[Callers] New contra dancers and similar figures

James Saxe jim.saxe at gmail.com
Fri Jun 21 16:08:15 PDT 2013

On Jun 21, 2013, at 12:52 PM, Alan Winston wrote:

> ..., a phenomenon I've noticed several times over the years is that  
> some fraction of people who were in a beginner workshop and who in  
> the walkthrough of the dance were able to do something like "women  
> chain to partner, women allemande 1x, partner balance and swing" are  
> no longer able to do it, instead pretty reliably doing "women pull  
> by, partner swing" and confusion.  ...
> My hypothesis is that these are people who are still drinking from  
> the firehose.  ...  They're not ignoring the caller, per se, but  
> they don't have CPU left over to process the prompts and in any case  
> the words aren't really meaning anything to them yet; ...
> [Also happy to hear alternative views of what's going on inside  
> these people.)

Alan, I think your drinking-from-the-firehose hypothesis has a lot
of merit.  Sometimes people have very specific misunderstandings
of how specific figures work or of the callers' words, but other
time they may just have a a general sense of being overwhelmed and
may not even be aware of what the caller is saying.

In the specific case "women chain ..." vs. "women pull by, partner
swing ...", there may be a specific misunderstanding contributing
to the confusion:  The dancers involved may be treating "turn" or
"courtesy turn" and "swing" as synonyms.  You and I understand
that a courtesy turn is done with dancers side bu side, facing the
same direction as they turn ccw [as seen from above] and that a
swing involves dancers being pretty much face-to-face and rotating
cw.  But a new dancer may hear both terms as meaning "take hold of
each other and turn around somehow."  I've also occasionally
seen new dancers do a swing in place of an allemande--for example
in response to a call like "turn the on the right with a right hand
round" after a balance in long waves.  (Saying "right **HAND**!!"
doesn't help.)

In programming a dance evening, I try to make sure the first dance
with a ladies chain has the courtesy turn be with a neighbor (or
that it's a chain over and back, so you do at least one of the
courtesy turns with a neighbor).

Perry Shafran suggested:

> My view is to just not sweat it.  I realize at the very start that  
> many new dancers don't have the CPU to process too much stuff -  
> especially if you are burdening them not only new dance moves but  
> also terminology that they have never heard before as well.  If such  
> moves are not breaking down the line (if you do a swing rather than  
> a courtesy turn you'll still wind up in the right spot at the very  
> end), it's nothing that I sweat at.  I know that some folks might  
> complain that they won't get any better unless you get them doing it  
> right - but they really didn't come dancing to learn so much  
> confusing stuff.  They came to move to music with other people.  Let  
> them.  Let them muddle through.  Dancers are generally friendly  
> people and the experienced dancers will guide them.

I think we can keep two things in mind at the same time:

   (1) Dancing with the feeling that you know what you're
       doing is usually more fun that milling around with
       a feeling of confusion.  Things like choosing
       dances appropriate to the crowd, teaching clearly,
       and building dancer's skill can be good because
       they add to the fun.

   (2) What's even less fun than milling around in confusion
       is milling around in confusion and feeling that the
       caller and/or the other dancers are upset about it.
       Stuff about dance skills and "doing it right"
       shouldn't take precedence over fun.

As callers we can aim both to keep the amount of confusion
low and to set a gracious tone towards whatever confusion
may still arise.  (Doing the opposite of both these things
is unfortunately easy:  Just pick inappropriate dances,
teach and call them poorly, and then bark at the dancers
when the inevitable confusion arises.)


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