RALPH PAGE, A SHORT BIOGRAPHYCompiled by Roger Knox
A Ralph Page biography for this Index was suggested to me by one of Ralph's friends of many years. Northern Junket was the source of much of the material for this biographical sketch and it was augmented by items of a more personal nature by Ralph's wife, Ada, and their daughter, Laura Page Wilson.
Ralph George Page was born in Munsonville, New Hampshire on January 28, 1903, the son of George and Laura Dunn Page. He died in Keene, New Hampshire on February 21, 1985 and is buried in the family plot in the Munsonville Cemetery.
Ralph tells us in Vol.6, No. 12 of Northern Junket, dated February 1960, that he called his first square dance on December 6, 1930 in Stoddard, New Hampshire. The story of this experience is amusing, and for him to remember the date with such certainty nearly thirty years later indicates that the experience was a turning point in his life. For the next 54 years he exercised with skill the talent he had discovered in himself that evening.
"Uncle Ralph," as he was affectionately called by many, is best remembered for having spread the popularity of contra dancing. He was also recognized as an outstanding square dance caller and an excellent musician. (One of his old friends said that Ralph was able to play at least four instruments.) He wrote many fine tunes for square and contra dances and took great pride in having published much information about dances of the 18th and 19th centuries which his research had discovered. Many of these old dances, mostly contras, are again being done with enthusiasm in our contemporary world thanks to his careful interpretation of often rather obscure dance directions he found in old books and manuscripts.
Ralph began to be recognized as an excellent dance leader outside of his home area in and around Keene when, in 1943, he began leading a series of weekly square and contra dances at the YWCA in Boston, Massachusetts. He continued these dances for the next 25 years.
Earlier he had appeared with his orchestra at the New York World's Fair in 1939.
In these earlier years, during World War II, many service men and women stationed in and around Boston, but who came from all parts of the United States, attended his dances at the YWCA, fell in love with contra dancing and spread the news about this wonderful "new" kind of dance when they returned home.
In 1945 Ralph Page and Ada Novak were married. Their only child, Laura was born the following year.
Ralph was one of the founders of the New England Folk Festival Association (NEFFA) in 1945 and served as its president for several years. In April 1984 he was honored, along with Mary Gillette, as co-founders of NEFFA at its 40th Annual Festival. He was also instrumental in establishing the New Hampshire Folk Festival in 1945.
A few years after the end of the war things began to get very busy for Ralph. He issued his first album of square dances on the Disk label. A friendship that had started between Ralph and Michael Herman during the early days of the Boston YWCA dances now blossomed into a venture where Ralph furnished the music and calling for contra dance records and Michael produced the records on his Folk Dancer label. (See the Bibliography for details about these recordings, and also a listing and description of the four contra dance books he wrote.)
The year 1949 was a landmark year. Publication of Northern Junket began in April 1949. It was also the year of the first Folk Dance Camp in Maine, the fifth Annual New England Folk Festival, and the fifth New Hampshire Folk Festival. Part of the continuing success of both festivals can be attributed to the interest and wisdom Ralph supplied to their planning.
The year was 1950 when Ralph started his annual travels to teach and call contra dances at camps in Georgia, California, Canada, and in other parts of New England. This was also the year when he and Ada established and operated the first of a continuing series of New Hampshire Folk Dance Camps.
In the spring of 1956, the U.S. State Department sponsored a 7-week trip to Japan for a group of leaders to teach American and European folk dances to the people of Japan. In addition to Ralph, other prominent teachers in the party were Michael and Mary Ann Herman, Nelda Drury, and Jane Farwell. Fascinating descriptions of the adventures of this group and observations of life in Japan are described by Ralph in the Junket Vol. 5, Nos. 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
Ralph spent two months traveling throughout England in 1966 teaching and calling contra dances in a series of 37 calling dates, all but two with live music. (See Northern Junket, Vol. 8, Nos. 9 & 10.)
A by-product of this visit to England was the recording by the Southerners Orchestra of an album of "Music For The New England Contra Dance" containing 11 tunes composed by Ralph. The record is titled Southerners Plus Two Play Ralph Page. It, together with a companion book, The Ralph Page Book of Contras, were published by the English Folk Dance and Song Society. (See the Bibliography for further information about these works.)
Two significant events in the lives of Ralph and Ada occurred in 1970 and 1974 - the births of their two grandchildren, Seth and Erica.
Resplendent in top hat and cutaway coat, Ralph was the Grand Marshal of the Keene Bicentennial parade in July 1976.
A year later he was the recipient of the Granite State Award given to outstanding citizens of New Hampshire by Keene State College through the University System of New Hampshire. This award not only acknowledged his talents as a dance teacher, caller, and musician but also his contributions to the community political and cultural affairs including terms as selectman in Nelson from 1932 to 1938 and as president of the Cheshire County Historical Society for 15 years. Callerlab, a national square dance organization, honored Ralph with their Milestone Award in 1980 at a ceremony in Miami Beach, Florida.
An omnivorous reader and bibliophile, Ralph Page had two great loves: history and mystery stories. His love of history led him to spend time in libraries and historical societies seeking out primarily old dance books and manuscripts, and, for New England, all significant or interesting historical happenings of the region.