[Callers] The Beginners' Lesson Tips?

tavi merrill melodiouswoodchuck at gmail.com
Mon Oct 3 08:47:34 PDT 2011

As Richard said, it helps to focus on key concepts, rather than particular
calls. There's a lot of great suggestions already in response to your query.
I find it useful to organize the session around an outline, based on the
styles of a couple callers who mentored me.

1. Have the dancers find a 'partner' and form a circle. Have the band, even
just the fiddler, play a clearly-phrased tune - typically a jig. Have
dancers circle L, circle R - internalize the feel of simply walking to the
music, and feeling the eight-bar phrase.

(Sometimes i teach the swing here, while the dancers are still in a circle,
so two more experienced dancers can demo it in the center. This depends on
how many beginners versus experienced dancers i have.)

2. I have the "gents" role face out. Emphasizing the elbows-down hand and
arm position, i have them lean back, keeping the tension in their arms: this
is shared weight. Ok, straighten up. Drop left hands and allemande R. Now
allemande L.

3. Now, you've got your left hands joined. Join your right hands behind the
lady's back.... promenade position. I have them promenade around the ring,
(can have them reverse direction to teach the courtesy turn) and then
promenade up to face the band. Turn to face that 'partner'. Voila: contra

>From here, it's pretty simple to teach hands-four, 1's and 2's, actives
cross, ladies chain (remember that promenade position? here's a courtesy
turn!) etc cetera. The truly fundamental concepts, though, like weight
sharing, dance roles, feeling the music - are already established and easy
to build on, and starting with the circle formation helps bring everyone in
and allows you to interact with them more intimately and demo things with

As JD said, don't assume a move (e.g. a hey) is too 'difficult' for
beginners. Most moves can be done easily if you find the right reference
points and simple language to talk the dancers through them. I prefer to
emphasize the concept of passing one shoulder with one dance role, and the
opposite shoulder with the other; sneaking in a half-hey early in the
evening and a full hey a couple dances later.

Simple, positive.... amen.

Don't forget that as the caller, you have a unique possibility to facilitate
the learning curve, especially if the 'regulars' are cliquey. Ways to do
that? After a few dances, have the noobs all raise their hands. Praise them,
say they're doing great, and invite a round of applause. Sometimes i sneak
in the suggestion that experienced dancers ask them to dance.

Above all, though: have fun!!! If you're having fun, chances are the dancers
will be having fun too.

David "Tavi" Merrill

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