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Remembering Dick Kraus, March 2002

We are sad to report that Dick Kraus died Thursday, March 28th. His passing was peaceful, surrounded by his family and beloved German shepherd. Dick devoted his long professional life to promoting recreational dance in the United States, especially square dancing, and we were fortunate that he often chose to dance with Germantown Country Dancers during his personal time.

Philadelphia Inquirer obituary

NY Times obituary

From Liz Snowdon:

Dick came to Philadelphia when he got a job with Temple University in their recreation department. He had spent years running his own dances: doing set up, hauling equipment, calling, and cleaning up. He had no desire to do that here. Instead, he had what I like to think of as an emeritus position--always around and available in the background for advice and encouragement.

He joined with other area callers to participate in the potluck calling arrangement of the Thursday night contra/square dance. In earlier days squares were more prevalent. When the Philadelphia Thursday dance transitioned from having a single person running the contra evenings and a single person running the square evenings, Dick provided his house for a meeting space so we could decide on a new governing format.

More important than the space, Dick also contributed his considerable expertise at running group meetings to keep what might have been a prickly meeting very smooth and purposeful. From that meeting a committee of seven for the Thursday night dance emerged. While he did not call at Germantown Country Dancers, he participated for a while in the country performance group and attended our many dances.

Dick wrote a large shelf full of books on recreation and dance, waking early and pounding out pages on a typewriter--no computer for him. I still occasionally hear his voice coming from the gym at my elementary school as his square dance records are played for a gym class.

From Gene Murrow

My earliest memories of the joys of traditional dancing are going to community square dances led by Dick Kraus back in the 50's. Dick and his wife Anne and 2 children lived just across the street,; he and his family became friends with all of us. One of my father's treasured posessions is a sketch Dick made of him (Dick was an excellent portrait artist, among other things).

Dick called dances at "block parties" and other events, such as PTA meetings/parties. His easy-going, welcoming, absolutely clear style made everyone feel at home, from little kids like me right up to the old folks.

After I started calling dances, I ran across a copy of one of his books on recreational leadership at a used bookstore. I immediately bought and read it. It was a profound experience to read, as a middle-aged adult and new caller, the words of wisdom from someone who I hadn't seen since childhood. Shortly afterward, through a completely unrelated connection, Susan and I re-connected with Anne Kraus, and we attended a couple of community concerts together.

One of Dick's dicta I always remember was: don't "ask" or "invite" that group of adults sitting around the hall if they'd like to try dancing ("no one will get up" he wrote), rather, using a loud, enthusiastic, friendly voice, just say "everyone up and let's make circle facing the center." Every time I find myself saying exactly that, I think of Dick.

From Tony Parkes:

Dick Kraus was one of the first people to encourage me in my quest to become a dance caller. After I made my somewhat shaky debut at summer camp, I returned to New York and looked for regular square dances there. It was 1964, at the end of the big square dance boom, and Dick's Friday night dance at Teachers College, Columbia, was one of the few left.

Right from the start, Dick was very supportive; he let me bring a different record each week and call to it. Aside from studying at home, I got almost all of my early calling practice at those Friday dances. Needless to say, Dick's recordings and books inspired me as well; I still use examples from them in my workshops for callers.

Unfortunately, the memorial service falls right in the middle of the New England Folk Festival, an event that has claimed my allegiance since 1969. But I'll be thinking of Dick as I call that weekend, trying as best I can to carry on his philosophy of dance and recreation for the many rather than the elite few.

From Jan Alter to Lisa Kraus, Friday, March 29:

Your father had an impressive energetic personality that touched many of us. Last night at the dance, one of the callers, Ridge Kennedy, prefaced his dance by mentioning that he had heard Dick was very sick, that he (Ridge) was thinking of him most of the day, and then Ridge called a singing square.

For the many times I've heard your father call for the dance I will always be grateful, and for the wisdom he has shared with our community to keep the dance rich and strong I know hundreds of folks will be thankful.

I will miss your father for his friendship and caring as a very decent person, who always took the time to ask me how I was, the family, how things were going at school.

About 8 years ago your father was kind enough to share one of his young chinese maple trees with us. He said he couldn't leave it in the space it was growing for the sake of the other plants. He thought maybe we might like to have it. He brought it over and planted it on our front lawn. It gave us a beautiful view for a long time.

His generosity and caring for those around him make this a great loss, but he has left us a legacy that will continue to shape many lives for many years.

From Al Blank:

My former wife, Betty, and I danced with Dick Kraus for many years, as I did, even before I met her. That would have been more than thirty years ago. He was a favorite dance leader to us, always genial and cordial. Years later, I had the pleasure of his (and Galina's) hospitality in his palatial home in North Philadelphia two times while attending the Philadelphia PP Ball. It was amazing that he remembered us quite clearly.

I lament his passing,

From Martha Davey:

I remember going to folk/square dances at Teachers' College at Columbia University in the early sixties. It was run by Dick Kraus, who had a format of three international folk dances followed by three square dances throughout the evening. I was delighted to have found it, having been introduced to folk dancing at Ethical Culture Youth Group meetings in my teens. I still know people who went there (that's where I met Sol even though we didn't get together until over twenty years later).

Rich Baker shares a note he wrote for Dick last week:

You've been great to know as a fellow dancer over the past 27 years. Thanks for being a good dance friend, and sharing so many fun times.

It wasn't until the late 1970's that I learned that you were not just a good person to have on the dance floor and with our demo dance teams, but a legendary dance leader since the 1940's. Tony Parkes remembers you inspiring him to become a caller, which has certainly helped the contra scene nationwide over the past quarter century. At Pinewoods Camp one summer, Tony played tapes of great callers from the century, and he played you as well as Ralph Page, Osgood, Armstrong & others. Your square dance and folk dance books helped people around the country, and probably around the world. You have made a tremendous difference to thousands.

But not only your impact on the national scene, we at GCD, Summit & Glenside have enjoyed your calling and you're being with us on the dance floor. Thanks for all the dance performances you assisted with GCD. Thanks for being so good to new dancers, and getting them on the dance floor. When I remember you on Wednesdays, Saturdays, or at the Ball, I remember seeing you getting partners who had been sitting out on the sidelines, getting them back into the dance flow, welcoming newcomers and telling them that they can handle the dance.

Thanks for all you done. It's been a great pleasure to have known you.

From Dick's daughter, Lisa Kraus:

My father was a hero to me as a caller. When I was a young girl, he was the one who made all the lively joy that was a dance happen. He would often be my partner for some of the dances - a great honor. Actually I always had a little too much energy for him, like a too-lively colt and he would encourage me to tone it down a touch.

"Duck for the Oyster", "Texas Star", "Swing Like Thunder", there were so many dances he knew! I just came across a very yellowed, lengthy list of those he called. He called at block parties and churches, Y's and schools, anywhere and everywhere, always treating every participant with an encouraging respect and friendliness. He loved dancing and calling and it seemed completely natural to him, what he was meant to do.

When he was dying I pictured those who had danced with him carrying the thought of him back out on the floor, knowing he will always be dancing with you in spirit. He will.

"And when I die, take my saddle from the wall
Put it on my pony and lead him him from his stall
Tie my bones to his back, turn our faces to the west
And we'll ride the prairie that we loved the best
Ride around, little doggies, ride around real slow
For the firey and snuffy are rarin' to go"
-- lyrics to 'Old Paint

If you have other reminiscences or photos to share please email them to Jenny for posting here.