[Callers] The Beginners' Lesson Tips?

JD Erskine sailargh at victoria.tc.ca
Sun Oct 2 18:25:40 PDT 2011

On 02/Oct/11 12:16, D Bar wrote:
> Howdy,
> I am going to be calling one of my first gigged contra dances in a week! I
> have a half-hour to introduce newbies on what's what in the dance prior and
> I am wondering what do other callers find has been the most effective use of
> that half hour?
> I imagine going over improper formation [ladies on the right etc.], and a
> few of the base moves are good. But I'd like to see if anyone else has some
> good hints I can work with!
> Thanks,
> Davey


There have been some recent contributions on list and there are some 
good notes posted about the topic in the (overly-public) archives for it 
as well. Also some on the Trad Dance Callers list (subscribe as a member 
to view), and on-line in various places.
http://www.dancerhapsody.com/handouts/BeginnersWorkshop.pdf at


No person, especially one new to the activity, is going to steadily 
hoist in tonnes (metric) of new info so is likely to shut down at some 
point in this regard. I apply the KISS principle and try to keep it fun 
and relevant. Tough indeed for me.

I like to start moving the group to the music, a circle works. I may 
count out loud, at some point, I may not. If I do, then as Dorcas states 
I'll mention it's in 8s. Possible statement: "We moved to the music, the 
call was simply to help us know or remember what came next. It is 
information, it's not to get in the way."

"Better never than late" may feel worthwhile including now, maybe later 
in the workshop and/or evening/dance.

If I start teaching figures now I'll often begin with those for two 
people (partner). Add another couple and introduce Neighbours. Switch 
between partner and neighbour (two person figures).

Move to a Sicilian Circle like object and add circles and stars.

Possibly, depending on dances on the program and/or what proportion of 
the hall might be made up with newer folks, get into some other four 
person figures (R&L, Ladies Chn), then progression to the next couple. 
Usually a time for laughter.

Hall orientation is useful. I'm not particularly concerned about set 
formations. I may comment on it in the workshop, or just cover it 
quickly on the floor early in the evening at the first L2i dance, 
especially if I'm starting with other than longways sets. (e.g. First 
walk through, "Look, folks are 'out' at either end. Face the action, put 
lady on right". Works well especially with a down the hall and back. 
Courtesy Susan Michaels)

Fun, fun, fun. Kindness, safety (physical interaction, holds, hydration, 
social stuff - general). Couching most everything in as positive, 
minimalist terms as possible.

I don't say anything is tricky or difficult, doing so tends to make it so.

Encourage folks to dance with people they don't know, to dance as many 
of those dances early on the program as possible.

The workshop is about the only opportunity where one will not use up 
time for regular dancers yet may move quickly from one new dancer to 
another to  make contact and show things by that method. This means, if 
it's appropriate one can quickly give a number of folks a good _feel_ 
for what "weight" is in a nice allemande, or swing. The eyes open, ooh, 
then they may be more easily able to replicate it.

Really, they can get much of what they need on the floor, through a few 
added points by the caller, general or specific, and the kind, unspoken, 
non-physical assistance from regular dancers.

We're now out of the workshop time, however . . . there will likely be 
folks dancing who didn't make that workshop. Count on it. Relax, 
outwardly anyway, integrate it. I'd attempt to avoid over-teaching or 
trying ensure absolutely everyone gets it before the music starts, 
usually the music helps in a way, that a dozen more walk throughs won't.

Hope that is somewhat useful. Ask away, think out loud, let us know how 
it went.

Cheers, John/'JD'

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