[Callers] Unusual Formations at Open, Public Contra Dances

Jeff Kaufman jeff at alum.swarthmore.edu
Tue Aug 21 13:52:47 PDT 2012

Brian Hamshar wrote:
> a key to solving that problem of experienced dancers making
> assumptions is to seriously economize on words in general, and then
> when needed, you say something like, "Now listen up here, because
> this isn't quite what you may be expecting."

I agree this is key.  Don't train dancers to ignore you by saying lots
of useless things.  People tune out really quickly when they stop
expecting to need the information you have.  You need to earn their
trust both that you will tell them what they need to know and that you
won't talk their ears off.

Different dancers need different amounts of verbal assistance, and
you're going to be giving some people too much and others too little.
Which is unavoidable, but you can at least try and find out how little
speaking you need with a particular crowd on a particular evening,
letting the new dancers do a lot of their learning from the movements
of your regulars.

(And if experienced dancers reliably screw up a dance you like to call
because they're "making assumptions", you might want to ask yourself
whether it's really a good dance for the people you tend to call it
for.  We have all sorts of conventions (circles go left, ones progress
down, swings end with the phrase) and part of how dancers recover from
errors [1] is by relying on these conventions.  If a dance flouts a
convention it should be good enough to make up for the additional
cognitive load it's putting on everyone.  And you should be
anticipating usually-helpful but currently-wrong assumptions dancers
make, heading them off before the dancers act on them. [2])


 [1] By callers, musicians, and other dancers.

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