Remembering Tony Parkes

Tony Parkes — an influential and inspiring dance leader, composer, and author — died on May 6, 2024. His beloved wife, Beth Parkes, wrote, “Tony left us this afternoon. I was able to be with him for much of the day and was with him when he died. It was peaceful.”

Tony was a giant in the traditional social dance community. Humble, skilled, generous, thorough, talented, caring… these are all apt characterizations of the man whose self-described debilitating shyness was overcome through his involvement with square and contra dances.

Tony possessed grace, clarity, humor, poise, depth of knowledge, and a mellifluous voice — all of which made dancing to (and with) him a delight. Among his other traits, he was graced with deep spiritual faith, was a gifted writer, and loved performing Gilbert & Sullivan.

Yes, he is in Wikipedia, although the entry doesn’t mention his latest—and utterly brilliant—contribution to dance leadership: Square Dance Calling: An Old Art for a New Century. Any caller (or dancer or musician, for that matter) can glean valuable skills and perspective from both of Tony’s books on calling; plus, his prose is a pleasure to read!

In an episode of the From the Mic podcast, Tony describes his entrance into the dance world, some early and ongoing influences, and the philosophy and values that guided his leadership practice. A bonus episode features clips from Tony’s audio archives.

Tony was a core consultant for the Square Dance History Project, and you can find more about him there (including these interviews).

The journal entries on Tony’s Caring Bridge website provide a glimpse into his last months, as mysterious health issues were diagnosed as a brain tumor (specifically, glioblastoma) and he navigated treatments before entering hospice care.

The world was a better place because of Tony Parkes, and he is already dearly missed.

Memorial Gatherings for Tony will be Memorial Day weekend:

  • Saturday, May 25, 10:00 am Memorial Eucharist at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Bedford, followed by interment of Tony’s ashes in the Memorial Garden and a reception in the Parish Hall.
  • Sunday, May 26, (exact times TBD, but afternoon into evening) Potluck dinner, memorial, and dance with many callers and musicians at the Concord Scout House

Memorial Donations in Tony’s honor may be made to:

  • The New England Folk Festival Association (Tony attended the annual festival every year, from 1969-2023. In 2024, a special tribute session honored his contributions; Tony watched the recording while in hospice care.)
    P.O. Box 2789, Acton MA 01720
  • St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (Tony & Beth’s home church)
    100 Pine Hill Road, Bedford, MA 01730
  • Tony Parkes GoFundMe will help pay Tony’s hospital and funeral expenses