[Callers] Trouble Getting Gigs (very long)
Chris Weiler (home)
chris.weiler at weirdtable.org
Tue Aug 19 14:19:31 PDT 2008
It's great to hear from you. It's been too long since we were at
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
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!
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.
> 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
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