[Callers] How much is too much? How little is too little?

Alan Winston - SSRL Central Computing winston at slac.stanford.edu
Fri Feb 11 13:32:11 PST 2011

Martha wrote:

> We had a discussion the other night - not about how many walkthroughs, but
> about how many times the caller should call before dropping out.

> Obviously, it depends.

> So, for the purpose of this discussion, let's assume a new-dancer to
> intermediate dancer to experienced dancer ratio of 1:2:1. If everyone were
> evenly scattered by  dance level, each group of four would have two
> intermediate dancers, one beginner and one very experienced dancer.  Let's
> not assume that the dancers are evenly scattered, but are slightly clumped,
> so that beginners do encounter each other occasionally, sometimes with only
> a couple of intermediate dancers to help them.

> Let's further assume that the dance is in the part of the country where two
> walkthroughs is considered appropriate - where, even if the first
> walkthrough goes just fine, the second one cements the learning and leaves
> you in a position to "dance it from here."  Let's further assume that the
> dance lasts about nine minutes (17 times through).

> Here's the question: If you have taught an easy dance clearly, *and the
> dance appears to be going well*, how many times through the dance should you
> call? Once or twice with full calls ("join hands and circle to the left"),
> once or twice with shortened calls ("circle left") and then nothing? Or five
> times through with full calls, three times with shortened calls, then
> nothing?

> How much is too much? How little is too little?

It sounds like you're looking for a formula that produces a numerical result,
and I don't think that's right.  (Or maybe I mean I don't work that way.)

Basically, calls answer the dancer's question "What now?"  As people learn the
dance, they stop having that question (but they sometimes get it again when
they change roles, space out, whatever).  If you just keep calling when nobody
has that question, you're training people not to listen to you, as well as
getting in the way of the music.

So while prompting, make sure what you say is what somebody needs to hear (and,
ideally, the minimum somebody needs to hear), and if nobody needs to hear
anything, shut up.  (And if there's a problem changing from 2s to 1s so  people
at the head of the set need some extra prompting, maybe you can say it to them
off-mic.)  But you can't check out when you shut up, because that "what now"
question may be coming up.

I imagine in your particular example (adding that the dance is not just easy
but fully symmetrical) that I'd probably do full prompts for three, drop out
and come back in with short touches  ("Men", "Hey") if needed.  In something
that isn't 100% easy or symmetrical, maybe more full prompts.  [And
occasionally I think of something I should have told them in the walkthrough
and try to slip in the prompt, which works about 30% of the time.]

(Incidentally, I've been doing Scottish dancing lately, and the idea there
seems to be that there is *never* prompting to music, even at parties where
they teach the dance before dancing.  You learn the figure to a count or just
the teacher's voice, and then the music starts and you're on your own.  This
mostly seems to work.  I deal with my anxiety and my desire to associate the
figure with a phrase of music by prompting (perhaps inaudibly) in my own set.
I don't know how this custom originated.  It does keep you from associating
figures with landmarks in the music, which is good because you might have
different tunes the next time you do the dance.)

-- Alan

 Disclaimer: I speak only for myself, not SLAC or SSRL   Phone:  650/926-3056
 Paper mail to: SSRL -- SLAC BIN 99, 2575 Sand Hill Rd, Menlo Park CA   94025

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