[Callers] 2 questions

Robert Golder robertgolder at comcast.net
Thu May 1 09:35:54 PDT 2008

Anyone who wants to call a contra medley would be well served by 
carefully reading Greg's cautionary statements. Contra dancing, taken 
as a whole, is meant at its foundation to be an inclusive, 
community-building activity. On rare occasions we spice up that formula 
by adding a twist, such as a medley. Medleys are exclusive at their 
foundation, but can become inclusive if they are so well executed by 
the band and caller that the dancers succeed, sometimes going beyond 
their own personal expectations. Then the dancers will say "WE did it!" 
(significantly, not "I did it!"), and so the occasional, very well 
crafted medley may actually support the inclusive, 
community-orientation of contra dance. But true opportunities to create 
this dynamic at a regular, community contra dance are very small, so 
small that I sense Greg would say it ought not to be tried at all. I 
wouldn't go quite that far, but I'd come pretty close to it. There are 
a few prerequisites. The caller must have previously worked with the 
band enough times so that they have a easy rapport and know each 
other's tendencies onstage. The caller must know his dancers, some 
personally through prior experience, and the new dancers by accurate 
assessment as he watches them interact with others on the dance floor 
prior to the medley. And finally, the caller must know himself/herself. 
The caller must be seeking to create a community dynamic by means of 
the medley, and not merely trying to show everyone what a cool dude he 
is with a microphone. The caller must know the dances backwards and 
forwards and in his sleep. If you're still parsing out where bits of 
choreography fall in a dance sequence, then calling medleys is not a 
good idea. The caller must have the skill to call economically while 
communicating fully, the poise to simultaneously pay attention to the 
band and the dancers, and the common sense to shove the planned medley 
back in his pocket, unused, forty-nine times out of fifty.  ... Bob

Robert Jon Golder
164 Maxfield St
New Bedford, MA 02740 USA

On May 1, 2008, at 11:33 AM, Greg McKenzie wrote:

> Thanks to both Amy and Will for your comments.
> Amy asked:
>> ****Do I sense a certain amount of subtext here?***
> Subtext?  I'm only trying to help.
> We all have different goals at a dance.  The
> caller, I believe, takes responsibility for
> knowing the common goals of the entire hall and
> working toward that end.  This is a big
> challenge, and few of us will ever excel at
> it.  It requires leadership and an understanding
> of the subtle influence a caller can have on both
> the evening's event, and on the tradition of
> contras over time.  That is the real challenge of
> calling and I hope that I will someday be good at it.
> I understand that there are some dancers, and
> many callers, who enjoy the challenge of
> medleys.  A caller should also know that even a
> flawlessly executed medley will not be enjoyed by
> some people and that those people are likely to
> include new dancers and those who enjoy dancing with newcomers.
> When I attended NEFFA some years ago I was one of
> those who, during the medley, took the time to get my dinner.
> Will spoke of, "…novice dancers who know the
> basics."  I think this is a self-canceling
> phrase.  Clearly there is a role for contra
> medleys in the current culture of dance camps and
> festivals.  (This may partly explain why you
> don't see me at such events designed exclusively
> for dance enthusiasts.)  The question here is
> whether medleys have a role at regular community
> dances that are open to the public.  The caller,
> in that context, plays a different role than at
> an event intended only for dance enthusiasts.
> The real question is: What is the purpose of the
> dance evening, and what is the role of the caller
> in achieving that purpose?  Answering that
> question is the ultimate challenge of contra dance calling.
> Just a thought,
> Greg McKenzie
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