[Callers] Triple Minors in the Midwest

Jerome Grisanti jerome.grisanti at gmail.com
Sun Feb 10 19:02:42 PST 2008

Following up on an earlier post...

I wrote:

"I was wondering if I could get your best advice on approaching triple minor
> dances in the Midwest (Lawrence Kansas). I believe most of the contra
> dancers here have never seen such a critter, although a very few will have
> seen it at an English Country dance."

I also said I was considering calling "Sackett's Harbor."

> Alan Winston wrote:

"I'd suggest, as a first-ever triple minor,
> "Young Widow", if your band knows the tune.  No swings, but a killer fun
> dance
> with balancing, etc, and it isn't all solos for the 1s."

David Millstone wrote:

"Jerome, please let us know how it turns out."

I called the triple minor dance "The Young Widow" in Merriam Kansas (the
Kansas side of Kansas City) last night, with moderate success. Here's the
figure, for those unfamiliar with it:

The Young Widow
(my source: Heritage Dances of Early America by Ralph Page. Page cites a
dance manual published in Otsego, NY in 1808 as his source)
triple minor -- proper contra

A1: Actives, with the couple below, hands-across right-hand star (8),
     Same four star left back to place.

A2: Actives down the center holding right hands, turn as a couple halfway
round (Page says no CA twirls) and return, cast around the twos (active man
round the 2nd lady, active lady round the 2nd man).

B1: Six go forward & back (the original manual says "balance all six" but
Page describes this as four steps forward and four back, not the two step
balance common to modern contras),
     Circle six halfway round (until the ones have traded places and are
proper, three are above and twos below, improper).

B2: Inactive couples go forward and back (up and down the set),
     Same four right and left thru (to end proper)

I did not use the associated tune; the band did play a New England-style
tune rather than a midwestern old-time tune. Actually, I'm not sure what the
associated tune would be -- Page mentions "The Duke of Perth" medley. In any
case, I decided not to sweat the tune and just asked for a moderate tempo

I probably allowed the sets to be too long -- I had two lines each with four
minor sets. In retrospect, it would have been better to have four lines each
with two minor sets, or even six sets of four couples each.

In the walkthrough, I emphasized that the ones know who they are and thus
can help lead the others in the stars and also in the forward & backs. I
forgot to explicitly tell the ones how to get out at the bottom, so there
may have been some stranded couples at some point.

In terms of feedback, the beginners didn't seem any more confused than they
would have been in any other dance. That is, they accepted their confusion
as normal and didn't take it personally. (I had taught the beginners session
and assured them that moments of confusion were OK).

There were lumps of confusion when couples consisting of beginners met other
couples consisting of beginners, but if they managed to progress they
smoothed it on the next go-around. One set was pretty smooth throughout the
dance, the other had the lumps.

As I expected, many of the experienced dancers were also confused at times.
Many thanked me for calling an unusual dance. I solicited and got feedback
from a few folks who told me what they experienced. A few indicated that the
dance was just too confusing and one woman gave me "the look" when I said it
would go much better the next time I called a triple minor. "The look"
seeming to indicate that it would go much better if I never ever tried such
a thing again.

The good feedback:
1. The inactives never played the active role in the walkthrough and thus
and found it confusing to do the first time they were actives.
2. The sets were too long and I should consider shorter sets.
3. There were too many beginners present for me to try this sort of dance.
4. I called this dance too early in the evening (4th slot) and should have
waited until after the break.

My own assessment:
1. Circling six halfway was a challenge for many; lots of groups were
over-rotating. I began to prompt "circle just halfway, till the actives
trade places" and it seemed to help some.
2. Folks seemed to rush through the B2
3. I wonder if it would have helped to teach the right and left thru as a
square thru two places. Or just to prompt "right and left thru, now face
up," since the problem really was that the threes often watched the set
below during the A1 stars.
4. I might have spent a little more time reassuring people about the
right-and-left thru, since you are facing a same-sex person to start and
that's unusual for modern contra dancers.
5. When the ones were confident, the whole minor set was confident. The
inverse was also true.
6. Nobody moaned about "no partner swing." Thank God.
7. I did assure the dancers that the figure was unusual but not difficult,
but more confidence on my part (backed by more knowledge and experience)
would probably have helped sell that concept.
8. It might have helped to have coached a demonstration set before the
evening's dance, or at the very least to have some folks demonstrate the
9. Forgetting to talk about the end effects at the bottom was my bad,
probably related to all the faces expressing confusion during the first
walk-through, so I should probably have all my teaching points on a written
10. I will try triple minor dances in the future, and they will go better,
and people will find a place in their hearts for these figures. Maybe even
the lady with "the look."


Jerome Grisanti

More information about the Callers mailing list