of his research expeditions in Yugoslavia.

Back in the days before there were American Balkan bands, Dick was working with the Tammies. They saw a tăpan (large drum) played by a touring group, and decided they had to have one! The group offered to sell theirs at the end of their tour. Dick had to go somewhere to get it, and the Tammies all turned out for his departure, chanting "Crum, Get the Drum! Crum, Get the Drum!" Crum got the drum, all right. (And played it on the Tammies' famous recording of Bučimiš.)

Dick Crum was a national treasure, the likes of whom you won't soon see again.

–David Owens


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