[Callers] Workshop follow up

The Witful Turnip wturnip at sympatico.ca
Mon Nov 7 11:10:14 PST 2005

Hi all,
Just thought I'd send some follow up about the workshop that I ended up
doing ("Helping Hands 4") in the afternoon of Oct 29th. First, I wanted to
thank everyone for your comments. They were helpful.

I particularly appreciated David's comments about dancing without
embellishment. Coincidentally, we had a group of 20-25 new teenaged dancers
appear at the dance held one week before the workshop. One of the girls was
turning 19 and decided to bring her party to our dance. What a fabulous
thing for TCD ! We so needed a boost of contagious, infectious energy !  It
was wonderful.  But I noticed that the intermediate dancers on the floor
didn't tone down the embellishments, and I saw evidence that it was
problematic for the newbies. I noticed the newbies twirling around in
dosidos and getting so dizzy, that we had to catch a few of them before they
fell over ! But they were just following the intermediate dancers who were
doing that.

I also appreciated Karen's comment about the ladies chain to left hand star
and emphasized the connection between figures as a way to guide newbies. And
I really appreciated Melissa's comment that the best thing a more
experienced dancer can do is ask the newbie to dance and offer
encouragement.  Absolutely agree there, and luckily, the Torontonians seem
to be pretty good at doing that.

Anyway, the workshop turnout was relatively low at 17 people. But it was an
absolutely glorious, sunny day after a week of rain and gloom and we figure
the good weather had an effect.  However, as hoped and specifically
targeted, the dancers who came were mostly intermediate level dancers, many
of  whom needed some refining of their own skills.  The workshop was billed
as an interactive session and everyone got a chance to contribute in terms
of discussion.  And I did ask them to "spread the word" to other
intermediate dancers who couldn't make it.

I talked about the better partner/dancer skills (giving weight, transitions
between figures, comfortable holds) sprinkled throughout the workshop.  And
I used 8 dances in the 2 hour session, emphasizing the following in each

1. Breaking down a dance into individual phrases so people can really get a
sense of the actual timing for each figure. I asked the band to play an
individual phrase of the tune, up to speed, so that everyone could dance
each figure to the exact phrase of music. The point was for people to
understand exactly how much time they had for the figure without

And as an aside just to address Nathaniel's comment, no one at the workshop
(or any dance in Toronto) was discouraged or "looked down upon" for dancing
with embellishments. I *encouraged* intermediate dancers to consider dancing
without embellishments when they danced with a newbie, in order to help the
newbie learn phrasing and timing. And I do think there is a big difference
between the two statements, with the latter being positive.

2. Dancing a traditional dance with no embellishments and with the inactives
staying engaged. I used Chorus Jig and this was an interesting challenge for
the dancers.  I asked the two's to follow the one's down the outside and
down the middle with their eyes so that they kept visual contact on them and
helped to draw them into the cast and then connect for the contra corners.
Even in the workshop, many of the intermediate dancers had trouble with the
contra corners figure once the dance got started, even though they had no
trouble through the walkthrough and explanation of the figure. Potentially
my teaching techniques needs refinement.

3. Communicating with eyes and gestures, no pulling/pushing. I really
believe it's possible to guide newbies gently and often without even having
to touch them.  I set up the set and then asked all couple 2's to leave the
room ("step into our sound-proof, skill testing question booth !"). I taught
the dance to the 1's with ghost couples (which was lots of fun in and of
itself) and then invited the 2's back in and called it as a no walk thru.
The 2's were asked to act as newbies and the point was for the 1's to help
the 2's thru the dance.  The set was so short that the one's became two's
pretty quickly and everyone was trying to out-newbie each other !

4. Communicating II - called Equality Jig (Steve Zakon- Anderson) where the
2's get to pick a 16 count figure on the fly for the B1 during the dance and
communicate it to the 1's with gestures. Again, the point was to communicate
the figure but the choice was made as a couple. Some very cool figured were
invented in that dance, and I also emphasized that mistakes were inevitable
but that the fixing them and being ready for the next figure was a sign of
great dancing. Someone in the workshop suggested "Better never than late"
which I also wholeheartedly agreed with.

5. Communicating III - called Hey Man (Paul Balliet) where the first figure
could be gents or ladies and they need to communicate to each other who was
going to dance it. Choice was made more as an individual.

6. Moving outside the minor set with beginners - reassuring them that they
will get back. Emphasis here was on guiding a newbie to the next figures and
bringing them back to their partner.

7. Then I called a more advanced dance because I wanted to try it and
mentioned that I wanted to test it with a more advanced set of dancers.  I
chose White Water (Cary Ravitz) and talked a little bit about what to do on
the ends in an advanced dance. We talked about "going where you're needed"
instead of trying to teach end effects.

8. And I ended with a no walk through asking them to think about all of the
things that had been raised through the dances.  I wish I'd seen Chris'
comment about adjusting ones dance style to each individual before the
workshop, because I think that's also a very valid point and I would have
emphasized it, had I thought of it.

I received very good feedback from both the dancers attending and the
organizers, so I was happy about that. Especially since it was the first
workshop like that I'd taught. We all went out for dinner and came back for
the Halloween Contra dance that night.  And interestingly enough, there were
at least 10 - 15 newbies that night.  Unfortunately, there were about 70-80
people at the dance and a few of the people that attended the workshop
didn't stay.  It didn't seem to me that the "spread the word" approach for
the concepts discussed worked.  But everyone seemed to have a great time at
the dance, which of course was the most important thing.

The Witful Turnip              wturnip at sympatico.ca
"I'm 40-fucking-5, and I've got nothing to hide !"
                    - Samantha Jones (Sex in the City)

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