[Callers] Calling Without A Band

John Sweeney info at contrafusion.co.uk
Wed Aug 11 10:34:52 PDT 2010

I live in the far reaches of Kent, England, ninety minutes away from the
nearest contra monthly dance and 2 or 3 hours from the nearest contra
dance band.

My wife and I love contra dancing - we spend most of our holidays in the

So we have started our own club and are teaching beginners from scratch
- people who have never done a folk dance in their life.

We run our club every Monday evening in a village hall, and teach a
90-minute class every Tuesday in the local leisure centre.  We also run
dances for people who want a barn dance but can't afford a band.

So we have to use recorded music.

Fortunately there are some great recordings out there.  CDs by English
bands like the English Contra Dance Band and Skylark have already been
mentioned.  Vertical Expression and Fiddlin' Around have also made CDs.
All with lots of danceable tracks of suitable length.

And of course there are hundreds of CDs by great American bands. Our
favourite at the moment is the new Wild Asparagus double CD "Live at the
Guiding Star Grange". Our dancers especially like "On the Danforth"
(106bpm and builds beautifully).

Two great resources:
cdbaby: http://www.cdbaby.com and select Genre, Folk, Contra Dance to
get to

You can listen to many of the tracks and then, depending on the album,
you may be able to choose between buying the CD, downloading the CD, or
downloading selected tracks.  I checked quality with them and got the
response "All of the mp3s that we sell are encoded at 200 kbps variable
bit rate and are D.R.M. Free :-)".

And Contracopia: http://www.contracopia.net/
Lots of great bands and great CDs.

As has already been mentioned, you do need to check each track. I use
Cool Edit to ensure that every track has an intro, and provides sets of
8x8 beats (also known as 32 bars, but I am a dancer, not a musician!).
I use a spreadsheet to record: Length of intro, speed in bpm, number of
8x8s, length of track, plus notes on quality, feel, challenges, etc.  I
can then quickly select a track when I need to meet the changing
dynamics of an evening's dancing.

We have had great success with recorded music and couldn't function
without it.  Thanks to all you wonderful musicians who have made these
CDs for us.

Although I am computer-literate and have my mp3 player with me for
backup, I prefer to work with CDs. I recently bought a Numark NDX200 CD
Deck to allow me good control - I can cue it up to start where I want,
see the remaining time easily, restart a track easily and alter the
speed if the dancers are having problems.

Yes, of course we would rather have fantastic live music every night.
And we do indeed get one of the great contra bands to come down here
once a month for our big Saturday night dance.

But recorded music also allows us to experiment - we have been using
some great swing, pop, eCeilidh and tango tracks for dancing and the
dancers love it.  It is extra work for me, as finding suitable
instrumentals and editing them into 8x8s is not easy.  But it is very
rewarding, and gives an experience which you can't actually achieve with
a single live band.

We will continue to spread the joy both ways :-)

Happy dancing,

John Sweeney, Dancer, England   info at contrafusion.co.uk 01233 625 362
http://www.contrafusion.co.uk for Contra Dancing in Kent

More information about the Callers mailing list