[Callers] Callers Digest, Vol 48, Issue 9

Martha Wild mawild at sbcglobal.net
Mon Aug 18 23:26:04 PDT 2008

Some thoughts:

If there's room in the general community, or interest, or other wanna- 
be callers, or an underserved area in these days when driving is  
getting expensive, start your own dance. Three of us in San Diego did  
that years ago as we were learning to call. We had dance parties in  
our driveways, invited people in the summer to the park for dance  
parties (invited anyone who walked by to join in), usually only had  
one acoustic musician playing (a dulcimer, a fiddle, a banjo, even a  
penny whistle solo) finally found a small rec hall and some aspiring  
musicians, and shared the dance until we got good enough to call half  
each and then full dances. Start an infrequent dance if running a  
regular one seems too onerous - every fifth Friday or something like  
that, you run it, you can call at it. You have more control perhaps  
of the bands you get to call with. Also, make sure others know that  
you are available for emergencies - one never knows when a caller  
will get sick or have a flat tire and someone will ask if you brought  
your cards.  Dance communities vary - some are run by callers, some  
by dancers. And if you aren't involved in the managing of the dances,  
in volunteering to do set-up, take-down, decoration at special  
events, sitting at the door, etc. - if all you do is call, and others  
are doing all the work, then get in there and put in more than just  
dancing. Sweat equity, though it may have nothing to do with your  
ability as a caller, will make others more willing to help you  
towards your goals. Yes, it is important to encourage new callers,  
but as an organizer, now, too, I know I don't want to do that at the  
expense of confusion and dissatisfaction on the floor, especially if  
other callers are ready, willing and able. One thing we did here was  
to pair a new caller with an established one - split the evening. See  
if there is an established caller willing to let you take part of the  
evening at the mid-sized dance and if the organizer will go for it.  
Go back to square one and ask to call three dances in the first half  
- maybe the first three. When those go well, branch out and do just  
the second three so you get more experience doing harder dances. And  
if you can teach clearly to beginners, you can teach clearly to  
advanced dancers. Just faster and with fewer walkthroughs. If you  
play an instrument, play in a community band if there is one just to  
get more familiar with what tunes go with what dances. But basically,  
don't wait for (or expect) other people to make your own dreams  
happen. I don't mean that as a slam, it's just the way it is. Most of  
them are busy with their own dreams - like the caller who runs his  
own dance and likes to call at it - why shouldn't he?

Good luck to you in branching out and finding ways to call more.


On Aug 18, 2008, at 9:00 AM, callers-request at sharedweight.net wrote:

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> Today's Topics:
>    1. Trouble Getting Gigs   (very long) (Tina Fields)
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Message: 1
> Date: Sun, 17 Aug 2008 23:25:46 -0700 (PDT)
> From: Tina Fields <tfields8 at yahoo.com>
> Subject: [Callers] Trouble Getting Gigs   (very long)
> To: "callers@ sharedweight.net" <callers at sharedweight.net>
> Message-ID: <50006.55506.qm at web83207.mail.mud.yahoo.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=iso-8859-1
> Hi folks ?
> I seem to have hit an interesting wall in my newish calling
> career, and would love to know your thoughts and strategies
> about how best to deal with it.  I?ve been calling contra
> for two years, the first year learning through guest spots,
> classes, and half-dances. Since last November I?ve called
> full dances, averaging 2-3 dances/month, mostly contras
> with a few barn dances.
> My problem is this:  I?m having trouble getting a couple of
> our local programmers to book me.
> In their defense, we do have a lot of good callers around
> here vying for the few slots. And one of our local
> programmers is trying to run a consistently high-powered
> dance, booking many world-class callers and bands.  I have
> never asked her about calling that dance, and in fact
> aspire to become a caller she seeks out some day in the
> future.
> But the other dances are a different story. The one that
> prompted me to reach out to you here is a medium-sized
> hometown type dance featuring lots of different callers and
> bands.  I dance there often; it?s one of my home venues.  I
> have called one half-dance there, to great reviews from
> both the dancers and the other caller. The band said they
> enjoyed working with me too.  Unfortunately, the programmer
> was away at a camp that evening. He has only seen me call
> guest spots ? all of which he says he thoroughly enjoyed ?
> but only one full evening elsewhere, and here?s the rub:
> wit wasn?t my best evening.  It was a special 4-hour dance,
> the longest gig I?ve ever done solo. I made a few minor
> mistakes. And the band was a primarily English band ? which
> meant very nice music, but mild, not at all zesty.
> The programmer in question is a friend of mine in the
> dancing community. We?re fond of each other as both dance
> partners and people. When I realized he might not be asking
> me to call his dance because he doesn?t think I?m a good
> enough caller, it felt devastating.  But I got up the guts
> to approach him at the end of last night?s dance after the
> fiddler, notorious for his curmudgeonly pickiness, asked
> when I was calling next and announced that he and his
> girlfriend are my ?biggest fans?.  (I was quite floored,
> and grateful. An ego boost can do wonders at moments like
> that.)  So I approached the programmer.  ?Can I ask you a
> question?? I asked. ?I don?t know if I want to answer,? he
> replied, looking very nervous and obviously knowing what
> was coming. ?Well, I?m gonna ask it anyway,? I told him,
> and took his arm as we walked away from the others in the
> room.   ?If, as I now suspect, you don?t like the way I
> call, what is it about it you don?t like so I can work on
> improving that??  He looked relieved then, and was kind
> enough to respond very honestly.
> He named a number of things he hadn?t liked about the one
> full dance he?d been at. He gave the hairy eyeball to my
> inclusion of a particular mixer.  He also said at one point
> in a contra, one knot of folks was having trouble and I
> came down on the floor to help them, but that left the rest
> of them floundering awhile with no prompting. His memory
> was astounding ? I don?t remember that at all. Perhaps I
> didn?t think anything of it at the time, or perhaps I was
> even proud of myself for being able to then get back up on
> the stool and call to everyone correctly after helping like
> that. I definitely still have a LOT to learn.  I believe
> the biggest mistake he pointed out (and rightly) was that I
> didn?t seem perfectly familiar with how to teach one of the
> dances, and dancers had to ask a question to clarify. It?s
> likely true: I try to call one dance that?s new to me each
> evening, in order to expand my repertoire, and every time I
> call one I seem to learn some new nuance about how to lead
> it better.
> He said he therefore thinks I need more practice. I
> heartily agreed with that, and then pointed out that the
> way to get it is by having gigs that allow me to do more
> calling!  He then said that that?s what the tiny venues are
> for.
> But I feel troubled by this answer. I?ve been calling those
> venues, and will gladly continue to.  However, it seems to
> me that if a caller is only exposed to small halls
> half-full of beginners, s/he will learn to call to that
> level very well, but not to call dances appropriate for
> more advanced dancers. How will I ever gain that skill if
> I?m not given the chance to try it? It?s a catch-22.  These
> venues also often book very inexperienced bands, who don?t
> know what I?m talking about when I try to discuss pairing
> dances/tunes. So I have ideas of how I?d like to become a
> better caller, but these circumstances are keeping me from
> achieving that.
> I also strongly believe that it?s every dance
> organization?s responsibility to foster new talent, if they
> want the group to stay alive. My local group has acted on
> this seriously in the past, in fact giving me and others
> matching scholarships to go to CDSS camp?s calling classes.
> (In my case, perhaps they figured out I wasn?t going to go
> away, so it was in their best interest to help me learn to
> do it better. <g>)  What?s happening now, though, is that
> I?ve hit some sort of glass ceiling. I?m like in my calling
> adolescence: no longer the cute beginner but also not yet a
> rock star. If given the opportunity to call at a more
> high-powered gig, I will not be perfect at it, no. But I
> will get better and better, given the chance.
> Hearing some programmers talk about callers and bands, I
> have the sense now that a problematic gig like the one
> Chris described in his recent ?growth? post could be a
> death sentence around here. That caller might never be
> invited back.
> My experience of hitting a wall didn?t only happen that one
> time. Earlier this month, trying to be proactive, I
> inquired about potentially calling at a venue a bit more
> than one hour from my home, another medium-sized/level
> dance I?ve danced at many times in the past but not
> recently. That programmer asked the very good question,
> ?what sort of program do you do, and is it suitable for our
> dancers?? I sent him a sample program I successfully called
> at a similar venue, along with an offer to discuss his
> current community?s particular dance level and to craft my
> program accordingly. I have not heard back.  Some say that
> he likes to call most of the dances there himself, so may
> be reluctant to share.
> It feels so disheartening to be kept out, I?m now
> considering whether it?s worth it to continue trying to
> call. Really, it?s been through frequent repetition that my
> skills have improved so far. I?ve popped a new level of
> understanding in terms of how to envision the moves in
> space, how to teach geometrically and in terms of people
> the dancers will encounter, and how to really work with the
> band to create a synergistic ball o? fire.  These skills
> have recently grown exponentially. I enjoy doing it, and
> have gotten some excellent positive feedback from dancers,
> bands, and other programmers ? some of it even in writing,
> so I can prove it.  But if I have to fight to get one gig
> every few months, I never will get better.  I?ll forget the
> nuances of how to do it.  Instead of building on each
> other, every dance evening will be a singular struggle. And
> I doubt it?s worth it. I love giving to the dance community
> through calling, but also love dancing ? and that I feel
> unquestioningly welcomed to do.
> Thoughts? Strategies? Commiseration?  How to best handle
> this situation?  Is there a way to encourage programmers to
> nurture local talent?  How did you manage to wrangle
> getting gigs that allowed your skills to continually grow?
> Sorry for the length of this post and the ?woe is me? tone.
>  But I figured some detail might help in this case, and I?m
> really feeling at a loss.
> Thank you, comrades, for any insight you might offer.
> Tina Fields
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> End of Callers Digest, Vol 48, Issue 9
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