Fiddler and dance caller David Kaynor claims he was once “the fastest person in Montague, Massachusetts,” but he won’t be running the Moab Half Marathon on March 16. Instead, he will be leading a much less grueling form of exercise: contra dancing.
Kaynor, who has been one of the most well-known figures in the New England contra dance scene for over three decades, will be calling for the Moab Community Dance Band’s monthly dance as part of a week-long residency, during which he will also work with elementary school students at Helen M. Knight and the Moab Charter School.
He can call and play at the same time. That is, he plays the fiddle while simultaneously giving dance instructions, a skill that is rare today.
“It’s multi-tasking in a big way,” he said.
Kaynor likes to think he is following in the footsteps, literally and figuratively, of the 19th century dancing masters. Formerly, when almost every small community held regular social dances, there was often just one individual who could teach the dances and also play the fiddle competently; that person did double duty as both caller and musician.
Kaynor, who also plays piano and guitar, learned his first tunes on the knee of his father, a self-taught pianist.
His parents took him to his first square dance when he was about eight, and he attended singing parties at his family’s cottage in Maine. As a young man, he picked up the banjo, guitar, piano, and a banjo-mandolin instrument called the Tu-ba-phone, supporting himself with odd jobs, and finally, music.
Introduced to contra dancing in 1973, Kaynor started playing fiddle a year later. For several years he made up one quarter of the Four Gone Conclusions, a popular contra dance band consisting of himself and three other Kaynors. He has made numerous trips to Sweden to study Swedish music and dance and to teach the traditional music and dance of his native New England.
In 1980 he started calling dances at the historic Guiding Star Grange Hall in Greenfield, Mass. After over thirty years, he still has that gig. And it’s clear why he keeps doing it.
“There are very few times when I’ve been happier than when I’m involved in a really fun dance—playing, calling, or dancing. I think (contra dancing) is a really wonderful thing to be able to participate in with others,” he said.
At the Grange Hall, you can pay $10 to get into the dance or you can barter what you have.
Kaynor’s passion for music equally strong.
“Playing music is a combination of beauty and raw guts,” he said. “It makes you feel like your heart is going to go on forever.”
Kaynor will be offering a workshop on Saturday for members of the Moab Community Dance Band and those interested in joining.
The Moab Community Dance Band raised funds this fall and winter for Kaynor’s residency, cobbling together a number of small community grants as well as a successful kickstarter.com project. The band will donate the proceeds from Saturday’s dances to Grand County school music programs.