[Callers] Peter Amidons' callers workshop handout

Peter Amidon peter at amidonmusic.com
Thu Apr 12 19:37:20 PDT 2007

A Callers Workshop - Preparing:

Learn a diverse set of contras (and a few good 
squares), including ranges from easy to 
challenging, dances with partner/neighbor swings 
as well as just partner swings, dances with and 
without heys, improper, Becket, etc.  Figure out 
a system that works for you for organizing your 
dances, whether it is index cards or a computer 
database or both. 

Practice teaching a walkthrough as well as 
calling.  Practice the calling you'd do at the 
beginning of a dance, when you prompt all the way 
through, as well as the calling you'll do later 
in the dance, with just occasional reminders. 
Practice with music to get your timing down.

Night of the Dance:

Arrive at least 30 minutes early to do sound check and meet musicians.

The Musicians:

(optional) Prepare a program of the evening's 
dances, with descriptions of the dances and/or 
tune requests and make a copy for each of the 
band members.

Write down or learn their names so you can introduce the band to the dancers.

Decide on how you will communicate with them 
during the dances.  E.G. Is this the last tune in 
your medley?  or Three more times through the 

Let them know what kind of dance you are doing, 
what kind of music you want, before you start 
doing the walkthrough (especially if you have not 
prepared a dance set list for the musicians).

Find out before the dance starts if there is a 
set number of tunes in their medley.

Give them a clear signal when you want them to start playing.

Let musicians know when to go out.  You can start 
warning them 3-4 times before the dance is over. 
I typically will put four fingers up to musicians 
on the last B of the 5th to the last time through 
the dance.  I continue to follow this pattern 
with 3, 2, and then one finger on the last B of 
the 4th, 3rd and 2nd to last time through.

Once the dance is going OK, leave the stage and 
check the sound, particularly if there is not a 
designated and dedicated sound person.

Make sure the musicians are happy with the sound; 
particulary with their moniter mixes.

Introduce the musicians at least twice in the 
evening.  Lead the dancers in enthusiastic 
apprecation for the music throughout the dance.

Advertise the musician's wares (CD's and books 
for sale).  A good time to make an announcement 
is right before and right after the last dance 
before the break.

Take responsibility for getting the dance going 
after a reasonably length break; typically 10 - 
20 minutes.

The Dancers

Make the dancers feel welcome, especially 
beginners.  Encourage dancers to mix around. 
Encourage beginning dancers and experienced 
dancers to dance together.  Encourage dancers to 
pick partners from the sides who have not been 

Teach to the beginners.  Use language that works 
for both beginners and experienced dancers, 
especially in the beginning of the evening.

Keep dancers successful and safe.

Take responsibility when dancers get confused: 
"I'm sorry, I did not teach that very clearlyŠ"

Take responsibility for making the evening 
successful and fun for everyone by, for example, 
deciding and announcing how many sets there are, 
and asking dancers to make a new set when sets 
get too crowded, having dancers spread sets out, 
both to the sides and up and down, and asking 
dancers from a long set to join a set that is too 

The Walk Through

At the beginning of the dance explain EVERYTHING 
to the beginners in a clear and concise way. 
Assume there are dancers who have never danced 
before; there usually are.

Use language throughout the evening that 
beginners will understand, even as you teach them 
the contra dance vocabulary.

Teach each new figure from scratch. When 
necessary have a small group of dancers 
demonstrate a tricky new figure.

Teach no more than one new figure in each dance.

Practice your walk through teaching.

Scan the whole floor when doing the walkthrough 
to make sure everyone is with you.

Repeat the walkthrough as necessary.

Tell dancers name and author of each dance.

Calling the Dance

Remind callers of 1st figure before the music starts.

Use clear diction and don't talk too fast.

Alternate between conversational prompting and 
calling in harmony to the band's tune.

Call rhythmically to help dancers with phrasing.

End each prompt one beat before figure starts.

Practice calling (drill and drill) both "thick" 
(calling all the way through at the beginning) 
and "thin" (light, occasional prompting in the 
middle of a dance). 

Call "thick", then "thin.  Call all the way 
through the dance at the beginning, then prompt 
less and less as needed. 

Keep an eye on dancers and throw in extra prompts 
as needed throughout the dance.

If dancing is getting ragged or some beginners 
are floundering come in in the middle of the 
dance with a "thick" calling all the way through 
one sequence.

If you choose to add an extra partner swing at 
the end of the dance, bring your voice in early 
(somewhere towards the beginning of the last 
sequence) so dancers can adjust to your voice 
again and go more smoothly into the change in 

Peter Amidon

peter at amidonmusic.com  *  www.amidonmusic.com

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