[Callers] Teaching a Swing

Robert Golder robertgolder at comcast.net
Wed Mar 15 18:18:17 PST 2006

I call the first contra dance of the evening. If I observe beginners having
problems with the swing, I ask the dancers to form a big circle. I explain
that the second dance will be a circle mixer. I get into the center of the
circle, welcome the dancers to the event, and say something brief about the
joys of community dancing. While doing this, I look around and locate a
female dancer who is clearly a beginner. As I tell the group that we're
going to learn how to fully enjoy the swing, I walk over to this woman, and
then I ask her if she will help me demonstrate the swing.

Nine times out of ten, as we walk together back to the center of the circle
and I introduce myself and ask her name, she will say, "I'm Carol, I've
never danced before, I don't know what I'm doing," etc. I reassure Carol
that things will turn out great. I take a two-hand stance with this newcomer
and tell the group, "This is Carol. I've never seen Carol before, I've never
danced with her before, but I KNOW that Carol has a GREAT swing." (Now
everybody's watching Carol.) "And I know this, because I know that Carol can

I start walking, and Carol automatically does the same, and presto! we're
doing a two-hand walking swing. And I point out to the group that Carol and
I are not leaning in toward each other, nor are we pulling away from each
other. We're just THERE for each other, each supporting our own weight, but
in satisfying contact as we circle each other in the walking swing.

As we continue the walking swing, I say "Now if Carol puts her left hand on
my right shoulder..." (and because I have eye contact with her, Carol will
automatically do this) "...and if I reach my right hand around to her
back..." (which of course I do) "...now we're enjoying a beautiful swing!"
And we are! It's a great swing, and people aren't watching me the caller,
they're watching Carol the beginner, and they say to themselves, "I can do
this too!"

I then show how the swing ends with the lady on the right, and I encourage
the men to leave their right arm supportively at the woman's back for just a
moment as the swing ends, so there's no chance of her flying backward at the
end of a vigorous swing. The women appreciate that I'm addressing their
comfort and safety, and the alert guys note that I've just given them a tip
on how to make the women happier.

I thank Carol and return her to her partner. I ask everyone to take two
hands with his or her partner and try the two-hand walking swing. "When
you're ready," I say, "the woman puts her left hand on the man's right
shoulder, the gent puts his hand..." and they're immediately doing it, and
it looks good! The teaching didn't take long at all, and now we're ready to
learn the mixer and enjoy swinging with lots of dancers.

I learned the central, essential parts of teaching the swing from watching
Linda Leslie. And when Linda teaches the swing, she'll sometimes pick me out
to help, and then we can demonstrate the difference between the buzz step
and the walking swing. And that's fabulous. But I do find that for me as a
caller (and maybe it's a gender-based thing, being a guy), it is great to
ask a newcomer woman to help me demonstrate a smooth, walking swing. I work
to make HER look good. There's no temptation to make myself look good. I'm
SUPPOSED to be "good" at this, I'm the caller. But if SHE looks good then
every other beginner gets the message that contra dance is inclusive, even
beginners can "belong," can be a part of it, and have success and experience
joy in dancing right away!

And if I can accomplish all of that, then I've done a lot in three minutes,
and the buzz step can come later, when these happy new dancers return for
another evening of contra dancing.  ... Bob
Robert Jon Golder
164 Maxfield Street     robertgolder at comcast.net
New Bedford, MA 02740   (508) 999-2486 voice

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