[Callers] challenging contras

Chris Weiler chris.weiler at weirdtable.org
Tue Feb 19 17:02:26 PST 2008

Hi Richard,

[For those of you that are not subscribed to trad-dance-callers, this 
thread has provoked quite a response and discussion from the membership.]

Richard, congrats on taking on the challenge of calling several sessions 
at Down East. From experience, I know it takes some courage to reach and 
do things that I haven't done before.

There are several things that can make a dance challenging. The trick is 
deciding what you think the dancers are expecting. Some of the ways to 
make a dance challenging:

No walk thru
Unusual/unfamiliar formation
Unusual/unfamiliar figures
Dances requiring "change of focus" (more on this below)
Figures that leave the minor set (shadow, future or past neighbor 
Poor flow (the next move is not the one they will expect or have 
momentum to do)
Poor teaching (even the simplest dance can be challenging)
Any dance above the skill level of the dancers

I'm sure that there are other things that make a dance challenging, but 
this list is just off the top of my head.

I would think that you would not want to call a dance that fit any of 
the last three categories. No walk thru dances are not very challenging, 
but do rely on the dancers knowing the figures cold. This is the only 
category above where the dancers can still "turn off their brains" and 
have an enjoyable dance experience. The others will require them to 
think about what they are doing. I think that unusual formations and 
figures speak for themselves. Dances that require "change of focus" are 
dances that require them to change who they are dancing with in the 
middle of the dance. i.e. Balance, Petronella spin one place to the 
right and spin a half more to face new neighbors. Or balance long waves 
on the side of the set, neighbor in your right hand, allemande left with 
the next neighbor. There are many more. Figures that leave the minor set 
should also be self explanatory. There are some fun reunion dances out 
there that take you far away from your partner before reuniting you at 
the last moment.

You can mix up these categories during your session, too. You can start 
off with (or end with) a no walk thru dance, do one "wrack your brain" 
dance in the middle and put a triplet or four-facing-four dance into the 
program as well.

Please remember to remind everyone at the beginning of the session that 
it is for experienced dancers only. Let them know that simpler dances 
will be done across the hall in the auditorium.

Good Luck!! I hope this has helped.

Chris Weiler
Goffstown, NH

Richard Green wrote:
> Hello, I am posting this on both the sharedweight and trad-dance-callers
> lists:
> Next month at the Downeast Festival in Maine I am scheduled to do a short
> session which I have called "challenging contras."  At the time that I
> suggested it, I thought that I fondly remembered enjoying challenging dance
> sessions at dance festivals.  But as I think more about it I realize that
> the only ones I can actually remember were sessions where the dances seemed
> so complex that it was almost impossible to get 4 or 6 people together at
> once who understood what to do, or on the other hand being somewhat
> disappointed because the dances didn't seem challenging enough.  I am sure
> the line between too much and too little is probably different for everyone.
> Can anyone suggest dances that experienced dancers might find somewhat
> challenging, perhaps something with an unusual figure?  I have heard several
> people on this list mention that anyone can dance anything as long as the
> teaching is good enough, so that will be my own challenge.  I plan to try a
> couple dances that are not the standard duple formation, but I would like to
> find at least one that is duple, so any suggestions or advice are welcome.
> If you can also include the transcription or tell me where to find the
> dances I would really appreciate it.
> Thanks in advance!
> Richard
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