[Callers] Calling for Absolute Beginners?

Chrissy Fowler ktaadn_me at hotmail.com
Tue Sep 4 13:23:14 PDT 2012

How nice to read others' thoughts!

This weekend I called a dance at a first year student orientation event (outdoor lobsterbake, dancing on grass).  A folk group at the college has a monthly contradance series, and they sponsor this orientation dance as a way to introduce frosh to the possibilities.  They usually have a few sophomores, jrs and srs from the club attend the dance (to inspire and encourage.)

It is my goal at this event to make it so absolutely fun and accessible that the frosh just can't wait for the first 'regular' dance.   This year seemed especially successful on that front.  But more importantly, everyone had a great time Then And There.  Huge smiles, hilarious dancing, wild cheering for the band, folks watching happily and enjoying the music, etc.  (It's 'optional' for them to dance, and usually only a fraction of the 500 students choose to dance.  Probably 20-35% were dancing at any one time.)  If some of that group come to the monthly series and love it, terrific.  If others never dance at all during their college years, at least they had a blast at the lobsterbake.  Maybe in their 50s they'll end up at a local dance and have this little hardwired memory of a good time doing this thing back 35 yrs ago.


Galopede variant
(keep your partner)
short version of a Grand March with the "arches/tunnels" figures (started by weaving thru the seated groups of not-yet-dancing frosh, current partners splitting up and picking up new folks on the way)
immediately segued into La Bastringue variant (a partner keeper)
(you can keep this P fpr next dance, or better yet you and your P find two others who want to dance) 
Heel & Toe Polka (mixer)
(surely during the last dance you found someone you'd like to dance with for the next one, go ask them to dance)
Haste to the Wedding variant (sicilian circle, start in circle then did couple face couple starting in front of stage)
Flat Tire by Peter Amidon & students in Quechee VT

I told them they can dance with anyone they want (same/different gender, age, dorm, etc)
Taught these figures thusly with demos from stage:
swing - many ways to swing, can do two hand turn or ballroom position, or others.  
allemande - a hand turn we call 'allemande', can do elbow down/thumb up like this
do-si-do - this is a no touching figure, look (p/n) in the eye, smile it's social dance, you walk around your (p/n) end up where you started, face (p/n) pass by r shoulder slide a bit to right, back up to place.  great!  you just did a do-si-do.  now that you know what it is, do it again.
promenade -many ways to do it, hold hands, arm around shoulders, two hands held right in r and left in l - standing beside p, both turn together and face ccw around circle, this is prom dir, walk.
star - this figure has same footwork as circle, different handwork, all put rh into center, can make a pile of rh, or there are fancy ways to do it, but whatever you do, jam that hand into the center, hopefully it's the correct right hand, and start walking to turn the star, eight counts, 5-6-put your left hand in
down center - top couple has 16 musical counts to get down to the bottom of the set. the call is to sashay, take two hands with p, do sliding step like this, but you can do whatever you want  in your 16 counts...within reason.

Did I care that people were doing handshake allemandes?  elbow swings?  lurching promenades?  Not really.

Will I teach some of the finer points when I call again at the series?  Yes.  
Gender roles, lady on right, 8 count phrases, how to swing gloriously, hold yourself up (support your own weight), safe allemandes, connected circles with nice amt of tension in biceps, be ready at the top of the phrase, all TOGETHER go forward & back...

Were the dances simple?  Yes.  Did I call at least some part of the sequence all the way thru every dance?  Yes.  Did any of the "dancers" in the group seem to care about either of these things?  No.  Not even the first year student who is a dance gypsy and accomplished caller.  She was grinning from ear to ear.  (In my experience, it's more likely that a certain subset of "dancers" will scoff at simple dances than will newbies, but fortunately not all "dancers" are of that mindset.)  

And I find leading dances for complete beginners a total blast.  Definitely exciting and worth my time.  :)

Chrissy Fowler,
Belfast, ME

PS Before the dance, the senior who is now leader of the folk group mentioned that when she was a first year student, it was this very orientation dance that made her want to contradance.  She saw the then leaders of the folk group dancing and swinging so happily, thought "I want to do THAT, and I want to be friends with THEM."  And so it was.

> The first: I'm curious how you all put together programs when calling for a
> group of complete beginners. What's generally the progression of moves that
> you teach? Do you think dances with the most basic of moves (say, a dance
> that's all circles, stars, and long lines, not even a partner swing) are
> helpful in getting people oriented to dancing, or are trivial and boring
> and will make people think contra is dumb? (People "thinking contra is
> dumb" is actually a bit more of a concern for me calling college dances,
> where most of the folks to turn out aren't necessarily of the 'contra
> mindset' and so it's important to hold their interest and make them think
> that what they're doing is exciting and worth their time--they're not
> necessarily going to stick with it for the evening, or even for more than
> one dance, if they're not immediately into it.)
> The second, which ties into the first: how do you teach good contra
> etiquette--*especially* how to swing properly--when you don't have
> experienced people in the crowd to show the way? 

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