[Callers] What Makes A Program Varied

Alan Winston - SSRL Central Computing winston at slac.stanford.edu
Wed Aug 6 16:52:56 PDT 2008

> OK all,

> What determines if a program is varied?  I originally thought that the
> number of times a figure occurred in an evening was a pretty good clue, but
> now ???????????? Here are dances that feel different, in programs that feel
> varied, yet look at how many times some figures are repeated in an evening.


> What is it?

> What is variety in programming determined by?  I find that I can include
> many dances that have the same figures and still feel that I have a varied
> program. Below are three of my recent programs and the number of times in
> that evening that a given figure occurs.  I arbitrarily started with the
> idea that more than five occurrences of a figure in an evening might be a
> problem.  Obviously, I excluded swings and balance and swings.  By accident
> no Circle left ¾’s were included.  I have also not considered here where in
> the dance the figure occurred.  Despite several figures occurring very
> frequently in an evening, the programs still felt very varied to me, and
> some dancers expressed that as well.

> What do you think?????????????

Over in English Country Dance land, where dances are tied to specific tunes, we
think a varied evening has variety of music (different keys, meters (we get
2/2, 2/4, 4/4, hornpipe, waltz, minuet, polka, 3/2, and slip-jig choices)),
tempi (we can range from maybe 85 to 110 bpm), mood, formation (triplet, three
couple circle, two-couple set, four-couple longways, five-couple longways, four
couple square, square with an extra couple in the middle, longways duple,
longways triple, single circle, Sicilian circle, double circle, etc, but we
don't generally do scatter mixers), complexity, and figures.   I think David
Millstone gets a bunch of this formation variation into his contra dance
calling, but not many people do.

So I used to worry about this in contra calling,a nd I do, still, worry about
it a bit if I've got a band that only plays old-timey, but, really, the variety
concern is somewhat overrated.

In contra, the musical variety stuff is up to the band, but you still get to
futz with mood - is the dance playful, flirtatious, incredibly flowy?  Is it
equal or unequal?  Do you stick with your partner throughout or lose and regain
your partner?  Do you stick with one other couple for 32 bars or travel around? 
Is there a trail buddy?

But if you're going to be doing, y'know, contras (longways dances with minor
sets, whether that's improper/indecent/proper/duple/triple) the things that most
non-caller contra junkies will notice are 

   (a) How each round starts - if every single dance begins with 
       "balance and swing neighbor" it'll not only seem like it's all the
       same damn dance, you'll screw up the muscle memory and for the next
       move they'll want to do the same thing they did in the last dance.
       So don't stack up dances with the same first figure.

   (b) transitions - how do you get on to the next couple?  If they're all
       pass through right shoulder, or all California Twirl and face the 
       next, etc, etc, that'll seem pretty similar.  (Mixing in some 
       Beckets will typically open up the transition menu.)

   (c) distinctive figures.  If a dance has 8 bars of something unusual or
       distinctive - Petronella turns, balance short waves f&b and go on 
       to the next wave - grand right and left around the whole outside
       of the ring - Rory O'More turns - then you don't get dinged for 
       boringness for having circle / star / r&lt, much less 
       ladies' chain/ hey for 4.  Also, the extra-twirl crowd doesn't get 
       bored by LC or H4 because they get to embellish.

Figure count is probably worth noticing, but what makes things dull is a whole
bunch of things that feel the same.  Circle left to start a zigzag feels
different from circle left half and slide one couple and circle some more feels
different from circle left 3/4 and swing partner.  If the kinetics are
different, it's different.

For ONS, mess around with easy formations (scatter mixers, big circles, etc)
but _minimize the number of different figures_.  Circle, star, swing, pass
through, down the middle, trade with partner, trade back, allemande right,
allemande left.  You don't really need much more, figure wise, and they'll
typically be happy just to be dancing. 

If you're doing an explicitly contra evening for a roomful of new contra
dancers, variety isn't your problem.  Don't throw a whole bunch of different
figures or weird progressions or whatever at them just to be varied.  Build 
your program to introduce a few figures in the course of the evening, but I
don't think you should look at your figure matrix, notice that you didn't do
"Give and Take", and feel like you've failed.  They're dancing with different
people, to different tunes; that's all the variety most of them need.

-- Alan

 Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not SLAC or SSRL   Phone:  650/926-3056
 Paper mail to: SSRL -- SLAC BIN 99, 2575 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park CA   94025

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