[Callers] How to devise a program

Kalia Kliban kalia at sbcglobal.net
Mon Sep 16 16:16:52 PDT 2013

On 9/15/2013 7:34 AM, Maia McCormick wrote:
> Given the recent discussion about the role of the list, and the comment
> that it was originally intended for beginning callers, I have an absurdly
> newbie question to ask: how do you go about putting together a program for
> a full (or partial) evening of calling?
> I know this is a broad question, but I'm curious to hear everyone's
> approaches! (I can certainly specify the question if it's too much as is.)

Maybe more info than you want...

I try to get an idea of the level of the group first.  If I've called 
for them before, I look at my previous programs.  I may also ask other 
callers who've worked there recently about their experience, or talk to 
the dance manager or programmer.

Once I have an idea of what to expect, I'll start going through my cards 
and pulling out dances that I think would be a good fit for the group 
and seem like they'd be fun to call.  I'm not thinking about program 
order at this point, but just pulling out what I call "rough picks," the 
pool of dances from which I'll assemble a program.  I'm paying attention 
to the expected level of the group and also to what I've called recently 
(trying to avoid too much duplication from recent programs).

Once I have the rough picks pulled from the card file, I sort them into 
dances that start with "neighbor do something (balance, dosido, or 
gypsy) and swing" and everything else.  It feels to me that starting 
more than a couple of dances in a row with N bal & sw gets repetitive. 
While programming my most recent dance, I stuck a paper clip onto the 
edges of the cards when a dance included a hey, and also I have a 
notation at the top of the card to let me know when a dance does not 
have a circle L 3/4, and when it's missing either a N or P swing.  These 
indicators are helpful when I'm scanning my rough picks looking for a 
dance with particular characteristics.  A searchable database would be 
even better, but I'm not there yet.

With all the cards laid out on the table, the N bal&sw dances on one 
side and the other ones on the other side, I usually start by trying to 
identify good candidates for openers and closers.  The first two dances 
are usually pretty simple and low-piece-count, since I'm assuming the 
new folks will be doing their best just to stay oriented and I want to 
help them relax and enjoy the dancing.  If the group is really new, the 
first dance acts as a "mine sweeper", showing me what the group could 
use reinforcement on.  By the third dance I often throw in a hey (and I 
just read Jack's post so I know I'm not the only one to do this), 
usually one where the hey has a really clean and obvious entrance and 
exit (Carousel is a dance I like for this, or Flirtation Reel).  I'll 
often introduce Becket formation around this time as well, and by 5th 
dance or so will start to add a few more elements (CA twirl, box the 
gnat, things at that level).  I usually try to end the first half with 
something on the rip-snorty end of the range, but not too hard, often 
preceded by something a little smoother.

Second half gets more complex, generally with the hardest dance or two 
of the evening the 2nd and/or 3rd ones in.  I'm more willing to 
challenge the crowd in the second half, but like to end with something 
not too thinky and with lots of energy.  I'm still dithering about what 
makes a dance a good closer.  For example, how important is it that the 
dance naturally end with a partner swing if everything else about the 
dance is great?  I've gone both ways.  Other callers out there, what 
features do you think make a dance a good closer?

Ben's summary of the overall complexity curve of the evening was just 
about the same way I see it, as was his mention of having some branching 
in the proposed program, some ways to tailor it to newer or more 
experienced groups.  I often program a slot with a "hard/medium/easy" 
group of dances that share similar characteristics but offer different 
levels of challenge so that I can easily switch gears without needing to 
rearrange what comes after.

Jonathan's comment reminds me that I always forget to use mixers.  They 
can be huge fun, especially early in the evening, and I'm still working 
my way up to calling 4x4s.

As Jack does, I try to vary the structure of the dances, not clumping 
too many heys, or 4-in-lines, or wave balances or what-have-you, and 
keeping the common elements like M allemande L 1-1/2 spread apart as 
well.  It gets tricky to find just exactly the right puzzle piece to fit 
into a program slot.  Sometimes I'm looking for, for example, a dance 
with no LL F&B, _with_ a half hey, where the swings are separated by 
something other than either a circle or an allemande and that doesn't 
start with N bal and sw but features a lot of N interaction.  Gotta get 
that database happening...

Once I've got a sequence of dances I like, I put it away and then look 
at it again the next day.  I usually catch something I missed, or make a 
change that makes it a stronger program.  The rest of the rough pool get 
rubber-banded together and kept as emergency spares for the evening, in 
case I want to make a last minute change.  Saves me having to go through 
that whole selection process again.

And I love Woody's suggestion about finding callers who are willing to 
give some pre- and post-game commentary.  That's a great idea.  Might be 
tricky to find enough time before and after when you won't be in the 
way, but it would be very interesting to do.

My current quandary is this: I would love to get my contra notes into a 
database, but my programming process is completely card-based.  The 
thought process as I put the program together involves having cards all 
over the table, all visible at the same time.  Those of you who work 
exclusively on the computer for your programming, what's your process as 
you're winnowing down to a finished program?  How do you keep track of 
the dances that are the "maybes" and the "yesses", and what do you do 
when you've got a slot an have 2 or 3 dances you're considering at the 
same time?


More information about the Callers mailing list