Contra, squares, international
Bob Tomlinson has been folk dancing with Oglebay Institute Folk Dancers since 1967. Jane Farwell's philosophies strongly influenced some of his mentors (Bill Herman and Rose Chiazza), and subsequently him. Jane (1916-1993) was a noted recreational dance leader who recognized the social value of folk arts and successfully used them to bridge the gaps between many different groups of people. As Bob started sharing and teaching International Folk dances in 1978, he started observing that it wasn't the dance or the music that was so important, but the positive social and physical interaction and fellowship that was most beneficial. People have fun interacting with other people on the dance floor. Folk dance is recreation through social and physical interaction. The dance and music merely served as vehicles. And the scholastic studies of cultural significance and arguments concerning the proper positioning of the foot or the proper definition of a movement, though interesting, became less significant.
Bob's wife Kathy and he have studied many specific types of dance forms including American Square Dance (ASD), Clogging, Round, Irish step dance, international folk dance, ceili, contra, and others dance types. He started cueing contra dance in 1991 and calling modern-western square dance (MWSD) in 1993.
In 1999, Bob started a recreational folk dance program for children ages 5 to 17 which is free to the public and is sponsored by Wheeling's Oglebay Institute. He has reverted back to what he believes are his mentors' principles, keeping it simple, keeping it fun. The event has had resounding success. Starting with 9 people, it has grown to 30 participants, with young adults continuing to dance to this day. While incorporating successful traditions from past programs, Bob realizes the need to not only allow and tolerate change, but also embrace and nurture those changes. That, indeed, is what is known as the "folk process," and it is a sign of the vitality of any folk arts program.
He has been instrumental in the formation of the Heritage Dance Association of Wheeling, West Virginia. This group has successfully secured a number of grants from the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation in addition to the use of a spacious wood dance floor. The inter-generational community dance series that developed, featured live music and had an average attendance of 75 people ages 5 through 80. Even though it was discontinued, many of the participants continue to folk dance in various local venues.
He is a member of American Caller's Association and was a member of CallerLab and ContraLab. He served as an Adjunct Lecturer of Folk Dance, West Liberty University. He co-directed Oglebay Institute Folk Dance Camp from 1991 to 1999 and directed and co-directed the Lloyd Shaw Foundation's Cumberland Dance Week from 1998 to 2004. Since 1994, Bob has been The Folk Dance Specialist at Oglebay Institute. He has served on staff at several weeklong dance workshops in the eastern United States, teaching International Folk Dance to adults and children. He has called contra, square, and community dances in the Wheeling, Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Lexington areas.
A member since 1994 and having served four years on it's board, Bob is currently President of the Lloyd Shaw Foundation, Inc. (LSF) One of the initial aspects that impressed him about the first LSF dance leaders were their dance leadership, be it in contra, square, round, international, or any number of other folk dance forms. Expanding and further developing the leadership-training model for Cumberland Dance Week, he excised himself from active participation in this event, testing the self perpetuation aspect of the plan. That aspect was one of the key elements, initially envisioned by Don Coffey when he first assembled the ad hoc committee for that Dance Camp back in 1996. This annual July event has been and continues to be enjoyed since 1997.