[Callers] What to do with a really bad new dancer?

James Saxe via Callers callers at lists.sharedweight.net
Tue Mar 7 22:12:25 PST 2017

Mac McKeever wrote:

> It has been my experience that dancers with limited skills/ability  often do not realize they are different from anyone else.  They assume that being lost and confused during a dance is normal.
> Finding a gentle way to bring this to their attention might be a good way to start

and Ron Blechner replied:

> Mac, suggestions on how?

JD Erskine meanwhile offered this comment:

> If our ... dancer in question is lumbering, stiff, not moving much, and can/may move, then assisting him in that might help make it easier to direct him more in the normal flow of the dance.
> To do more certainly would be best with permission, awareness of offered assistance.

to which Ron similarly replied:

> I'd love to hear suggestions on how to approach a dancer like the one in question, and broach the subject.

So far I haven't seen anyone respond to Ron's request for
suggestions about opening such a potentially delicate

I don't have a fully-developed suggestion either, but I have what
may be the germ of an idea: Perhaps the thing to do would be to
start by asking the person a question.  I'll illustrate with a

When I was a new square and contra dancer, I was quite mystified
about just what to do with my feet during a swing.  I remember
trying to watch other dancers' feet when they were swinging and
I was inactive, and I remember not being able to figure it
out--though it seems completely obvious when I watch now.  In
case anyone's wondering, the local dances where I lived at the
time didn't normally include an official new dancers'
workshop/lesson/orientation.  The visiting caller at my very
first trad dance *did* offer some specific instruction on
swinging, but I somehow missed out on it for reasons I won't go
into now.

Anyway, after I'd been going to dances for maybe three or four
months and staggering/stumbling/bumbling through all the swings,
there was some kind of break at a dance one day, and the partner
I'd just danced with took the opportunity to ask me a question
that I remember as something like, "Was that a one-step [perhaps                                                                                                                                
she actually said "buzz-step"] or a two-step swing you were                                                                                                                                    
doing?" just as if she'd noticed something interesting about my
swing and wanted me to teach her what I had been doing.  I said
that I had no idea what I was supposed to do (which, in
retrospect, she must obviously have already known),  She offered                                                                                                                                
to teach me.  And that was when I first learned to do a buzz-step                                                                                                                                
swing, very bouncily at first, then gradually smoothing out over
the next few weeks and months.

Years later, after moving across the country, I was back visiting
my former city and I saw that same woman at a dance.  I asked her
about the conversation I've just described.  She didn't remember
the details, but she agreed with my guess that her question had
probably been a ploy to find out whether I was open to instruction.

A similar sort of ploy would be to ask someone for ideas on how
to teach beginning dancers about such-and-such, naming a topic
that the person you're addressing understands only vaguely if at

Of course, when my friend asked me that ploy question years
ago, she couldn't have known for sure that my response would be
to admit ignorance and seek instruction.  I might, for all she
knew, have responded defensively or even confrontationally (but
I think she could reasonably have expected  my response to be
less emotionally charged than if she had bluntly asked something
like "Do you realize that your swings are really awkward?").  Or
if I were vaguely aware of my lack of skill but also strongly in
denial about it, I might have given an evasive answer accompanied
by nervous laughter: "Well, we all have our own personal styles,
don't we?  Heh, heh, heh."


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