Chris Phillips Biography
Chris Phillips Dance Biogrphy
(..from the "Big 5-0" Tribute)
It was in December of 1976, that Chris was first introduced to Squaredancing.
Needing a break from his work as a computer technician back in the good old days of
Mainframes with key-punch card inputs. Chris decided to take some friends up on offer to go to a "Squaredance Hoedown" at a bar in Miami, called the Double-R, figuring it would be
a real hoot to watch, and a change of pace from the regular Sunday evening grind, he
opened a door that was about to change his life forever.
Originally intent on just watching, within minutes, Chris found himself in a square. It was a "Beginner's Dance" and while most were on the sidelines, snickering, a few brave souls, decided to take
a chance. (..You see, In those days the popular new dance craze was "Disco" and most of the younger crowd would rather walk on hot coals, than be seen, much less participating in a Squaredance...
At this Beginner Dance there was no Caller, only an Instructor, who would teach wannabe dancers just enough calls to put on a cut from a record (The Sets-In-Order Fundamentals of Square Dancing - Album 1) When the Instructor would say: "Okay,..time for the music" and start the record it was like a nervous audition for the dancers, sort of the equivalent in grade school of pencils down, and of course having more jeering spectators than dancers. did not help but make you feel as though you were on display.
By the end of the evening, Chris was quite taken with the dancing, and decided to return the next Sunday, and bring some reluctant Friends.
Before long, the Dancing became a ritual, and Chris became what was called a Set Captain (a dancer who was put in charge of their square to make sure they all came in on time,
with a partner.....Due to the fact there were exactly 3 squares worth of beginners, this was the only way to assure everyone could dance) with the exception of a broken leg, natural disaster, or Marshall Law, you were expected to show up. ...Believe it or not,this method actually worked.
Because the same people danced with their own group, each square became like a separate Club, and were even given names based on when they formed: (a sort of caste system) Set-1, Set-2, and Set-3.
Of course, Chris would be in charge of Set-3.
It wasn't long before the Squares became competitive, and were practicing for the records they would dance to Sunday evening, on Sunday afternoon, as to not be ?upstaged? by any other square?s dancing abilities.
Set Captains were now taking on the role of Instructors, and while no one seemed to know Squaredancing was not considered a 'Spectators Sport" It was taking on that appearance.
When the new LP records arrived for 1977, each square was eager to be the first to be able to Dance to it. By then Instructors were becoming aware of such things as actual Dance levels like
"Basic 50", and the "New Mainstream" (formally extended-75) and at the time: "Plus I and Plus II"
Chris was able to tape the Album on an 8-track recorder, and with the then, new calls (such as.. Ferris Wheel, Flutterwheel, and Curlique..) and a Squaredance Dictionary, Chris was able toput his square through the rigors of crash-course in the newly formed level: ?Mainstream?.
A week later "Square-3 was to make its Debut" as the only square able to dance such a ?High-level? Chris was asked later that Sunday to become instructor for all 3 squares. Chris jokingly refers to this honor as an "Omen?", as the very next day, Monday,for the first time in recorded history: January 1977:
...... It Snowed in Miami.
After a couple of years of Dancing, and Instructing, Chris decided to venture out and dance to a real Caller instead of records. One of the notable and local Callers, whose records his group was dancing
to at the time, was Jack Lasry.
And in 1979, Chris paid a visit to the "Trails End" Dance Hall in Hollywood. Musing that Dancing to a "live caller" just didn't hold a candle to records, and before the evening was over, Chris was
already contemplating the idea of taking up Calling, instead of instructing. On that decision
while it didn't snow that evening ......warnings were being announced over the car radio on the ride home for
"Hurricane David".......go figure.
Chris became regular at the Trail?s End' and hooked up with a partner, Terri Champagne, now Terri Russo. He also encouraged his other dancers to attend, and soon many of the original Set-3 (which was now the Miami Mustangs...later the South Florida Mustangs) were now dancing on a weekly basis to
a "live caller"
Jack Lasry couldn't help but notice the new people Chris brought in were all accomplished dancers, and was wondering where they were taking lessons. When Chris told him, how they only up until now, danced to records, Jack appeared to be impressed. He encouraged Chris to try a hand at Calling, and while Jack Lasry was known for not tolerating any ?antics? on the dance floor, it seemed the dancers
Chris brought in were somehow relatively immune. While other dancers would tremble at the thought of being singled out, Jack would just chuckle at the stylings of this new group, and call them
the "Square from Oz"
By the early 1980s, Chris was beginning to establish himself as a Caller, He was becoming proficient in Sight-Calling, and was conducting classes for dancers who wanted to excel beyond their current levels. He did this at a Bar he opened in 1983, of all things known as the "Crossfire" which he named after a Squaredance call. ..(What else?) Home to the South Florida Mustangs, and birthplace of the IAGSDC,
the Crossfire was later to become known as the "Round Up"
In 1985, Jack Lasry asked Chris to Call a tip at one of his Dances. In attendance were members of the "Florida Crackers" Squaredance Club, who asked Chris to Call for their group thatsummer at the "Kendall Crossings Dance Hall," in South Miami.
It was about this time Chris was also Calling out of State Dances such as Denver, New York, and Seattle, and as a Dancer, joined the Hi-C?s and the Mavericks, and was dancing with partner Rose,
to Jack Lewis at the Ponderosa in Fort Lauderdale.
About this time, Chris retired from the Bar (the Crossfire) but kept working with the computer business. Having switched from mainframe punch-card machines (yes, with hanging Chads) to LAN (Network) Systems with Novell, and both the local Club,and out of State Calling,
Chris seemed to take his relaxation in just
dancing............for a while.
During the Spring of 1989, Jack Lasry asked Chris to take over his duties as caller for the Checkmates, who danced at the Ponderosa, on Tuesday nights. At first a little reluctant assuming such a task, Chris found himself at ease with the crowd, many of whom he danced with just weeks earlier.
Wanting to continue in Jack?s reputation for exceptional teaching methods, but without the tension abound, Chris decided to just be himself. As you know, Jack Lasry was a school teacher,
(Head-Task Master) and the dance classes often took on the feel of boot camp.
Chris knew it would be awkward calling and teaching to fellow dancers,being that he, at the time, was one of the youngest ones in the room. Knowing humor to be the best medicine, Chris would often
kid around with jokes, (many unfortunately went over their heads)
in an attempt to lighten the mood.
This seemed to work, much to the delight of Frank and Anita Butler, owners of the Ponderosa, as the Checkmates attendance improved. This balancing act for Chris was at the time a challenge, wanting to
be "just one of the guys" at the same time commanding control of the dance floor.?
During the summer of that year, Jack Lewis approached Chris, with the idea of assuming the duty of Caller for the Maverick's C-2 Dance Club. Jack and Ilene, now parents, wanted to free up
more time for family. At first, as a trial period just for the summer, of that year. Jack seemed to be pleased at the new arrangement,and the torch was passed.
(note: It was a Tuesday in October, approaching 8 o clock, when Frank and Anita Butler, congratulated Chris on Mavericks, Chris had mentioned to them he would be booked to call a Dance out of town that weekend, and would not be able to attend Saturday....the Dance Event was in San Francisco...and at 8:05 that Tuesday, 1989 : The Great San Francisco Earthquake occured,....(see a pattern here?......)
(Believe it or not, the Dance went on as scheduled, but north of the city...)
As late Autumn approached, Frank, in an effort to increase attendance, at the dance hall, asked Jack Lewis to take on the Checkmates, being that many of them were also dancing on Saturday, (..if you remember, Saturday was standing room only) it seemed like the natural order, for the good of the Hall.
Both reluctant, Chris and Jack Lewis ended up taking on more of a work load as the year came to an end. After trading the Checkmates for the Mavericks, and conducting new Beginner Class, for Frank... Chris, like most everyone present, were not aware
all was about to change...........at the year's end of 1989,........the Ponderosa closed.
As the new year began, actually a new decade (it was 1990) Callers and Cuers were scrambling to find places to dance. Chris moved to Mavericks to a place called "The Dance-Connection"
on #441 in Plantation across from "Doo-Dahs" a country western Bar. It was no Ponderosa, that's for sure? Chris was heard to say while checking out the new place: "There's a pole in the
middle of the #*%* Dance floor" ...."That should make things Interesting...Oh Boy,,"
As the Mavericks settled into their location, members of the Checkmates approached Chris about holding an Advanced Dance. By February, Many, used to a steady diet of dancing, as
much as three or four nights a week, found a void, and were getting very anxious.
Arrangements were made by some of the Checkmates (who were used to Dancing on Tuesdays), to use David Park, and have Chris Call for them on Saturday Nights. By late February, the Checkmates were again "Kicking up their heels"
Lost in the Lurch, were the Swinging Singles, who also asked Chris to be their Club Caller. Bill Strauss, a member of the Singles, suggested a newly renovated Hall in Davie, called "Davie Junction"
Within weeks, the Singles had their first Friday Dance in a new location,as many may remember, it was still in the process of "finishing touches," Which seemed to last for months.
Calling in different locations on different nights was taking it's toll, as any caller can attest. There was the Mavericks on Wednesdays, The Cloverleafs on Thursdays, (filling in for Jack Lasry, who was very ill at the time)The Swinging Singles on Fridays, The Checkmates on Saturdays, and The Mustangs on Sundays. To rectify this, Chris was making plans to have all the Dances at one location.
Between Calling, and his Computer job, Chris was working on remodeling the Crossfire he owned, from a Bar to a Dance Hall. With the skillful help of Bill Strauss, and his hard-working assistant
(laborer) Dick Filer, Chris was able to get his C.O. in November of 1990.
Thus......The "Round Up Circle-C: was born
The Grand Opening was a proud event for Chris, not to mention Bill and Dick, who were equally impressed at the turn out. Rather than the usual florescent lights and terrazzo floors,
the Round Up had a Floating wood Dance Floor, recessed back-lighting, 1000-watt stereo-surround sound, a Bar and Patio. The western motif lent an atmosphere of a nightclub, especially with the "centerpiece" lighted ?mirrored boots? that spun from the ceiling under a large wagon wheel, which turned in a different direction.
(and speaking of mirrors......no one was ever at a loss to see what they looked like dancing...) (The Round Up bought Windex by the case, which Dick Filer was happy to clean)
It seemed obvious to Chris, after the first dance at the Round-Up, the place was too small. In the first year, when you entered the building, there was a small entry area, with a bar to one side,and a door on the other, which led to the main Dance room.
With in a short amount of time, the entry area was enlarged, the bar was scaled back, and gone was the door and window to the main area. Replaced a wide opening, with cushioned seating. (It seemed, before the door was removed, only two people at a time, could get through....one if they were wearing petticoats..)
As impossible as it may appear, the Round Up was able to hold as many as 14 squares at a time. Twelve in the main room, (checker-boarded of course) one in the newly expanded bar, and
entry area. What once was a second office, became a TV room complete with a "Ms Pac-man" machine. (no need for quarters) Before the "wall-stretching" took place, Chris continued to Call at David Park on Saturdays with the Checkmates, and Polk Street, on Thursdays with the Cloverleafs, often making the Round Up available on Saturdays for other events and rentals.
Chris formed a C-1 Club on Tuesdays, called the Galaxy Squares, which, officially placed him in the "7-nights -a-week" category.This being necessary, as the Round Up became such, an expensive
endeavor. Besides providing security guards, renting the parking lot from the DAV. (if they were not using it on a particular night) and continuous renovations, there was the almost "insane" insurance. As owner of the building, which was licensed as "A school of Dance" Chris was placed in a "High Risk" category for liability insurance. (An adjuster happened to show up on one of the crowed dance nights,inquiring as to the medium age of the Dancers.....not so good..) and for the first few years, Chris had to get his insurance through "Lloyds of London"
About this time, Jack Lasry, who was very ill, passed away. His wife, Carolyn, wanting to preserve the legacy, asked Chris to take on the Cloverleafs, an A-1 Club, which danced on Thursdays.
Chris was honored. (Actually, The Cloverleafs, Checkmates, and Mavericks were all originally
formed by Jack Lasry.)
Finding the task, difficult, of Calling Thursday, and Saturday, at different locations, Chris decided to encompass all the dances under the same roof
With all the Dance Clubs now at the Round Up, Chris asked the City of Hollywood's Polk Street, and David Park Recreation Centers, if they could transfer the Thursday and Saturday arrangements
to Jack Lewis, rather than whoever was next in line (...there was a waiting list ) Being that the "use" was still Squaredancing, the plan was approved.
By the mid 90s, Chris began a plan considered radical for South Florida, but common with the Challenge Dances up North and on the West Coast: Casual attire. At first only popular with the Sunday afternoon workshops, then the C-2, the C-1, and later the Advanced. many dancers (not all) liked the more comfortable arrangement. The only exceptions to the relaxed dress-code were the Swinging Singles, and Southeast Dancers Association events, New Year's Eve, and Special Dances.
By the late 90s, as we all know, Squaredancing was losing it's popular edge, there was the competition from two-step, and line Dancing, (..which one could learn in a few days, rather than months...)
With new insurance regulations in place, many of our Canadian friends found it just too expensive to spend the winter in South Florida, this coupled with many dancers moving up the coast. Squaredancing
in general was becoming a shadow of it's former self.
In October of 2000, a Church (of all things) was speculating on property purchases in the area. An offer was placed on the Round Up and adjacent properties, after a "counter" was submitted and accepted,
and the rush was on. (While it had it's day, the Round Up was just too expensive to keep going.)
Closing was set for the beginning of the new year (actually new century) and there wasn't a lot of time. Chris and his partner Tom went searching for new places to Dance, but as most callers will tell you: there just are not that many around.
It seemed, Dance halls have gone the way of Vinyl records and Drive-in Movies, and City Recreation centers were now restricting their use to more lucrative rentals, like weddings and parties.
Low and behold, the answer was in our own back yard, or shall we say, Parking Lot. The DAV Lodge was made available. After some minor remodeling (..again...)and thanks to Tom, Dick and Richard and Marion Harris, Chris was able to hold Dances within a week of the closing of the Round Up. without the logistical nightmare of relocating all the events.
Chris decided to ease up the workload, and make schedule changes, while Tuesdays and Wednesdays remained the same, Gone were the Thursday, and Saturday Dances, now be combined in one Advanced Dance on Fridays. That was then....
Now that we are in the second decade of the 21st Century: A lot has changed:
The Swinging Singles disbanded andThe DAV has closed, However
The Galaxy Squares andMavericks were moved to a Recreation Center in Hollywood
on Tuesday and Wednesday Nights respectively, and the South Florida Mustangs now Dance
on Thurday Nights in Wilton Manors in Fort Lauderdale,
There have been many changes over time, both good and bad, and as Chris would say:
"a few regrets,... but not many" ....All in all "One hell of a ride"