Job: Jonathan Sivier has been a research programmer for the aviation research laboratory at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology for 14 years. Sivier holds a bachelor's degree in computer engineering from the UI. In his spare time, Sivier builds and flies model rockets as a member of the Central Illinois Aerospace Model Rocketry Club. Sivier also dances and calls dances with the Urbana Country Dancers and the Central Illinois English Country Dancers.
Tell me about your job at Beckman.
The aviation research lab is a human factors lab, so they look at things like training pilots, communications between pilots and ground control, cockpit displays and how the pilots interact with the displays. I spend a lot of my time working on computer displays for flight simulation: out-the-window scenes – landscape and terrain – and cockpit displays of instruments and maps.
What is the most challenging thing you do?
We use software and hardware of various kinds that are made to do certain things, and we're always trying to do something a little bit different. We’ll call the people who made the software and they'll say, 'Well, we never thought anybody would want to do that.' That’s one of the nice things; we're always doing something different.
Tell me about your model rocketry hobby.
The club has a meeting once a month. Sometimes we'll have workshops for kids or talk about various aspects of building and flying rockets. When the weather cooperates we hold launches at Dodds Park near Parkland and sometimes in Rantoul at the former Chanute Air Force Base. At any one time, I probably have a dozen rockets I can fly. I have some kits that I intend to build and some rockets I have crashed that I intend to fix.
You also enjoy contra and English country dancing. How did you become interested in that?
My first exposure to contra dance was at a wedding 14 years ago. The reception was at Crystal Lake Park and the dancing was on the dock next to the lake. During a do-si-do, I tripped over my own feet and nearly fell into the lake. After their wedding, I started going to the local group, the Urbana Country Dancers. About 10 years ago, I started doing the calling as well.
There are several facets to being a caller: There's choosing the dances for the evening, teaching the dances and prompting if somebody needs help. The actual calling the dance is really quite easy. There are a small set of basic figures that all the dances are composed of. You don’t have to know the dances because we walk them through each time before we do them.
What is contra dancing?
If you have seen any of the Jane Austen movies where they have a line of people dancing, that's English country dancing. It was brought over by settlers in the 1600s and 1700s to the colonies. People here in America then began writing their own dances and music, which came to be called contra dances.
In general the Urbana Country Dancers use modern country dances that have been written during the last 20 years. In the Central Illinois English Country Dancers, we do mostly dances from the 1700s or the early 1800s, including early American contra dances.
In contra dancing, there's a line of couples, and alternating couples are going opposite directions. You dance as a unit of four people and at the end of one time through the dance, you simply pass by those people and meet the next couple coming the other way.
Is everyone in costume for these dances?
For the most part, at contra dances people don't wear any costumes. With the English Country Dance group we have a special dance a couple of times a year and about half the people dress up in some sort of period costume.
How did you get started writing your own dances?
I think it's a natural outgrowth of being a caller. I’ve got half a dozen or so. I've called them, and some of them are pretty good. Writing dances is kind of like programming because you have a set of functions you can use and you get different results depending which functions you choose and the order in which you use them.
One of the projects I'm working on is reconstructing the dances from New Harmony, Ind., the experimental utopian community. The UI Library has microfilmed copies of the journals kept about the town, and there’s one titled Community Dances 1826, about half of which are contra dances. I have been trying to decipher the handwriting and reconstruct the dances. I've done about four of them out of 42 or 43 and called them at least once. Some of them are unique. I had one of them published in the Country Dance and Song Society newsletter last year.