[Callers] Concerns calling for total beginners in highschool

Chrissy Fowler ktaadn_me at hotmail.com
Mon May 24 06:07:38 PDT 2010

I echo the sentiments of others who've noted how satisfying (and fun!) it can be to work w high school students.  I've found them to be high-energy, quick learners.

It's great to see what others use for tried & true dances in this sort of situation.  (Hooray for Shared Weight!)


Usually for a one-time session w total beginners, I don't even use lady/gent terms.  It's not worth it.  As others point out, it's better to use the time to dance.

That said...  When I visit schools to teach high-schoolers near our local series (which has lots of dancers teens/20s) I purposely do dances that nominally have lady/gent roles because (a) the students may well come to a public dance, and (b) the roles are a part of this dance form's history & culture.  I also give the teacher some free passes to our dance, in case students want to check it out.  (Of course, to date, none if those passes have been redeemed...)
I point out that contra dancing is social dance, do a little "social graces" or "charm school" lesson in how to invite (I exaggerate this to the absurd, but it has the effect of increasing the smiles/cheerfulness/inclusivity of the invitation process), note that anyone can invite anyone else to dance, and that there are roles (lady, gent) which can be danced by either gender.  I bring a bag of neckties (a big attraction!) to identify 'gents' in same gender couples.  


I usually start w a variant of La Bastringue as a partner keeper, teaching these things:  8 count phrases, walking steps, connected circle, allemandes, do-si-do, a walking swing in ballroom position, leaving lady on right after swing, promenade, partner/neighbor.  The rest of the dances I call as having roles, but if the roles get confused, it doesn't matter.

Here are some of the dances I choose from (obviously not all in one session!)  If you don't already know them, they should be easy to find, esp if you have access to the NE Dance Masters resources.  Note:  Every one of these can be done w/o gender roles.

Longways sets:  
Sweets of May 

Flat Tire (Amidon & students)

Le Brandy/123 Poussez 

Sicilian Circle or Contra:
ZOM Out (Zoe, Olivia, Molly)
Haste to the Wedding
Family Contra (Sherri Nevins)
Mariposa (Fred Breunig)

Jefferson & Liberty

The Black Joke


Scattered foursomes:

Chaos Mixer

Duck for Oyster, Dive for Clam (variant)



Cumberland Square 8

Other simple hash squares



La Bastringue mixer (variant)

Heel & Toe Polka mixer (very popular!)


If I can see a group more than once, and it's a large group, I sometimes include the Fan Dance (aka hat/flower/broom dance), which is also usually quite popular.  And, if it's lots of time or several sessions w the same students, I might do an unequal contra, such as one with full ladies chain (eg Lady of the Lake - which has a long tradition in Maine) or more complicated progression (eg Broken Sixpence)

Chrissy Fowler

Belfast, ME


Message: 2
Date: Fri, 21 May 2010 10:33:42 -0400
From: "Grunzweig, Noah C." GRUNZWEI at mail.etsu.edu

(...) call a contra dance for a highschool class of about 30-40 students. I would like to reach out for advice on working with not only youth, but total groups of non-dancers. (...)  the dance will only be one hour and i was asked to do contra dances. (...)
Noah Grunzweig

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