[Callers] What makes a program varied, how important is that

James Saxe jim.saxe at gmail.com
Tue Mar 27 13:42:12 PDT 2012

I think "ladies chain" can easily be overused.  When I've done
dances where the gents chain, and when I've done "ladies" chain
while dancing the lady's role, I've not infrequently experienced
awkward courtesy turns (or reverse courtesy turns in the case
where gents chain by left hands) and awkward twirls.  Of course
some of this may be because I have much less experience being
led in either courtesy turns or twirls than I have dancing the
gent's role in "ladies chain".  And some of it could be because
many women aren't used to leading courtesy turns or twirls (in
the case of gents chain) or because many men aren't used to
receiving another man in a courtesy turn.  Nonetheless, the
experience leads me to suspect that even with everyone dancing
their traditional role (or whatever role they most commonly
dance), "ladies chain" is not always skilfully led.  It also
leads me to guess that over use of "ladies chain" in a program
will typically be noticed sooner by the women than by the men.

     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

In many communities today, it's expected that most contras
will have both a partner swing (for everyone, not just the 1s),
and a neighbor swing.  While there are some exceptions, most
commonly both these swings happen on the sides of the set.
This means the typical dance sequence needs to include at least
*two* actions that move either the men only or the women only
across the set--one to get dancers onto the same side as their
partners (if it's an improper dance) or their neighbors (if
it's a Becket dance) and another to get everyone back to their
starting side.  This includes the possibility of, for example,
swapping sides for the men by using a move the swaps sides for
everyone (e.g., right and left through) followed by a move that
swaps sides only for the women (e.g., women chain).

Among the most common ways to move either men or women, but not
both, across the set are:

    * Circle left 3/4

    * Gents or ladies allemande 1 1/2

    * Women chain

I think each of these is easy to overuse in a program, and
it's likely to be particularly noticeable if longer sequences
incorporating these actions get used multiple times, such as

    * Swing partner or neighbor; circle left 3/4; swing the
      other one

    * Swing partner or neighbor; men allemande L 1 1/2; swing
      the other one

    * Women chain; star left (to meet new neighbors)

Of course, people have written lots of dances with such "semi-
distinctive sequences" (as Larry Jennings referred to them)
because they have good flow and dancers like them if they're
not overused.

Here are some other ways of getting only the men or only the
women to change sides of the set:

     * Star 3/4 (or 1 1/4)

     * Petronella spin once (For exampe, "Cure for the Claps"
       by Bob Isaacs uses one Petronella spin to move men across
       the set for the partner swing and another to move womwn
       across the set for the neighbor swing.)

     * Ricochet hey

     * 3/4 hey

     * Give-and-take

     * Single file promenade around foursome 3/4 (as in "Pedal
       Pushers" by Bob Dalsemer)

     * Rory O'More spin from waves of four, but original end
       dancers continue past each other

     * Men or women do-si-do (or gypsy) 1 1/2

     * Men or women do a same-sex swing in the middle, ending
       opposite starting side

     * Men or women simply allemande 1/2 or pull by or pass by L
       or R shoulders (The last could be a weave across the set
       after, say, a swing to allemande, or it could be a diagonal
       swap, for example following a ring balance and ending again
       in a ring.)

     * As couples, veer L past current neighbors, then start to
       veer R past next neighbors until men have left shoulders

     * Men or women allemande 1x while others "orbit" 1/2

Of course, this list isn't exhaustive.  Some of these are
sufficiently distinctive that a caller might hesitate to use a
particular one even twice in one evening, except perhaps if the
first use were meant to introduce the figure so that it could
later be used in an unusual way or in a no-walk-through medley.

     *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *    *

What constitutes excessive, or unusually frequent, use of a figure
or combination of figures depends on dancer expectations.

For at least the past couple decades, typical contra programs
in many communities have catered to dancers who like to have a
partner swing in almost every dance and a neighbor swing in most of
them. People who get disagreeably dizzy, sore, or tired from that
much swinging will either find a way to get their partners and/or
neighbors to minimize the swinging or else they'll gravitate to
some other activity than contra dancing.  In these communities,
six dances in a row with a partner swing are less likely to make
dancers grumble than two or three dances (or maybe even one in
the second half of an evening) without one--as I'm sure "Mac"
McKeever well knew when he asked his recent question.

Forty or more years ago, a large fraction of contras--perhaps
even most--had active couples go down the center and back and
cast off, followed by something like "women chain over and back"
or "right and left over and back" or "half promenade across; right
and left back".  In many communities today, calling several dances
like that in an evening would raise eyebrows.

Nowadays, I don't think a program would be considered unusually
repetitious for including, say, a dance with a whole hey and
three with half heys in the course of an evening, at least if
there were a variety of different figures before and after the
heys.  Back when heys (or half heys) were a relatively new thing
in contra choreography, it might have been considered quite odd.


On Mar 25, 2012, at 8:58 PM, Rickey Holt wrote:

> Hi Callers,
> I have asked this question before and still I do not understand  
> this.  I
> suspect that it will take thinking about it several more times  
> before I do.
> Here is my question.  What makes  a program varied and how important  
> is
> that.  Let me say that I am thinking of this in situations where  
> most of the
> dancers are experienced.  I have had programs like this before and  
> someday
> mean to pay attention to this at dance evenings I have enjoyed.  I  
> have a
> program in mind which I list below, that I know has 7 dances with a  
> ladies
> chains in it, six of them in a row.  I know this because I am the  
> proud and
> happy owner of Will Loving's program "The Caller's Companion".  Yet  
> the
> evening's program seems very varied to me. If the "hooks" or the  
> mood of the
> dances, for instance, are sufficiently different is that what  
> matters.  In
> terms of variety versus too much repetition, how does this look to  
> you.  It
> does not strike me as a boring program at all.  The proposed program  
> is:
> Scout House Reel, Rod's Grits, MAD About Dancing, Ease About Mixer, A
> Question of Balance, Zombies of Sugar Hill, [BREAK], Roll Eleven,  
> Laura's
> Zig Zag, Snowshoe, Shipping and Receiving, Fan in the Doorway, and
> Sleepwalking
> I am interested in your thoughts,
> Rickey Holt,
> Fremont, NH

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