November 30, 1998
Volume 51, No. 13
Seth Tepfer is Oxford's own 'Lord of the Dance'
It all started with Seth Tepfer's senior prom. He wanted to go--he knew he'd regret it later if he didn't--and he wanted to be able to dance. Except the kind of dancing everyone would be doing there, at least as Tepfer's friends showed him, wasn't very impressive to him.
"It was just jumping up and down and bouncing," Tepfer recalled. "Kind of stupid, you know? So I decided I really wanted to dance."
Thirteen years later, Tepfer can dance just about any dance one could want danced, from cajun to Contra, from waltz to Scottish Country to square dancing. He can do them, he can teach them and--for those that require an emcee--he can jump up onstage and call them. And Tepfer does just that on most of his weekends, driving to cities all over the Southeast to don a bandanna and take charge of the proceedings at community dances of all sizes.
Nearly two years ago Tepfer started calling Contra and square dances, first one tune at a time, then for half a night and finally for entire evenings. He would offer his services to caller-less dances and gradually began to build a client list around the South, especially in Florida. For those who don't know what Contra dancing is, think Gone With the Wind: specifically, the scene in which Scarlett appalls the Atlanta gentry by dosey-doeing down the line in her black widow's gown.
"I don't like to say 'line dancing' because people automatically think of country-western dancing," Tepfer said. "The neat thing about Contra dancing is you can walk right in off the street and do it. In Atlanta they have a 30-minute lesson beforehand, but for most small community Contra dances people just walk in, and we integrate them into the evening."
Dancing is Tepfer's relief from his daily work with computers at Oxford. As director of administrative computing and innovative technologies, he spends his days troubleshooting, working on database linkages and basically handling much of the computer work that needs to be done on the small campus. But the weekends are his time for release, and Tepfer wouldn't give up dancing-or calling-for anything.
"The caller is a conduit, a magnifying glass between the dancers and the musicians," he explained. "The dancers respond to the music with whoops and shouts and excitement, and that spurs the band on and they start playing with more energy. So in many ways I'm like this focal point between the band and the dancers, and all this energy is passing through me to the band and to the dancers. It's just a new way of experiencing the dance."
In fact, Tepfer enjoys sharing the experience so much, he is personally organizing a weeklong dance festival between Christmas and New Year's outside of Orlando, Fla., called "Florida Rhapsody." Scheduled for Dec. 27-Jan. 1 this year, the event will host dancers, musicians and callers from all around the country to come together and shake their booties in just about any style they could imagine.
"I've gone to a lot of dance festivals and dance weekends, and I decided I wanted to organize one myself," Tepfer shrugged. "We have five bands, two of which are national-level. There will be all this dancing in many genres, and the cost is $400, which covers all the food, lodging, workshops and dances. And that's pretty much my life right now, planning that."
Anyone interested in learning more can visit Tepfer's own web site at <www.geocities.com /Nashville/Opry/2103>. Tepfer's knowledge of computers has served him well in maintaining this site and keeping in touch with the many people he's met through dancing, not to mention providing him with his job at Emory. A 1990 math/computer science graduate of Emory College, he had spent enough time hanging around the school's computer labs that the University offered him a job managing them upon graduation. After several years and a roundabout path through the Atlanta campus, Oxford and Tallahassee (Fla.) for nine months, Tepfer has landed where he started, a computer lab on the first floor of Oxford's Pierce Hall.
Making a living from his love for dancing is something Tepfer would welcome, but it would be difficult. He estimated that only two or three callers in the country are able to do it; still, he's just getting started. "My goal is to be a national-level caller in a couple years, where people are asking me from California or Washington state or wherever to come call for their dance weekends," he said. "I'm new to the game yet; there are people who've been doing this for 15 or 25 years. I'm patient, but I'm assertive."
And as for the current swing-dancing craze that's twirling the country around like a bobby- soxer in a poodle skirt, Tepfer's simply glad people are doing finally doing something more than jumping up and down and bouncing. "It's nice to see some type of structured and organized dancing, rather than just waving your arms around and not moving," he said. "Because within the structure of dance you can find freedom to express yourself in many creative ways."