[Callers] Contras for beginners and SD'ers

Chip Hedler chiph at rumney.org
Fri May 21 22:14:21 PDT 2010

Seems like I've called a kajillion dances for total beginners, including
many rowdy, well-lubricated wedding parties, some K-3rd-grade groups, and
one memorable reception in a gym full of of wound-up Russian high-school
exchange students, few of whom understood English, and their American peers,
none of whom had done any American traditional dance before. I largely agree
with everything that everyone else has said and recommended...

...And yet, in more than 75% of these cases I've chosen to include the
contra "Ellen's Green Jig" by Roy Dommett or one of several variations on it
I've evolved. It takes a little longer to walk through, which I do at least
twice, but it has never, ever failed (sorry if I'm duplicating some info I
think I've posted before). I think that's mostly because of the high level
of connection sustained and the small amount of movement away from original
places. The walkthrough demands enough attention that it actually defuses a
lot of that random unfocused adolescent energy. I disregard gender and
improper formation completely for the most challenging situations. Lots of
practice with such groups has significantly built up my comfort and
confidence, but this dance worked just as well way back when I was starting
out. If there are others that people can trust to work this well, please
share them. Here's the original and a couple tweaked versions:

A1: Dosido below; !s (actives) dosido;
A2: 1s bal, swing
B!: Circle L and R
B2: 2s arch, 1s take a peek; 1s arch, 2s peek;
2s carry arch over the 1s, who duck, then advance to next

Insisting that the 2s don't just stand still and let the 1s go through the
arch prevents the set getting dragged down the hall.

A1: As couples, 1s and 2s dosido; circle L
A2: All bal, swing
B1: Star R, circle R

A1: Dosido below; circle L

Depending upon how the group has responded to material such as others have
suggested, I mix and match the various components above...

...And meanwhile: just last summer, I was asked to guest-call at a MWSD club
retreat in northern Vermont. The saving grace was that my invitation was set
up through some musicians who had been invited to play at the retreat during
a break between SD sessions. Having that live music at the right tempo
totally uncoupled the wary "shuffle quickly, then wait" pattern that
characterized the 45 minutes of mixed-ability and advanced level MWSD done
to recorded SD beats (and genuinely skillful prompting) before we were on.
We did a Virginia Reel variant, then an Ellen's Green variant, and the
behavior of these mostly 40-plus-year-olds rapidly became almost identical
to what you often see with high-schoolers: lots of exhausting skipping and
sashaying through the figures, laughter, and the kind of giddiness that gets
in the way of hearing the next call. Who'da thunk it? And after it was all
over they asked where else they could do this sort of thing.

Chip Hedler

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