The Billings Outpost

Speaker asks why some can’t samba

By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

The sound was “skin on wood,” the spank on which a palm inspired the sound of the African conga drum, which in turn gave birth to Latin dance called salsa.

Dance dominated two lecture slots on the Western Heritage Center’s schedule last month. At the WHC’s High Noon Lecture Series, Mark Matthews presented a pictorial and audio history of social dance ranging from about the turn of the century to now.

Writer and dancer Matthews, 42, from Missoula, said he was on his way to Bozeman to teach contra dance, which he said was just like walking in a line, only more fun.

Tall, slender, blond and dressed in black except for a gray tie, Mark Matthews delighted about 20 people in the audience, only a few of whom were male. Mr. Matthews focused on the qualities of social dance that contributed to social interaction between blacks and whites.

Iconic Latin star Desi Arnaz said he thought the best way for people to get to know each other was through music and dance. Performing “Babalu,” he featured a conga line that many said promoted community via its simple steps and line format.

“Music and dance are what make people get to know each other,” said Desi Arnez. Matthews built on Arnaz’s wisdom by describing the history of social dance in America in two one-hour lectures, entitled, “Why White Men Can’t Mambo,” and “Jitterbugging on the Dance Floor - Social Change in America.” At the second lecture, he also taught a community swing dance called “The Big Apple Dance.”

He said Izzy Romero spread the salsa craze in the 1950s through the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Santo Domingo and Cuba. Adding that several salsa crazes have ignited throughout the years, he showed a photo that highlighted the spirit of sensuous salsa dance: a beautiful, curvy woman in a skimpy bikini made entirely of black feathers. The model, he said,  represented the height of chic during the Latin dance phenomenon during the ’50s. Mr Matthews told the story of how Latin dance was the first social experience that invited blacks and whites together to dance on the same dance floor, eradicating many cultural barriers that divided them.

Continuing on, he said rumba in 1931 became a staple of Brazilian dance. Later on in 1949, Perez Prado burst on the dance scene as an expert rumba dancer in New York City. New York then became the epicenter of dance and especially of Cuban rumba fests. Further, the United Services Organization hosted rumba clubs for soldiers traveling during wartime. Another dance from Brazil that excited the continents was samba.

Local dance teacher Steve Gillis, from Greeley, Colo., who has taught dance in Billings since 1973, said everyone experiences different dances in different ways and then makes them their own.

“Mambo is the studio version of street dance called salsa,” he said. Students ask me if I teach different kinds of salsa, and they ask about New York, Miami, Los Angeles and casino salsa ... . You get an American version of Latin dance when the cultures mix ... and remember Latins have grown up with dancing since they were young children.”

He also said he teaches nine different kinds of swing dance, including West Coast swing. Mr. Gillis can be found every Thursday from 8:30-10 p.m. teaching free dance lessons, including cowboy jitterbug, cha-cha and various kinds of swing dance at the Wild West Saloon at 1516 Fourth Ave. N.

Samba schools, said Matthews, were often situated on the outskirts of slums in Brazil, called favelas, and Brazilian samba schools celebrate Lent and Mardi Gras in the community via a multitude of street parades and parties called Carnevale. He said samba schools compete viciously in the sumptuous street celebrations that can draw people to party for up to several weeks in Brazil. Some Brazilians even quit their jobs to perfect their samba skills, make an elaborate costume and participate in that important samba dancing event. Mr. Gillis said, “The samba clubs get huge reputations based on how they party ... . The whole attitude is ‘Let’s have a great time and celebrate.”

Mr. Matthews said spot dances, like the various Latin dances except for conga line, could be danced on a crowded floor. He said the Italian Mafia ran many dance clubs, especially Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, who combined the two most infamous organized crime enterprises ever to exist. Finally, he said, emigration from Cuba and Puerto Rico filled the clubs with skilled Latin dancers with gyrating hips. Where did they get that rhythm?

He said the complicated patterns of rhythms came from drumming on African slave ships, among other things. Sailors played fiddles to get the slaves to exercise while on board ship en route to various auctions and ports. These complicated percussion patterns also paved the way for rock ’n’ roll. For further information, check out


Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 00:42

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Nagel looking forward to life after Rimrock Opera

By SHARIE PYKE - For The Outpost

“Oh my God! I’ve done the opera for 14 seasons!” said Doug Nagel, commenting on his decision to leave the Rimrock Opera.

“I cannot teach all day and sing all night,” he added. “It’s time in my life for me to move on and to focus my energies on my job here at MSU B. “I have 20 students and it’s intense, one on one.”

Professor Nagel first connected with the then Billings Opera Guild as a performer in Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” in 1999. The guild then asked him to become the group’s artistic director. Over the years, he’s been a performer, a producer and the general manager as well.

His favorite operas are “Salome” by Richard Strauss and “Die Walküre” by Wagner. His favorite operetta is “The Merry Widow,” but he also enjoys Broadway tunes.

“My signature tune is ‘Ol’ Man River,’” he said. He’s a Helden baritone, a dramatic or heroic baritone.

“I basically sing the big roles,” he said. He has performed all over the United States. His favorite roles are Baron Scarpia in “Tosca,” which he performed here in Billings with the Rimrock Opera in 2002, and “The Flying Dutchman.” He also received outstanding reviews as John the Baptist in “Salome.”

But his repertoire is not limited to the classics. He’s comfortable in all genres.

“I do love modern music. I’ve done 506 modern works with the symphony. I like modern music because it challenges the musician.” He stepped effortlessly into the baritone part in Mozart’s “Coronation Mass” with the Billings Symphony Chorale in March when the scheduled performer fell ill.

“I started life out as a teacher. I took music ed at the University of Wyoming and then, for my first job, I did all the music at Park City while the music teacher was on maternity leave.”

But he really wanted to sing opera, so he enrolled at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music where he studied under teacher and mentor Dickson Titus, now deceased.

“He was able to tap into what worked best with my voice,” he said. Other influences include Ettori Bastianini, whose voice Professor Nagel described as “steely,” and American baritone George London.

Now he’s teaching voice at Montana State University Billings. “This is very rewarding for me. I can make a difference with my students. Seven of my voice majors were in the chorus (of “Aida.”) That’s what I do here. I produce singers.

“Aida’s a really big show to manage,” he added. “I was the producer. It was a challenge to keep everyone happy and from freaking out.”

The last week in June, Professor Nagel will lead the second Institute per la Bella Voce for junior high and high school students. It’s a one-week camp. “It’s an opportunity for my college students to get some hands-on experience in teaching voice,” he said. And some of the high school students enroll as freshmen at MSU Billings.

He also teaches in Connections, a program at MSU Billings that allows high school students to take college courses for credit. “I have five kids in the Connections program here. It’s a wonderful tool to transition them into college life.”

At this writing, Professor Nagel is in the People’s Republic of China. “We have a partner university, Xuang Chen University in Zheng Zhou, Hunan Province. It’s a city of over a million. I will be teaching there for a month, twenty 18- to 20-year-old voice majors. They sing only in Chinese. I’ll teach Italian art songs, German lieder and Broadway. My last week that I’m there I’ll give a solo recital, mostly in the English language.”

Professor Nagel has never been blase or laidback about anything he’s done in his career. Singing is his life.

“It’s hard to take criticism when it’s your passion. And change is hard for all of us, personally and professionally,” he said once more, referring to the end of his association with Rimrock Opera. But he ended his comments on a positive note.

“The timing was amazing. I’m full time at MSU B, and I really love my job here. Now that I’m teaching, I think that I’m singing better than ever. And the opera’s going to have a facelift, new ideas.”


Last Updated on Friday, 24 May 2013 00:40

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Tea Party rallies against IRS

Local Tea Party members plan to rally at the Billings Internal Revenue Service office, 2900 Fourth Ave. N., at noon Tuesday, May 21. 

A news release said, "Tea Party groups from across the country are planning to protest IRS offices Tuesday as details of inapropriate targeting by the agency continue to emerge.

 "On behalf of Tea Party, Patriot groups, 9/12, liberty activists, and the American people, we are calling for anyone and everyone to protest the IRS' complete abuse of power on Tuesday, May 21, 2013 at noon local time. "

Last Updated on Monday, 20 May 2013 17:31

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MSU professor dies on trip


MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – Betsy Palmer, an associate professor of education at Montana State University, passed away Monday as a result of injuries sustained in a landslide while traveling in Nepal, university officials announced Monday.

Palmer was in Nepal leading a group of 16 students on a course offered through the University Honors Program at MSU. None of the students were injured in the landslide. The university is working with the U.S. Embassy, Senator Max Baucus' office and emergency transport services in Nepal to expedite the students' return to the United States.

Palmer and the students were on an extended trek to a remote village in the Arun River Valley in the Himalayas as part of  “Great Expeditions,” a University Honors Program course.

"Betsy was a strong, spirited, amazing woman filled with graciousness and kindness for every person she met. She was a gifted and award-winning teacher, researcher, and scholar because she cared deeply about her students and was passionate about finding ways to promote their success and well-being throughout their college experiences. We have lost an incredible member of our department, our family, and our lives," said her friend and colleague, Jayne Downey, head of the MSU Department of Education.

Palmer, who taught statistics and research methods courses, came to the university in 2001. Through MSU’s adult and higher education program, she also taught courses that focused on college student research and theory, student services, and college curriculum and teaching. Her research focused on college students and the institutional practices that foster improved outcomes for students.

Palmer spent the 2011-2012 academic year conducting research in Nepal. In May of 2012, she received the MSU Department of Education’s Outstanding Research Award.

Palmer had a deep connection to Nepal. While visiting the country in 2005, she met her future husband, who was born and raised in the village of Pandok. They later married in a traditional ceremony held in that village. The couple have twins.

A university memorial service will be announced at a later date.


Last Updated on Monday, 20 May 2013 17:20

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Information sought on game kill

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks game wardens are looking for information about an incident about a month ago when as many as 30 antelope were killed illegally southeast of Billings.

The state’s TIP-MONT program is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to a conviction in the case.

Game warden Nick Taylor said FWP received information that two males trespassed on private land west of Montana Highway 418 and south of Blue Creek. The two killed as many as 30 antelope in one field, then left them to waste. At least one perpetrator later drove into the field and removed some of the carcasses. Game wardens have retrieved several of the antelope carcasses.

Montana law makes it illegal to kill antelope without a license or out of season. It also is illegal to leave game animals to waste.

Taylor asked that anyone with information about the incident call him at (406) 247-2976 or (406) 697-3443. People also may call FWP’s 24-hour wildlife tip line at 1-800-TIP-MONT (800-847-6668). The TIP-MONT program is offering a reward of up to $1,000 for information leading to a conviction in the case.

The 1-800-TIP-MONT program is a toll-free number where people can report violations of fish, wildlife or park regulations.

Callers may remain anonymous. It is similar to the well-known Crimestoppers program and offers rewards for information resulting in conviction of persons who abuse Montana’s natural, historic or cultural resources.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 20:47

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Applicants sought for health board

The RiverStone Health Clinic Board of Directors, which governs the activities of the federally qualified health center, is seeking applications for two Board members residing in either Yellowstone or Carbon Counties. RiverStone Health primary care clinics are located in Billings, Bridger, Joliet and Worden and residents of those communities are encouraged to apply.

RiverStone Health clinics are designated federally qualified health centers and as such, the Board of Directors must be representative of the communities they serve. In addition, the majority of board members must be users of health center services so patients of RiverStone Health clinics are especially encouraged to apply for board positions. Board members, in addition to governance of the health center, are also charged with governance of the RiverStone Health Dental Clinic and Health Care for the Homeless program.

Visit or call Nancy Taylor, vice president of clinical operations at 247-3295 for information about the organization, the commitment required of RiverStone Health Clinic Board members, and the application / selection process.

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 May 2013 20:46

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Open burning banned May 13-14

Open burning is banned today (May 13) and Tuesday in Yellowstone County because of dry conditions along with near record temperatures and high winds, according to Duane Winslow, the county's emergency and general services director.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 May 2013 10:55

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Small schools shine at Top Ten Meet

By WILBUR WOOD - For The Outpost

Last Tuesday’s annual Top Ten Track and Field meet was conducted in Laurel under a gray sky offering periodic sprinkles of rain flavored by a persistent cold breeze.

Nothing unusual about this, on the last day of April in Montana, and this weather did not seem to faze the 150 or more athletes competing in 17 running, jumping or throwing events.

Top Ten is my favorite high school meet of the year, although the excitement of the two-day state meets (on the last Friday and Saturday of May) can rival it. The local Top Ten sponsor, the Billings Roundtable, conducts this meet with brisk efficiency: Starting at 3:30 in the afternoon, it always is ending about four hours later.

My only critique is that, if you’re watching pole vault and high jump, there is no way to know the height of the bar that competitors are trying to propel themselves over. Why not follow what is done at most state meets I’ve attended and place a large sign that can be rotated to show spectators the height being contested?

Why not use the big electronic scoreboard at Laurel, across the field from the grandstand, to do more than list what competitors have done at the end of an event? Why not also use it to note current leaders in various events, particularly long jump, triple jump and the three throwing events? (But that may be asking too much.)

From schools large and small

One very good thing about Top Ten is that athletes from schools of all sizes are invited to compete, as long as they have attained results, in any of the 17 events, which place them among the ten best in the region, to date.

The region for this Top Ten is any Montana school, large or small, within a radius of 150 miles from Billings. Several other Top Ten Meets happen around the state — Glasgow, Helena, Missoula, possibly elsewhere — and operate the same way: Ten invited competitors in each event compete for five medals. The big schools, of course, send the most athletes and tend to dominate spots on the podium.

But there are always exceptions. Billings Top Ten includes the four Class AA schools — three from Billings: Senior, West and Skyview — along with Bozeman. Local Class A schools Billings Central and Laurel are joined by Belgrade, Livingston, Lewistown, Hardin and Miles City - then by a host of Class B and C schools.

This means that a javelin thrower from Class C Ryegate named Collin Brosz can qualify in ninth place going into Top Ten, with a throw of 161 feet 4 inches, and if he has a good day and throws the spear 170 feet — which he did — he can end up on the podium with a second-place medal around his neck.

Double winners

At this meet, on this day, this throw by Brosz was exceeded only by a 185-foot-7-inch toss by another athlete from a smaller school, Ty Bermes of Class B Joliet (which only a few years ago got big enough to move up from Class C). Bermes also won the Top Ten boys’ high jump, clearing the bar at 6 feet 3 inches (he had come in with a 6-4 mark earlier in the season).

So it isn’t just big school athletes who excel. Abby Bymaster of the combined Broadview-Lavina girls’ team came into the shotput competition with the best mark, 38 feet 6 inches. She didn’t quite equal that, but her throw of 37 feet 11 inches was leading the pack until Bethany Rides Horse of Class A Hardin, on her sixth and final attempt, heaved the cannonball (well, that’s what it looks like) 39 feet 6 inches. Rides Horse, like Ty Bermes, was also a double winner, with her throw of 128 feet 3 inches winning the javelin.

There were four other double winners, two girls, two boys. On the boys’ side, like Ty Bermes, the other two also came from Class B schools. Dustin Sobrero of Columbus triumphed in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, while Ike Zier of Manhattan won both the 110- and 300-meter hurdles.

On the girls’ side, Bethany Rides Horse was joined by two runners from Class AA Billings Senior: Chloe Rector in the 100 and 200 meter dashes and Christina Aragon in the 800 and 1600 meter runs.

Another Aragon

Aragon — that name may sound familiar. Christina’s two older sisters, Alexa and Danielle, both excelled in multiple events at Billings Senior High, and last year, as a senior, Danielle obliterated a 39-year-old all-class state record in the girls’ 800-meter run. Both of the older Aragon girls now are running for Notre Dame.

Christina’s just a freshman, but she ran with assurance, hanging with early leaders, then striding out strongly in the final 200 meters to win the 1,600 by three and a half seconds and the 800 by more than four seconds.

Another freshman girl, Baylee Green from Class B Roundup (where I live), ran in that same 800; she finished 16 seconds behind the winner but ran close to her best time in this event. For Class B and C athletes like Green, this week marks the end of competing in meets against athletes from any other classes except their own.

For the smaller Montana schools, last week marked the end of the regular track and field season and the beginning of the second season: the march from District to Divisional Meets, each time winnowing all but the top five or six in each event (this varies) to advance to separate Class B and C State Meets.

So Baylee Green, for example, now says goodbye to another freshman distance runner she’s competed with not only all this season, but for the previous two junior high school track and field seasons, Emma Chandler of Absarokee. Why? Because Absarokee is Class C and Roundup Class B.

Lose some, gain Others

Both girls therefore lose some of their toughest competitors; each, however, will likely gain new tough competitors from Class B or C schools to the west, north or northeast.

This narrowing down doesn’t happen to Class A and AA athletes for one more week. Because there are fewer of those schools, they can dispense with District meets and stage only Divisional meets to qualify athletes for state. (In AA there is another way to qualify for state besides placing in the top five out of the two Divisionals; this is by equaling or exceeding a pre-established mark in an event at some time during the regular season.)

Laurel is the site this year not only for the District Class B Meet that includes Roundup, but also for the Divisional Meet that will bring teams from southeastern and southwestern Montana.

On May 24-25 Laurel will host the Class A and Class C State Meets, held concurrently, while Bozeman does the same for Class B and Class AA.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 May 2013 01:07

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Rimrock Opera plans auditions

Rimrock Opera will be holding auditions for the summer festival by appointment.

The festival will be held June 15-23, ending with performances on Saturday, June 22, and Sunday, June 23. The festival will include musical theater and opera workshops as well as master classes.

Faculty for the festival will include two coaches from Dallas, Texas, James McQuillen and Jay Gardner, as well as voice teacher Kristee Haney and stage director Matthew Haney.

To audition, contact Matthew Haney at 1-816-872-5032.

Bring a resume, a headshot (if possible) and two contrasting pieces including an art song, arias or musical theater.

The second piece could also be a short monologue.

Last Updated on Thursday, 18 April 2013 13:33

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Rodeo patrols out this week

If you are going to watch the bull riding at the PBR Nile Invitational, the Yellowstone County Sheriff’s Office reminds you to be safe on the road. Law enforcement officers will increase patrols on streets and highways this weekend.

“Rodeo is part of the Montana culture, and we want everyone to take pride in this tradition,” said Yellowstone County Sheriff Mike Linder. “However, we don’t want people to be bullheaded and get behind the wheel after some drinks.”

The extra patrols will focus on apprehension of impaired drivers. “It is critical to get impaired drivers off the road before they hurt someone,” said Sheriff Linder. He suggested lining up a sober drive if you plan on drinking.

While the extra patrols are focused on drinking and driving, officers will be watching for unsafe traffic behaviors, such as speeding or distracted driving.

The extra patrols are funded by the Montana Department of Transportation Selective Traffic Enforcement Program. More than thirty law enforcement agencies around the state participate in enhanced enforcement to address traffic safety. For more safety-related information please access the Montana Department of Transportation’s website

Last Updated on Thursday, 04 April 2013 17:38

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