David DiGiuseppe

September 01, 2014

Our amazing home-grown band, FootLoose, will mark their 25th anniversary by playing for the Feet Retreat dance weekend on September 19 - 21. FootLoose is a favorite among contradancers because of their driving energy and delightfully surprising fusion of many different musical styles.

Like all bands, the personnel has rotated from time to time, but the perennial core of the group is David DiGiuseppe. David is that rare breed--a professional musician--who earns his living playing in several bands, performing as a soloist and story-teller, and writing books about his signature instrument, the accordion.

Here he gives us some insight into the formation of a great band and the experience of playing for dancers.

How did you get started playing for contradances?

My first intersection with contradancing took place in the early 1980's in Worcester, Massachusetts, where I was living at the time. I checked it out both as a dancer and as a musician playing mandolin. And I have to admit, it didn't grab me then. A few years later I moved south, and in 1987 discovered the TCD-sponsored dance at the Presbyterian Student Center in Chapel Hill. It was there and then that the contra bug bit. I danced for about a year before approaching the stage as a musician. My first dance band was a short-lived trio with Richard (of swing dance fame) Badu playing fiddle and pianist Chuck Jones (no longer known to the dance community). In 1989 two local, highly-respected and sought-after dance musicians--Ted Ehrhard and Dean Herington--lowered their standards to ask if I'd like to play with them for a new dance series taking place at Camp New Hope. My acceptance of that invitation marked the birth of FootLoose. Asked to perform at Feet Retreat 1989, we then added Pete Campbell. The rest, as they say, is history.

(FootLoose circa 1991: l- r Ted Ehrhard, Dean Herington, Pete Campbell, Dave DiGiuseppe)

In what ways are playing for dancers different from playing a concert?

They are very different experiences in many ways. In concert, the performer or band is like a captain of a ship. We are solely responsible for leading the audience through a journey, and the success of a show is almost entirely on our shoulders. And though the audience response feeds the band, the musicians are always shaping the show. In a dance setting, there is a trilogy of forces impacting the success of the evening--the band, the caller and the dancers. The synergy between the dancers and the music is palatable. And on a good night, that synergy is a remarkable force--a force that is absent in a concert setting.

What do you do when you're not playing music?

Thinking about playing music. I'm also into gardening and beekeeping.

Petronella claps--hate 'em or just don't care?

It's a love/hate thing for me. When the phenomenon first gained dancer consciousness, it seemed very intrusive--especially when the claps were off the beat and out of time to the music (which was/is often the case). Lately I've grown to not mind them as much, and now even catch myself phrasing what I am playing to include them in my solos.

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