[Callers] writing dances

Bob Isaacs isaacsbob at hotmail.com
Wed Apr 18 07:49:30 PDT 2007

   Hi Alison and SW;

   A few thoughts on the often-tricky process on introducing new dances.

   First, I second David Millstone's comment about trying them out at
   private get-togethers.  I've found that free food and drink always
   helps (but serve the alcohol after the dance).  Tape record
   everything, especially feedback after each dance.

   You can also get a group of 4 (or 8 if need be) together at the break
   of regular dance and walk one through.  This will give you practice
   teaching it and give you a feel for choreography, even if it isn't
   done with music.  Be careful on who is in the group.  My ideal group
   of four is me, another caller experienced at evaluating dances, and
   two average dancers.  I try not to have really good dancers in there -
   they can compensate for flaws in the choreography in ways lesser
   dancers cannot.

   Beyond that, the best way to get guinea pigs is to cultivate a home
   dance audience that is sympathetic to what you're trying to do.  But
   remember, they are there to dance and have fun, not be test subjects,
   so try new stuff in moderation.

   You can check whether a title has been used before using the excellent
   database by Michael Dyck at;


   There is no exhaustive database for the moves, however.  So if I come
   up with a dance I feel might have already been written, I will go
   through all the books and websites I can find.  I always start with
   Give and Take, then Zesty Contras, then the single author books and
   sites.  Yes, it's time consuming, especially since as I go through
   them I wind up collecting new dances.

   Another good way to check for new dances is simply dance a lot,
   especially to touring callers who are known to write and/or collect
   new stuff.  Over time, you'll notice the best dances are used by many
   callers, and chances are if yours doesn't come up it could be new.
   You may also be exposed to dances similar as yours, and see whether
   yours has something new and valuable to offer.

   When I started writing, I sent out untested dances, primarily because
   as a new caller I had limited opportunites to call.  But once I became
   established I stopped that practice as too risky, and now only send
   out ones I have tried once or preferably twice.  Once a dance is out
   there you can't take it back, and your reputation goes along with it.
   Rather than posting them here, you might be better served sharing them
   with a few active callers willing to try them first.

   There is also author psychology to consider.  When I started writing,
   I wrote dances I would like to dance.  However, as an experienced
   dancer this led me to writing a lot of fancy "dance camp-type" stuff,
   nearly all of which was garbage.  Of the first 30 or so attempts I
   made, I only use 1 of them.  Even today, about 70% of what I write
   never makes the floor.  Either I or someone else come up with
   something better, it has been written already, it is too complicated,
   or it has flaws that can't be fixed.  It is human nature to overrate
   one's material, and I found it important to develop the ability to be
   self-critical of my work.

   Many writers have favorite moves, but I find the best choreographers
   use all the common figures.  Instead of being trapped doing the same
   stuff in a different way, they are able to integrate a variety ideas
   and get the most out of them.  Again, this takes time and practice.  I
   really didn't feel comfortable doing this until after several years
   and dozens of attempts.

   Finally, and new dance needs a walkthrough and very often a new way to
   teach it.  Don't underestimate the need for very careful preparation.
   For any new dance I call of even moderate complexity, I write out the
   walkthrough whether it's mine or not.  Everything from "Hands four" to
   "this dance is such-and-such by so-and-so."  (I highly recommend this
   to new callers no matter what they are calling.)  After several
   revisions I really know the dance, have a concise script to work
   from, addressed issues like end effects and shadows, and perhaps find
   a way to inject a little humor.  It isn't as time consuming as it
   sounds - after writing some, you can block and copy to make
   others.  This is a excellent way to improve teaching skills, and
   avoids the fustration of seeing a potentially good dance being sunk by
   a bad walkthrough.

   I hope the above helps, and doesn't discourage anyone from taking a
   chance and trying something new.  Believe me, it is a really good
   feeling to contribute a good, new dance - it is a gift that keeps on
   Bob Isaacs

     From:  "crunchymama at juno.com" <crunchymama at juno.com>
     Reply-To:  Caller's discussion list <callers at sharedweight.net>
     To:  callers at sharedweight.net
     Subject:  [Callers] writing dances
     Date:  Tue, 17 Apr 2007 05:22:45 GMT
     >Howdy folks! Newbie back with a question.
     >I've written a few dances lately. At least, I think I have! I'm
     >sure how one finds out if the same combination of dance steps
     >Also, yes they all work on paper, but I haven't tried them out on
     >anyone yet. Those of you who write dances- how do you get your
     >Would posting dances to this list be appropriate? If they work and
     >are fun I would love for them to be used, and if they were already
     >written by someone else, I'd like to have their proper names on
     >In reply to another thread- one of the dances has a star
     >if you would like me to post it.
     >Alison Murphy in Memphis TN
     >Callers mailing list
     >Callers at sharedweight.net

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   1. http://www.ibiblio.org/contradance/index/index.html
   2. http://g.msn.com/8HMBENUS/2749??PS=47575

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