[Callers] Integrating Dancers, was "Spreading out the Inexperience"

Chris Weiler (home) chris.weiler at weirdtable.org
Tue Jan 27 05:39:50 PST 2009

This is a big subject. There is a lot we can talk about and debate. It 
is indeed easier to call for an experienced crowd than it is for newer 
dancers and when you're working with a mixed crowd, it is easier when 
they truly mix instead of "clumping" beginners to beginners and 
experienced to experienced dancers.

I would challenge the thought that there is much that the caller can do 
besides gently encouraging the dancers to mix. In my mind, this is the 
responsibility of the organizers and the core group of regulars who come 
to the dance series. They do much more to decide how welcoming and 
successful they are in integrating newer dancers into the community. If 
they're not being aware and saying to their friend "Hey, that new couple 
is dancing with each other, let's see if we can break them up." Or 
"Sally, this is Bob. Bob, Sally is new tonight and needs a good dance 
partner and I thought of you, would you dance with her?" All callers can 
do is offer encouragement to do this sort of thing. The organizers and 
core group of experienced dancers can set the example for others to 
emulate. I disagree that if the dancers are failing to integrate the 
newer dancers that this is a failing of the caller.

In my experience, the dancers are attending the dance with a certain 
expectation of how the evening is going to be. They expect the caller to 
be competent, concise and encouraging. They have a certain amount of 
trust and patience that if the caller does something outside of their 
expectations or new it will be fun or they will learn something. The 
more the caller wastes their time with manipulation and over-teaching, 
the less patience they have with it. If you're not careful, you loose 
their trust completely and don't get asked to return. More than one or 
two walkthroughs, manipulating the sets by moving dancers around, 
reminders from the mic to dance with new people are fine if used 
sparingly. If used too much will become preachy and lecturing.

Some of the comments that I will use early in the evening, maybe one 
every other dance or one per dance if the dancers are not responding. I 
don't repeat them if I can help it:

"Find someone who was sitting out to dance with for this next dance"
"Find someone to dance with you've never danced with before"
"If you're new tonight, dance with experienced dancers, and you'll learn 
"Thank your partner, thank the band and find someone new to dance with"

or if I'm really desperate:
"Who here has been dancing a while and is comfortable dancing with 
someone who is new to dancing? Keep your hands up. If you're new and 
want some help, go ask one of these people to dance."

I will use mixers in a dance because I feel that they have value in 
themselves. It allows the experienced dancers to come in contact with as 
many new people as possible. It's a great lesson for the new dancers in 
how different each person's dance style is and how to dance with them. 
It's also one of the best swing tutorials that I know for beginners who 
are only dancing with their friends who are also new. I also think that 
it's a great way of opening people's eyes to people they might not have 
chosen to dance with before. It's a great way to build community. If I 
am dancing and ask a beginner to dance and it turns out to be a mixer, 
then I will ask them to dance the next one. Then they get the experience 
of the mixer and still get the benefit of dancing with me.

My perspective is that the more the caller says from the microphone, 
beyond the minimum needed to lead the dancing, intrudes on the dancer's 
enjoyment of the music, the dance and their friend's company. The more 
time spent teaching or lecturing or manipulating is less time talking to 
friends and dancing to music. I have had people tell me that what they 
enjoy most in a caller is how invisible they can be. If all they notice 
is the fun of dancing and the great music, then the caller is doing 
their job right.

my 2 cents

Chris Weiler
Goffstown, NH

Greg McKenzie wrote:
> Integrating newcomers into the dance community is a core skill for 
> contra dance callers.  It is a key metric I use to judge the skill of 
> a caller because it is one of the most difficult tasks.
> Personally, I love dancing with newcomers and put significant personal 
> energy into partnering with them, particularly in the early part of 
> the evening.  When addressing the issue of integration please consider 
> how your tactics will affect dancers who take the initiative to 
> integrate themselves.  Mixers, for example, will thwart my efforts 
> because I will lose the newcomer I have put effort into partnering 
> with.  Some of the more heavy-handed tactics mentioned here can have a 
> similar effect.  They can also send the implicit message that the 
> caller feels that some experienced dancers are behaving poorly by not 
> mixing in with newcomers.
> A better strategy is to assume that all of the experienced dancers 
> will support your efforts to integrate newcomers and simply assume 
> that all newcomers will be matched up with people who have danced at 
> least one night of contras.  The result of this assumption is that you 
> can eliminate much of the instruction a less experienced caller will 
> tend to use when confronted by a large percentage of newcomers.
> My experience is that when the experienced dancers fail to seek out 
> and partner with newcomers it is a sign of poor calling, either by the 
> current caller or by regular callers at the series.  It is the 
> caller's job to make sure that everyone in the hall has a good time 
> regardless of what the dancer's skill level is, with whom they are 
> dancing, or where they are located in the hall.  If the caller is 
> successful in doing this job, almost all of the experienced dancers 
> will quickly learn that dancing with newcomers is as much fun as 
> dancing with other experienced dancers.
> This is a big subject area.  There are many subtle tactics and skills 
> that callers can and must use to accomplish good integration.  The key 
> is to bring all of your calling skills to the task.  Calling for a 
> hall of experienced dancers is an easy gig.  A mixed hall is much more 
> demanding of your knowledge and skill.
> Just a thought,
> Greg McKenzie
> ********
> At 01:01 PM 1/26/2009, you wrote:
>>  In a small dance I called recently, an enthusiastic but 
>> inexperienced group of young people almost always lined up in a 
>> foursome together.  There it worked to walk the contra dances through 
>> twice, then start the dance from the progressed positions where the 
>> foursome was not with each other.  Some communities wouldn't like 
>> this, but there I think everyone was also happy with the suggestion 
>> they take whoever they ended up with after a mixer for the next 
>> dance; also, they were happy with a few mixers in various formations.
>>  Another idea I often use when I teach the workshop is to make the 
>> last dance they learn in the workshop the first dance of the evening, 
>> often Becky Hill's Simplicity Swing or a variation of it with a hey 
>> at the end instead of a star and do-si-do.  (Is there a name and 
>> author for that dance?  Surely I didn't make that one up?)  That way, 
>> the new dancers who attended the workshop already know the dance and 
>> it's the experienced dancers who need the walkthrough.
>> ----- Original Message ----- From: "Jerome Grisanti" 
>> <jerome.grisanti at gmail.com>
>> To: <callers at sharedweight.net>
>> Sent: Monday, January 26, 2009 1:25 PM
>> Subject: [Callers] Spreading out the "Inexperience"
>>> I recently had the following exchange on a different list with Michael
>>> Shapiro (guitarist with U4):
>>> Michael wrote:
>>>>>> U4 just played the SwingShift weekend in Lexington/Berea. The 
>>>>>> caller was
>>> Barbara Groh. She did something that I think most callers should do, 
>>> but I
>>> haven't seen before. After the sets were formed and people had done 
>>> the hand
>>> four, she then broke up the beginners sets that had formed at the 
>>> end of the
>>> lines. She asked then to move forward and intersperse themselves 
>>> with the
>>> more advanced dancers (so that they were more toward the beggining 
>>> of the
>>> line and the foursomes were not all beginners).
>>> She was also good at letting the music be heard ...
>>> I wrote:
>>>>> Regarding the caller asking sets to reform in order to spread the 
>>>>> less
>>> experienced dancers throughout the hall, much tact is required. 
>>> Generally,
>>> callers strive to avoid calling attention to particular dancers 
>>> other than
>>> when asking people to watch a demonstration, but asking people to 
>>> change
>>> sets can have the effect of making them feel like there is attention on
>>> them. In addition, newish dancers want to dance with people they 
>>> know, even
>>> if those friends may also be newish dancers.
>>>>> Speaking to the entire crowd, I do encourage experienced dancers 
>>>>> to share
>>> their experience by asking someone they've never met to dance at 
>>> least once
>>> in the evening, and praise the community for being so welcoming to 
>>> newcomer
>>> dancers. So while I might be thinking "let's break up this clump of
>>> confusion," it would not be good to say something that draws 
>>> attention to
>>> "you people right here."
>>>>> I have asked, off mic, for a set of experienced dancers to offer to
>>> repartner with a set of inexperienced dancers down the line.
>>> To this list, I ask:
>>> I'd be interested in the wording that Barbara Groh used (which I'm 
>>> assuming
>>> was quite gentle). I'm also guessing other callers on this list have
>>> developed tactful ways to address this issue.
>>> Thanks,
>>> Jerome
>>> -- 
>>> Jerome Grisanti
>>> 660-528-0858
>>> http://www.jeromegrisanti.com
>>> _______________________________________________
>>> Callers mailing list
>>> Callers at sharedweight.net
>>> http://www.sharedweight.net/mailman/listinfo/callers
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