[Callers] The Beginners' Lesson Tips?

Greg McKenzie grekenzie at gmail.com
Sat Oct 8 09:35:30 PDT 2011

David wrote:

> Greg's negative feelings about mixers are based on them being used as a
> form of social engineering, to get folks to partner up with people with whom
> they wouldn't normally.

Thank you David for stating this idea so clearly.  You are, once again,
treading very close to the real question: What is a dance caller and what do
they do?

My negative comments about mixers were directed only at their use as a ploy
for integrating the hall.  I am not adverse to mixers in general.  The key
concept is keeping the dancers informed about what is coming so that they *can
*act responsibly and prepare in advance.  It is the tactic of "springing" a
mixer on dancers unannounced that dis-empowers them.

If I were opposed to "social engineering" I would never advocate that anyone
become a dance caller.  I know of no other human endeavor that better
qualifies as "social engineering" than dance calling--and contra dance
calling in particular.  Social engineering is at the heart of what a contra
dance caller does.  I think we should strive to improve our social
engineering and I would like to see callers focus more on their role as
social engineers.  The tactic of "springing" a mixer on the dancers is,
simply, *poor *social engineering because it discourages dancers from being
proactive in partnering with newcomers.

I am enjoying this discussion and I would be interested in what other
callers on this list think of being called "social engineers."

- Greg McKenzie

2011/10/8 David Millstone <David.Millstone at valley.net>

> Greg wrote: "Mixers are often used to force integration of the dance hall."
> I'm glad that he included the "often" qualifier, thereby leaving open the
> possibility that not every caller who chooses a mixer is condemned to the
> 9th circle of hell.
> Following the lead of my mentor, Ted Sannella, I include a mixer at nearly
> all of my home dances, typically the third dance of the evening. That was
> Ted's custom, and Tony Parkes, another great caller, once explained that the
> third dance is late enough to catch the late arrivals but early enough to
> help set the stage for the evening.
> I love mixers, as a dancer. It's an opportunity to see who's in the hall.
> It's a chance to dance, briefly, with folks I don't know. Oh, here's a face
> I don't recognize, but based on her swing, it's clear that she's a dancer
> who's been on the floor for some time... Aha, this is someone brand new,
> good smile but unsteady on her feet, good person to ask for a dance...
> yippee! she's here tonight! gotta make sure to get her for a partner if
> there's a square caller since I remember that she loves squares... and so
> on.
> And as a caller, I love calling them, to provide all of those
> opportunities, and for other reasons. I don't run most mixers for very long,
> perhaps 8-10 times, depending on the dance. That means that I'm adding one
> more dance into the mix, inthe course of which everyone is getting that many
> opportunities to dance with a different partner. Mixers also come in many
> shapes: big circle, Sicilian circle, scatter promenades, three person lines,
> and so on. That also allows me to vary the look and feel of the floor so
> that it's not all contra contra contra, and since the dance floor is part of
> life, I do believe that variety adds spice.
> David Millstone
> Lebanon, NH
> P.S. An interesting cultural sidenote: Greg's negative feelings about
> mixers are based on them being used as a form of social engineering, to get
> folks to partner up with people with whom they wouldn't normally. I've had
> the opportunity to call often in Denmark and in the Czech Republic, and
> there you can end a mixer and ask people to take that partner to line up for
> the next dance and that's okay, an accepted part of what people will
> cheerfully do. In Prague, for example, they usually dance squares without
> break figures, in part to language issues-- a steady stream of unexpected
> calls in a foreign language can be daunting But they'll run a
> partner-changing square five or more times, and at the end they'll take that
> final partner for the next dance. It's simply not a big issue. They're there
> to have fun, and it's not as important as it seems to be with hard-core
> contra dancers in the US that they have The Right Partner for a swing. It's
> a refreshing laid-back alternative to what sometimes is an overly-intense
> partnered scene at our dances in the US.
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