Tell me about yourself and why you feel like you are a good fit for the Music & Dance Program at the Folk School.
Charmaine: When Gabe Strand (Folk School Wood Studio Coordinator) told me about the job opening, I wasn’t doing any active job searching. However, after looking over the job description, I realized what a perfect fit the job would be for me, and just had to apply. I feel that the fit of the job goes beyond the position itself, as I’m very interested in all the other various programs, and the model of the Folk School very much falls in line with my beliefs. It really feels like this job was made for me!
T-Claw: I have been doing this job everywhere I’ve lived since I was 16. The main difference is that now there is an institutional guardian to support the habit. And it doesn’t hurt to have a built in super-devoted community support base. Working for the Folk School means I might not have to moonlight as a dishwasher or carpenter.
Bob Dalsemer calls a dance while Charmaine Slaven plays music. Bob was the Folk School Music & Dance Coordinator at the time this photo was taken at Dare to Be Square West 2009 in Seattle. Photo by Cory Marie Podielski.
It’s exciting that there is not only one, but two new Music & Dance Coordinators! What will your role be? How is the Music & Dance Program expanding?
Charmaine: This really feels like the cherry on top, because the most intimidating thing about taking on the Music & Dance Coordinator role was that it was such a HUGE job. It was more work than one person could handle. T-Claw and I have known each other for years, and have worked together at various dance events, so we already have a good working relationship in that regard.
I was over the moon when Darcy announced that we would both be hired at the same time. I’ll be taking on the role of Music & Dance Studio Coordinator, booking the weekly music instructors and T-Claw will be the Music & Dance Events Coordinator, focusing on that aspect of our program. There will be some overlap and we’ll be supporting each other in our roles.
T-Claw: We’ve decided to call my position Music and Dance “EVENTS” Coordinator and Charmaine is Music and Dance “STUDIO” Coordinator. I’ll handle the regular Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday night series as well as other special events on campus and downtown at Olive’s Porch. I will be interfacing more with the public and outreach side of things.
T-Claw plays the upright bass on campus. Photo by Steve Newton.
What are you most excited about as you step into your new role?
Charmaine: It’s a very exciting time to be getting involved with the Folk School. The pandemic allowed the world to take a step back and evaluate things, and the Folk School is no exception. I’m excited to implement music & dance programs that feature a diverse range of artists, while still holding true to representing traditional music and dance. We have a lot that we can build on to create exciting music & dance experiences for students and also the surrounding community.
T-Claw: Having traditional music and dance friends and the Folk School community be a part of my daily life. I love the complex decision making it takes to function as a healthy team with common goals. How can we enrich the Brasstown experience and bring new people into the fold? Bringing up my daughters in an environment like this will be priceless.
What do you think are the strengths of the Music & Dance program at the Folk School? What are you going to bring to the table?
Charmaine: There’s so many Folk School traditions and regular events that are solid foundations to build on. I think I’m going to bring a fresh new perspective on how to engage more people with the Folk School programs, connect with a range of new performers & instructors, while still bringing in all the school’s long standing instructors. I also plan on bringing new awareness to the Folk School through outreach.
T-Claw: Decades of dedicated enthusiasts bolster a robust program. I don’t think there is another rural place in the United States offering the breadth or quantity of programming. Campus is gorgeous and if things keep going the way they are, there is no reason we can’t continue to bring world class instructors and participants together for massive magic making. In my new role, I hope to bring some spontaneity and flavor to the scene that attracts new folks and excites on timelines not tied to the catalog.
Charmaine plays fiddle. Photo provided by artist.
Charmaine performs at the Oly Old Time Fest organized by T-Claw circa 2010.
What can the Folk School Music & Dance community look forward to in the future? Is there any information on when concerts or dances might start up again?
Charmaine: We’re going to start up concerts this summer. Dance is much trickier, since most styles of social dance are high contact activities and there are still just so many unknowns with Covid. We’re trying to find the best balance of moving forward with the events we love, while also keeping everyone as safe as possible.
T-Claw: I am booking concerts now. We should be easing into Friday nights in no time. Keep an eye out for official announcements. As for facilitated group dancing, especially indoors, it may be some time before it is safe to do so. The only super spreading I’m down for is apple butter on a buttermilk biscuit.
What musical instruments do you play? What are your favorite instruments or styles of music?
Charmaine: I play guitar & fiddle, and tinker around on other stringed instruments. I’m also a flatfoot dancer, love social dancing, and am a dance caller. I mostly play southern Appalachian old time, but also love singing old country songs, old blues and rags, and sometimes even venture into Cajun or Irish tunes on the fiddle.
T-Claw: I started with rock and jazz bands in middle school. I never found a cohesive punk band dynamic, so when I found this low commitment social stringband format I latched on like my baby Freya on a five mile white water float. Banjo is the first instrument that clicked, but I soon took up cross-tuned fiddle and came back around to guitar and bass. I have a solid foundation in old time stringband music, but my tastes and interests are wide varied. I hope to be in various bands around here. Cajun, honky tonk, and swing are some of my favorite rhythms to dance to/play, but I’ll try anything twice.
The Tallboys play at the 2012 Portland Old Time Gathering. Charmaine plays guitar and flatfoots. Watch here or on YouTube.
T-Claw takes a calling selfie at Dunmore Daze in Dunmore, WV to the tune of Juanita Fireball and the Continental Drifters.
T-Claw calls a dance at the Dare to Be Square in Riner VA in 2011. Photo by Cory Marie Podielski.
Tell me about music projects you’ve been involved in. Where can we listen to your music?
Charmaine: My first band was The Tallboys, a traditional string band based out of Seattle. We performed full-time for over 10 years, and cut 4 albums with that project. My husband, Charlie Beck, was a founder of The Tallboys. After a few years together in The Tallboys, we started our own duo called Squirrel Butter, playing more original & electic material. You can listen at thetallboys.com and squirrelbutter.com
T-Claw: Fiddle Pie has been the moniker for bands I throw together with a specific tour in mind. We did a bicycle camping music tour from Vermont to North Carolina where we were woken up by a bear trying to eat my discount donuts. We did a 6-piece logistical nightmare tour of New Zealand and Australia in an impulse bought smoke breathing minivan complete with upright banjo bass. We recorded a decent record before and after that tour. They are on bandcamp, but we haven’t ever released the non-square companion dance focussed part of the second record.
I also wrote a traditional square dance cultural survey and instructional manual about 10 years ago. I hope I can clean it up and better flesh out some more thoughts and clean up my previously honed preferential dogmatic tone. I have some copies that kicking around, but not hard copies of music.
What’s your experience with contra, square, and community dances? Do you call dances? What are your favorite styles of dancing?
Charmaine: Yes, I started calling around 2007 when I was in The Tallboys. We started up a very popular square dance series in Seattle at the Tractor Tavern that continued for over 12 years, only stopping when the pandemic happened. That was a dedicated square dance, so I primarily call squares. However, I am learning more contras, circles, and running set dances. I also love couple dancing to old honky-tonk or cajun music.
Flatfooting is also my foundation in getting started in traditional music and dance, and will probably always be one of my favorite things to do… though now that I’ve gotten a taste of Morris dancing, I’m pretty excited about trying out some of those fancy wooden shoes!
T-Claw: I really sank my teeth deeper into old time music when I realized it was made for dancing. It is perfect for breaking apart social boundaries and bringing together people in joy. This music and dance is a cultural gateway drug for those looking for a little real connection.
I’ve been playing for, hosting, organizing, teaching, and calling dances since 2007. Right around the time I met Charmaine, we both started hiring each other for events in our respective towns of Olympia and Seattle. I love calling when the band is hot. It can be a supernatural-feeling experience when all the components are churning in sync. I mostly call patter squares. I have a deep love of old callers in West Virginia, and can’t help but call their dances. I am actively collecting partner dances and solo dances to help infuse uncalled dancing into more events. Those things too will be safer before a packed hall of longways sets.
Louisville Old Time Squares Association celebrates it’s 3rd anniversary with T-Claw calling (2015). Watch here or on YouTube.
The Tallboys play for a square dance at the Tractor Tavern. Photo by Cory Marie Podielski.
T-Claw plays for a dance and Michael Ismerio calls at DTBSQ in Riner, VA (2011). Photo by Cory Marie Podielski.
If you could collaborate or learn from any musician, who would it be?
Charmaine: I would love to have learned some guitar picking from Maybelle Carter. Algia Mae Hinton is one of my favorite dancers, and I’d love to be able to learn more about her very sexy, subtle way of step dancing. And I’d wish I could sing harmony with Lefty Frisell. And just party with the Memphis Jug Band.
T-Claw: Michael Jackson.
What’s on your record player right now?
Charmaine: I’ve been learning a few fiddle tunes from Blaine Smith, a really fun Iowa born West Virginia fiddler who I learned about from the Pinebreeze Collection – which was born out of a project much like the JAM program that I’m super excited about helping out with.
T-Claw: Darrin Hacquard, Hamilton, Old Man Luedecke, Hearth & Hymn, The Revellers, Lone Piñon, Dolly Parton, and Che Apalche.
Besides music & dance, what are other crafts/arts you like to do?
Charmaine: I love to cook & bake, make fermented foods, and do some brewing. I love fiber arts and knitting, and have been teaching myself to spin. I enjoy drawing & painting. I love hiking and bird watching. I was a 4-H kid growing up, and have always raised chickens, goats, etc. Looking forward to keeping some livestock again.
T-Claw: I used to do a lot of stencil art and silk screen printing. I can really appreciate an excellently designed event poster, piece of merch, or well written song, but I don’t have the chops to easily hit my own standards. I like foraging and wildcrafting. I like it when things rhyme or alliterate. I like to think of myself as a beast in the kitchen inspired by ingredients in abundance or short for this world. I particularly like cooking things you can’t get at an American restaurant.
The last dance at the 2009 Dare to Be Square in Seattle. Bob Dalsmer calls the dance while The Tallboys play. Photo by Cory Marie Podielski.
Music and Dance Studio Coordinator
Originally from Western Montana, Charmaine is a Seattle-based professional musician, flatfoot dancer, dance caller, instructor, and program organizer. She specializes in traditional American roots music and dance.
Charmaine takes great joy in sharing her love of music and dance with people of all ages and abilities. She has been teaching and overseeing music camp programs for over fifteen years.
Charmaine will schedule classes and music and dance programs such as Winter Dance Week and special dance weekends. She will also manage our Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM) program, schedule Morningsong performers, and develop new and exciting programs.
Music and Dance Events Coordinator
T-Claw is a professional dance caller and musician with 20 years of program organizing experience. He’s a passionate community-driven instigator for traditional music and dance, and he frequently employs unorthodox methods for maximum engagement. With T-Claw, everyone is always invited.
T-Claw will manage our Folk School concert and dance series. He will also coordinate performances for events such as Fall Festival and Friends and Family Day. Finally, T-Claw will develop events and programs for Olive’s Porch, a new community engagement center opening in Murphy later this summer.
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com