[Callers] Implied Messages in First-Timer's Orientation

Marianne Tatom Letts marianne at illuin.org
Thu Sep 1 13:22:07 PDT 2011

When I teach a newcomers' session, I focus on feeling that connection
with the other dancers through shared weight. Generally we have 30
minutes scheduled but it takes enough time to get a quorum that I have
only 15-20 minutes to teach the basics.

1. stand in circle, hold hands, raise toes to feel that the other
dancers are helping support your weight
2. walk around the circle with slightly tensed arms, then noodle arms,
to convey the difference
3. face partner around the circle and practice feeling the same kind
of "positive tension" via allemandes (progress to new partner several
4. swing demo with experienced dancer in the middle so all can see
that hands are on shoulder blades and right feet are lined up
5. if available, have trusted, experienced dancers go around to
correct what people are doing in their swings (I do the same);
progress several times; emphasize how to decline a fast swing by
dragging feet slightly or using a walking step, or saying "I'm getting
dizzy"; also emphasize hydrating and looking at a fixed point on the
partner's face
6. if time permits, line up for a contra dance and go over progression
with small circles rotating, then balancing, then passing through
7. if time permits, face across the set for ladies chain and R/L
through (explained as "only the ladies change places" or "both couples
change places"); this allows me to show the corkscrew twirl (with a
trusted, experienced dancer I know won't hurt me) and how either party
can decline a twirl

At the end of the teaching session I tell them they've passed Contra
Dancing 101 and it's time for a real dance.

I like to call a dance with a hey for #3 on the program so I can give
my famed hey tutorial.
1. take the place of someone in a set with otherwise experienced dancers
2. demo the hey with all weaving/looping
3. feign look of terrified new dancer, walk across in a straight line,
turn and come back while the others weave around me, emphasizing that
if you come back to where you started then you've done a hey
4. have the sets practice the hey once, then finish the walk-through
and progress so they can practice with a new group; I almost always do
two quick walk-throughs and then start the dance w/o rolling back.

-Marianne (Seattle)

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