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

David Millstone David.Millstone at valley.net
Fri Sep 2 10:52:53 PDT 2011

The more I read the comments in this discussion, the more I start humming lyrics  
to an old Bob Dylan song: "You're right from your side and I'm right from mine."

Some folks are clearly on the side of not having newcomers' workshops at all.  
Others think they're fine but should focus on various social aspects of dance.  
Others think that a major emphasis should be put on teaching figures; some think  
that there should be a lot of figures taught; others, only a few. Some see it  
as vital that new dancers learn how to do a buzz step swing and others say, no,  
stick to just a walking step swing.

What I like best about the discussion is that it indicates that callers are clearly  
thinking about these issues. To my mind, that's the most important thing. In the  
same way that it's possible for different dance series to have different visions  
of How The Dance Should Be, so, too, it's possible for folks to have a different  
vision for the start of an evening.

When I'm asked to call at a location away from home, I sometimes am asked to teach  
a beginners' workshop and sometimes there's a local person teaching it. If the  
latter, I make a point to attend. Sometimes I cringe at what I hear and the approach  
taken; other times I walk away impressed at how effective the teacher was.

Take another aspect of calling... on this list, I suspect that callers will say  
that they aim to call a few times through a danceI and then get out of the way,  
to let the dancers dance to the music without intrustive calls. Indeed, I've been  
thanked on occasion by dancers for efficient teaching and for such brief prompts.  
(On occasion, I'll teach the first part of a dance and then will just say, "And  
the rest will give you no problem..." and cut the walkthrough short.

I've also been thanked by dancers for continuing to call: "Too many callers just  
stop calling after three or four times through the dance; I really appreciated  
the way that you continued to call... I was able to get through the dance without  
problems thanks to that."

In short, there's more than one good way to approach these issues. Different dancers  
have different needs, and different callers find good-- and different-- ways of  
meeting those needs.

David Millstone
Lebanon, NH

P.S. As a historical note, I think it worth pointing out the concept of workshops  
before the dances is a relatively recent phenomenon... maybe 25 years old, but  
probably more like 10-15 years.  (I'd be interested to hear from others around  
the country on when they think these introductory sessions began in their neighborhood.)  

To be sure, going back into earlier centuries, there were dancing masters and  
classes, but I'm talking about twentieth century social dances, at least in the  
part of New England about which I know the most. People just came to the dance  
and learned as they went; that's certainly what happened at community square dances;  
where contras were done, which was a relatively small number of venues, there  
wasn't such an introduction in places such as Nelson, NH, and at Dudley dances  
throughout the late 1960s and into the 1970s, the events that (IMHO) were the  
primary jumping off point for making contras a much more popular dance form.

It might be worth speculating on what led to the introduction of such workshops...why  
folks came to feel that they were necessary. Changes in the dance programs? In  
the folks coming to the dances? in the caller's expectations of what they hoped  
to accomplish in the course of the evening? broader societal / cultural changes?  
But all of that is grounds for starting a new thread, so if anyone is interested  
in picking it up, I hope they'll change the subject line.

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