[Callers] Contras for beginners

Linda Leslie laleslierjg at comcast.net
Sat May 22 12:01:04 PDT 2010


Have a great time, Noah!
I, too, have called a large number of dances for groups of total  
beginners. I find these events to be some of the most satisfying of my  
calling adventures! I agree wholeheartedly with Chip that ignoring  
gender roles is very important. It allows you to be more flexible, and  
avoids the whole "who asks whom?" problem. A dance I use a lot is the  
following three face three formation. I *don't* talk about ones/twos/ 
actives/inactives. Rather I mention that the direction the dancers are  
facing is "home". "Home changes at the ends, but that makes things  
more fun!"  Without much teaching, dancers have actually learned how  
to progress.....I wrote the dance for just these sorts of occasions.
Do Si Three
A1   Hands 6 circle left
        Circle right (make sure you are home!)
A2   Ends only do si do your opposite neighbor
        Middles only do si do your opposite neighbor
B1   Ends  2 hand swing (go home!)
        Middles 2 hand swing
B2   Lines of three (hold hands) go forward and back
       (drop hands) Forward and again and pass through to new neighbors

Dancers love this dance for a lot of reasons: they learn it quickly;  
they love passing through to new neighbors; there is no pressure  
concerning who your partners happen to be; if the lines are not too  
long, you can call it until they get back to their original neighbors-- 
which surprises and delights them; and it is very easy to keep the  
dancers dancing to the musical phrases.

One other thought: especially for a one hour gig, I rarely teach a  
"contra swing". Dancers can do a 2 hand turn swing without much  
teaching, and it is a move that can be done by 2 girls, 2 boys, or a  
mixed gender couple, without any confusion.

I also use a lot of longways sets (Le Brandy, Alabama Gal, Boston Tea  
Party), some Sicilian Circles, and circle mixers. For circle mixers, I  
invite the dancers to give names to "the person on the left, and the  
person on the right" if I wish to keep the dance gender role free.  
School age kids love the opportunity to be involved in this way. My  
favorite circle mixer is:

I Don't Know Why
A1 Circle left
      Circle right
A2  Everyone into the center and back
        Just the dancers on the right (lady position) into the center,  
turn around to face out
        Everybody face the person on the left*
B1 do si do this new partner
      2 hand swing this new partner
B2 Promenade
    *the first time through the dance, I have the dancers face the  
person they asked to dance, so that they get to do the whole dance  
with this individual; the next time through, they find new partners.  
It is wonderful to experience how quickly dancers "get it", and how  
much fun they have dancing with a new partner each time through.

If you would like to have other dances, please get in touch with me,  
and I will be glad to share some others that work very, very well with  
groups like yours.
warmly, Linda Leslie



On May 22, 2010, at 1:14 AM, Chip Hedler wrote:

> 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.
>
> Variations:
> 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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