Nancy Mamlin

Durham-based square dance caller Nancy Mamlin was first introduced to traditional dancing as an elementary school student in Danville, Virginia, where square dances and cakewalks were an important component of most school fundraisers and physical education classes. "Most of the square dance callers I heard were also tobacco auctioneers," she remembers. "I loved that cadence and voice that they had. Early on, I wanted to be either a square dance caller or a stand-up comedian."

Mamlin eventually left Danville, but remembered the traditions that played such an influential role in her early life. While living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the early 1980s, Mamlin was once again exposed to the old-time music and dance of her childhood when she attended a local square dance. "The music just grabbed me," she recalls. "I knew at once that I had landed in the place I was supposed to be."

Between 1984 and 1988, Mamlin performed as a dancer with the Pittsburgh-based Coal Country Cloggers, all the while soaking up the repertoires of regional Pennsylvania callers such as Dolores Heagy, Ron Buchanan, Larry Edelman, and Marlin Whitaker. The budding caller complemented her first-hand education with various square dance calling classes at music and dance camps.

In 1988, Mamlin moved to the Washington, DC, area, where she became the string bassist for old-time group Roustabout, with whom she was asked to play for a friend's wedding party. When the scheduled dance caller didn't make the gig, Mamlin was drafted in as a pinch hitter, giving her burgeoning square dance calling career an unexpected jump start. "I still remember looking out on the floor and seeing [traditional music legend] Mike Seeger dancing, who I barely knew at the time," she laughs. "That scared me to death. Later on, he was always there dancing whenever I was calling in his area."

Since that time, Mamlin has called square dances throughout the United States, including at dance camps and old-time music events at Fiddlehead, Swannanoa, and Hoppin' John, in North Carolina; the Coal Country Convention in Pennsylvania; the Augusta Heritage Center's traditional arts weeks in West Virginia; and the Rockbridge Mountain Music and Dance Festival in Virginia. She is one of the founders of the Dare To Be Square dance and calling event, and recently served on the calling staff for Dare To Be Square - West.

Mamlin's square dance repertoire concentrates on dances of the Southeast, particularly the mountains of North Carolina, but also includes dances from western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and the Western square traditions. She also plays bass and guitar with her husband, fiddler Ron Cole.

Booking Contact: 
Nancy Mamlin
Booking Address: 
6 Winthrop Ct.
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919-489-7571, 828-773-4274
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Dance Calling
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Master Classes
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