[Callers] Putting Out Fires

Dan Pearl daniel_pearl at yahoo.com
Tue Apr 13 20:04:18 PDT 2010

Until very recently, I thought "it is always the caller's fault". The problem with absolutes like "always" is that a counterexample jumps up and hits you in the face.

I like (and use) the tactics for putting out fires that others recommended: Beef up the calling (earlier, more directional, more complete), NOT calling to the late group, etc.  Not mentioned here yet is the old "manual intervention".  I use a wireless mic, and that allows me to move around, hopefully addressing issues before they erupt in flames, but also providing an in-your-face hard-to-ignore knowledgeable guide post.

If you ever read Asimov's Foundation Trilogy, you'll remember that the science of psychohistory which allowed practitioners to essentially predict the future of civilizations was compromised by a random mutation ("The Mule").  I was thinking of that a few Saturdays ago when I was calling for a challenging dance.  I don't mean challenging to the dancers: I mean challenging to me to call!  It was a regular dance series, and the "regulars" weren't there, and there were lots of new dancers.  That's OK with me; I do that all the time.  I found myself presenting pretty easy stuff, and astonishingly, I needed to make it easier as the evening went on. I was running out of easier-than-dead-easy material.  That's also OK -- I know how to write dances on the fly. What I was not prepared for was a concentration of dancers that needed special handling.

One dancer, an older fellow who had been dancing for some time, was literally moving in slow motion, and in a time delay so that the people around him were sucked into his rift in the time-space continuum.  Another dancer, a newcomer who seemed to "get it" initially, began careening in random directions at high speed, with a great big smile on her face.  Another new gentleman, also after seemingly "getting it", started to regress to periods of non-movement. I moved right next to him and said "right hand star", putting my own hand out to model the action. He just stood there and repeated "right hand star".

This made me think about, and question, the assumption that the caller is always at fault. Perhaps that is a fine mental state to be in (that is, not blaming the dancers), but you know, the conduct of the evening is not, and cannot be entirely one person's responsibility.  A dance is like a machine with many moving parts, and they need to be functioning in expected ways for a smooth experience.  Mistakes? They are part of what the machine does.  I have more trouble when communication that has worked before begins to fail, when lessons learned are forgotten, and when other unexpected behaviors arise.

So this was one of the least fun, least rewarding gigs in my 30 years of calling. I chalk it up to an unfortunate confluence of factors likely not to be repeated for another 30 years.   

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