[Callers] What makes a caller a great caller?

Greg McKenzie grekenzie at gmail.com
Tue Apr 12 10:46:11 PDT 2011

Keith wrote:
>-Greg is right, some criteria are level-dependent.

I want to clarify the cognitive frame I am using here.  I see these
different venues as having very different purposes and the caller has a very
different role in each one.  The "level" of calling ability, in my framing,
would not correlate with the "level" of dancing experience of the
participants.  On the contrary, I see calling at dance enthusiast gatherings
to require the lowest level of calling expertise.  Calling for dance
enthusiasts is an easy gig.  Calling at a venue that attracts almost
entirely dance enthusiasts has its own challenges, but the real challenge of
contra dance calling is at the open, public contra dance event where
first-timers are welcomed without separate instruction.

My measure of a great contra dance caller is how well they handle an open
event with 15% first-timers in attendance.  These events are the heart and
soul of contra dance, and they define the tradition.  In this public venue
the caller’s first priority should be to integrate the newcomers into the
community.  A great caller is one who can integrate newcomers
seamlessly—with short walk-throughs and smooth transitions into dancing to
live music.  When a great caller is calling at an open public contra dance
all first-timers are immediately partnered with more experienced dancers and
the regulars look forward to dancing with newcomers because they recognize
that the caller knows how to make that experience exciting, easy, and fun
for everyone.

The great caller will give the regulars an important and satisfying role to
play in partnering with newcomers and guiding them through the moves—without
verbal teaching.  Instead, the great caller will allow the regulars to
“show” the newcomers all of the details they need to know.  The great caller
will integrate the music into the teaching so that the first-timers will be
amazed at how quickly they are able to begin dancing to exciting live music.
The regulars will take delight in seeing the excitement and discovery in the
faces of the first-timers.

When a great caller calls an open public contra dance there will never be a
“center line syndrome.”  The atmosphere will be cordial, welcoming,
generous, and joyful.  In fact, a “center line syndrome” is, by this
framing, a clear symptom of poor calling.

Calling at a “one night stand” or at an exclusive event for dance
enthusiasts are both challenging gigs in their own right.  The important
thing is to recognize that there is a big difference in the skill set
required for calling at each kind of event as well as the frame the caller
should be using at the event.  A full discussion of the skills, strategies,
and framings required to manifest the above vision would be very helpful.

--Greg McKenzie


On Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 8:27 AM, Greg McKenzie <grekenzie at gmail.com> wrote:

> What kind of calling?
> You pose a good question.  The answer, however, depends on the kind of
> venue being discussed.  I see at least three different calling venues that
> require very different skills:
> 1. Gatherings of dance enthusiasts: Festivals, dance camps, and other
> special events that are frequented almost entirely by dance enthusiasts.
> 2. Regularly scheduled open, public contra dances where first-timers are
> encouraged to attend without separate training.
> 3. Private "barn dance" events where few, if any, of the participants are
> dance enthusiasts.
> A caller may be a "great" caller at one of these kinds of venues while
> being a poor caller at another.  The criteria for "greatness" at each type
> of venue are very different.
> - Greg McKenzie
> ***********
> On Mon, Apr 11, 2011 at 1:13 AM, Will Kruse <sideways at wcrews.net> wrote:
>> Hello from Seattle!  I'd love to hear your thoughts on what separates
>> good callers from great callers?  Is it their selections of dances?
>> That they call their own dances?  Their ability to compose an evening
>> of dancing?  Their personal charm?  Their connection with the band?
>> Their intimate knowledge of how the dance, the music, and the dancers
>> all flow together?
>> I'm especially interested to hear from dance organizers what they look
>> for when they consider booking a caller?  I suspect this second
>> question may have a separate answer from the first :-)
>> Curiosity abounds as my mind begins to explore the calling space :-)
>> Will "now, from Seattle!" Kruse
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