[Callers] Trouble Getting Gigs (very long)

Chris Weiler (home) chris.weiler at weirdtable.org
Tue Aug 19 14:19:31 PDT 2008

Hi Tina,

It's great to hear from you. It's been too long since we were at 
Pinewoods together.

As others have said: Wow! Great topic. In the past, I have attended 
workshops/discussions about "Getting to the Next Level". Lisa Greenleaf 
has run them before. It's a difficult question.

First, the commiseration. About a year and a half ago, I was in the 
position you are now. I was working the smaller dance venues and driving 
hours to get gigs. Getting good reviews wherever I called, but not 
breaking into the bigger venues. It's a tough place to be in. Feeling 
like you're good enough to get on that stage and try, but not sure how 
to get there.

What has happened since is a series of small but significant steps that 
have brought me closer to that goal. A fellow caller asked me to 
substitute for her at a gig in central Maine which was fairly large. 
They kept inviting me back. An organizer (and fellow newbie caller) 
heard me play one of the smaller venues and asked me to play for the 
larger one on a less popular evening. Occasionally I would get paired 
with "top tier" bands who would enjoy working with me and recommend me 
to organizers.

The major breakthrough for me was the Thursday night dance at the Scout 
House. I consider it my "home" dance and a lot of my friends dance 
there. The committee had a rule, however. One committee member has to 
have heard a caller call at least a half evening before they can be 
booked. Unfortunately, most of them did not attend the smaller venues I 
was calling regularly. It was turning out to be quite a barrier. 
Finally, I decided to send an e-mail to the committee members to invite 
them to my next local area gig. While they didn't come to that dance, 
one of the members came to another dance I called a couple of weeks 
later. That got me in the door and I was booked for the next quarter to 
call the dance. The evening went well (my butterflies went away about 
half way through the first dance) and the committee agreed that I was 
ready to be part of the rotation.

More recently, I discovered that I was not getting booked for the Monday 
night Yankee Ingenuity dance. The job booking callers had changed hands 
and the new person did not know me. So at one of the dances, during the 
break, I went up to him on stage (he's a musician) and asked him how I 
could get on the schedule. He stammered a bit and then (to my surprise 
and delight) the caller that evening and the two guest musicians all 
vouched for me. I was asked to call during the next round of bookings.

So, Tina, the biggest piece of advice that I can give is to have 
patience. It takes time to build a reputation with organizers, 
musicians, callers and most importantly the dancers. If you have fans on 
the floor, they will ask for you to be booked at their favorite venues. 
That can carry a lot of weight with an organizer, especially if it 
happens more than once.

One more thought I wanted to share: Calling for the larger venues with 
the more experienced dancers does require a different skill set than 
calling the community dances. The community dances are harder as Greg 
said, and require a different language and repertoire. As I call for the 
larger dances, I find that my repertoire isn't adequate. I'm learning 
harder dances that are more difficult to call. I'm collecting dances 
more often and combing through the dance exchanges from camps and 
festivals to expand my repertoire. You need to learn how to pare back 
the teaching language the right amount so that the beginners in the hall 
are being served without boring the experienced dancers. I'm still 
learning how to incorporate style tips into those evenings in a way that 
isn't preachy or intrusive to those who think they are beyond such 

I don't know the answer to Greg's suggestions about getting the good 
callers to call to smaller venues and the beginners at the larger ones. 
But I do know that part of the reason has to do with the quality of the 
experience for the dancers. The larger venues got large by providing a 
fun experience with a great environment, great calling and great music. 
Having seen it here in the Boston area, a great series can be hurt when 
it gets a less than stellar reputation.

So hang in there! Patience and persistence are your greatest tools. Keep 
calling and improving. Keep in mind it's about the dancers. You have 
something special to share with them. With all of that and a little 
networking, that next level will find you!

Chris Weiler
Goffstown, NH

P.S. When I was running my own dance series, I brought in some new 
callers for guest slots and bands that didn't have much experience. It 
has been such a pleasure to see a lot of them grow since then. Maybe we 
should start a discussion on the organizers list about the balance 
between nurturing new talent vs. the vision of the dance experience.

Tina Fields wrote:
> 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. 
>  -snip-
> 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
> _______________________________________________
> Callers mailing list
> Callers at sharedweight.net
> http://www.sharedweight.net/mailman/listinfo/callers

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