Re: Lynn's questions:
> 1) Have you ever received a set of such guidelines (or sent them out from
your dance), and if so, would you be willing to share them with us? > 2)
As a caller, what information would you like to have included in such a
I've never received a set of guidelines from any of the dance communities
I've called in to date. But I have a set of questions that I ask organizers
of new communities, many of which are similar to Lisa S's. Here are the
questions I ask in addition to hers:
- What style of music the band plays, and whether they'd find it helpful to
have my program in advance of the dance and who to send it to (with the
proviso that I have the right to switch dances as required.)
- Whether the teaching session before the dance is typically done by the
evening caller or by a local. Sometimes with a new community, I prefer to
see what they teach in a teaching session. It gives me a sense of their more
experienced community, what they think is important, etc. What things I then
emphasize within my dances, to add to the session or cover gaps.
- Any figures or formations to avoid, or conversely that they're
specifically wanting to include, for whatever reason. Lately, I've had
communities ask me to include contra corners right before the dance. And I'd
prefer to know that in advance.
- If beckets, contra corners and double progressions are ok to call.
- Whether the crowd hates mixers.
- How many dances are typically called in an evening. That's kind of along
the lines of the interval between dances, but also gives me a sense of
whether they like the dances to go longer or shorter.
- Anything (unusual) about the size/shape of the hall.
> 3) As a dance organizer, what information would you like to convey to
And as far as I know, the Toronto dance doesn't send a set of guidelines per
se. However, since September 2004 the local callers have been specifically
working on raising the level of the intermediate level dancers, so we have
asked non-local callers to address a specific concept sometime.
4) How much detail would you like such documents contain?
It was very interesting to read the Cambridge dance guidelines, and I was
not surprised to see that level of detail for that dance/crowd, especially
after having danced there. I agree with Lisa G's comment that they are a
very demanding clientele and I would definitely want to know this and the
details well in advance of calling there. I don't see it as micro managing,
but rather making sure up front that the caller is well prepared and that
the dancers get what they expect. Tom's examples were very interesting too.
I would definitely want to know in advance if a community required a
specific dance or figure to be called. I'm still at the stage where I like
to plan a program in advance to make sure that I vary the story lines and
include the "meat." Changing thing up on the fly is getting easier for me,
but I prefer to make sure that I work specific details in. Interesting
comment about the placement of a mixer in a program. I used to include one
in the second or third slot in my programs but then called a bunch of dances
in a row where there weren't enough dancers to pull it off. Then, I moved
the mixer to the first dance after the break but I sometimes find that
people who hate mixers continue the break, rather than dance. Knowing when
to put it in an evening to help balance the lines would be very helpful. I
think ultimately, the level of detail should be determined by the community.
As a caller, I want the community to have an enjoyable evening. So I'd like
to know whatever level of detail they feel is important for me to know to
help make sure that happens.
Good topic. Thanks for raising it Lynn.
The Witful Turnip wturnip(a)sympatico.ca
"If you're gonna eat shit, don't nibble."
- said by Tom Hinds re: calling square dances
During the past month, I've had more exposure to dance guidelines and people wanting to write dance guidelines than I've ever had before. What I'm talking about is guidelines that the programmer/organizer of a regular dance series provides to callers who will be calling at that dance. I've found some to be very helpful, especially when I've never been to that dance. Others provide way too much information and almost feel like micromanaging.
So, my questions for you all are: 1) Have you ever received a set of such guidelines (or sent them out from your dance), and if so, would you be willing to share them with us? 2) As a caller, what information would you like to have included in such a document? 3) As a dance organizer, what information would you like to convey to incoming callers? 4) How much detail would you like such documents contain?
I've been presented with some interesting guidelines relating to programming:
End the evening with La bastrangue
Include 1 contra with contra corners in the evening
Don't call squares
Don't call contras (at the Blacksburg square dance).
As a person booking the dances in C'ville I noticed that during one summer, ALL of the callers called an entire evening composed of dances in the pattern of:
A1 swing neighbor (variations of)
A2 some easy moves in order to....
B1 swing partner (including all the variations)
B2 some easy moves in order to.........
The experienced dancers got really bored.
So I had to request that callers vary the story lines and actually include some meat in their programs.
We've moved to a smaller hall that requires short lines. I suggested no double progression dances and a circle mixer as the 3rd or so dance- people tickled in and this is when the numbers were too many for one line and too few for 2 lines.
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> Today's Topics:
> 1. dance guidelines (lynn ackerson)
> 2. Re: dance guidelines (Lisa Sieverts)
> 3. Re: dance guidelines (Lisa Greenleaf)
> Message: 1
> Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2005 15:04:13 -0800 (PST)
> From: lynn ackerson <callynn1(a)pacbell.net>
> Subject: [Callers] dance guidelines
> To: callers <callers(a)sharedweight.net>
> Message-ID: <20050126230413.29985.qmail(a)web81610.mail.yahoo.com>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
> During the past month, I've had more exposure to dance guidelines and people wanting to write dance guidelines than I've ever had before. What I'm talking about is guidelines that the programmer/organizer of a regular dance series provides to callers who will be calling at that dance. I've found some to be very helpful, especially when I've never been to that dance. Others provide way too much information and almost feel like micromanaging.
> So, my questions for you all are: 1) Have you ever received a set of such guidelines (or sent them out from your dance), and if so, would you be willing to share them with us? 2) As a caller, what information would you like to have included in such a document? 3) As a dance organizer, what information would you like to convey to incoming callers? 4) How much detail would you like such documents contain?
Chris asked: "Does anyone know if anyone makes a patch cable to go directly from
a sound board to an iPod?"
I'd contact the folks at Equipment Emporium in LA:
Their particular expertise is audio for film and video productions, including
separate recordings via tape recorders, DAT, mini-disk, etc. They carry patch
cords of every description. More importantly, they have the experience to be
able to say what will work and what won't. You can't order from their website.
Instead, give them a call and see what they have to say. It's possible to take
line-level signals from a mixing board via XLR cables and end with a mini-plug
at mic level going into my camcorder. Don't know the specifications for an iPod,
but I'm sure it can be done.
If you want to check a company that specializes in cords, try Markertek. If
there's a cable made anywhere, they probably carry it:
I was able to obtain from them-- stock item, not custom made-- a particularly
weird cable that lets me send an S-video signal from my digital video editing
deck to an ancient Commodore computer monitor. (Don't ask!)
Lisa mentioned getting good sound with her mic on a nearby chair. You'll get the
best sound with a mic close to your voice. One easy suggestion, if you're only
interested in hearing your voice, is to fasten the iPod to your mic stand--
let's hear it for Velcro! You can also fasten the iPod mic onto your regular
microphone (assuming that it's not cordless) and you'll be sending a clear
signal to both at the same time.
I am very much of the school of thought that says record your own
calling, then listen to the recordings and make improvements based on
what you hear. (Yes, I admit to hanging out with Larry Jennings from
time to time :-).
So, on to technology. I've been recording to MP3 for several years,
using a Pogo Ripflash device. It was OK, but the sound quality wasn't
great -- it always sounded over-driven. But the device is tiny and I
can hang it from the microphone without looking too dorky.
However, I recently invested in an Apple iPod with a Griffin iTalk mic.
I used this at my last gig and was quite pleased with the result. The
device wasn't particularly close to me -- I placed it on the chair next
to me, but the sound quality was better than with the Pogo. The Griffin
mic has an automatic input volume control, something that not all iPod
You'd never use this setup to record the music, but it's plenty good
enough for evaluating your own calling.
I'm posting here a note I recently received from two caller friends that may be
of interest to folks on this list. The senders' e-mails are contained near the
end of the note so contact them directly off-list if you're interested in
If you're a new caller and haven't yet discovered the Ted Sannella legacy, I'd
recommend that you immediately contact Country Dance and Song Society
(sales(a)cdss.org) and purchase copies of Ted's two books, "Balance and Swing" and
"Swing the Next." They are excellent collections of dances (mostly by Ted, but
also including some traditional material and compositions by others as well) AND
Ted's notes on how to teach each dance are wonderful guides into the thinking of
a master caller.
CDSS is in the process of publishing Ted's manuscript on calling squares; the
hope is to include a CD of Ted calling.
I've programmed entire evenings of nothing but Ted Sannella compositions and
have been continually amazed by his creativity-- contras, squares, triplets,
circle dances, mixers, simple dances for beginners to quite complex... he did it
We are all looking forward to wonderful dance and music events in 2005. Amongst
other things 2005 will mark the tenth anniversary of Ted Sannella's death. Ted
passed away on 18 November 1995. Ted was our common mentor and inspiration. His
dance legacy is alive and we want to help keep it alive for future generations.
We were just together at a Christmas dance camp where we starting talking about
Ted. We would like to do something special to remember Ted this year, and hope
you can join us in that.
We would like you to join us in declaring the "week" of 11-20 November 2005 the
Ted Sannella memorial dance week. What might we do to commemorate Ted? One or
more of Ted's dances could be programmed during one of your community's contra
dances. Perhaps you'd like to do an evening of Ted's dances. Maybe fellow
callers and musicians could tell an anecdote or share photos to bring back
memories. You might want to put on a workshop and devote it to Ted's dances and
philosophy. There are many possibilities.
Whatever you would like to do that would work well for your local dance
community would be great. The important thing is that the commemoration happen
during November 11-20. We'd like to have dancers, callers, musicians and
organizers from all over thinking of Ted and his contributions to the dancing we
love and to our common dance heritage.
If you're interested in participating in this memorial dance event, please
contact Mary Devlin (mary(a)mdevlin.com) and/or Philippe Callens
(upcal01(a)yahoo.com). Let us know what you're thinking of doing. If it's OK with
you, we can share plans among the participants.
Mary Devlin (Portland, Oregon)
Philippe Callens (Antwerp, Belgium)
I'm new to the list - met Chris at the Ralph Page Dance Legacy Weekend and
he told me about this list (gave me the card he made for the site).
I have to echo much of what's been said about the RPDLW. Besides being a lot
of fun, the weekend is a real resource for callers who are learning the art.
Since I've started calling, I don't get to dance as much. At RPDLW I get to
dance with people who really know and love dancing. I always enjoy the
variety of dances - easy to complex, old favorites to new compositions, not
to mention the variety of forms (duples, triples, squares, circles - and
almost always a few for odd numbers of couples). I get to hear a whole
variety of callers. I get to go to really informative calling workshops. I
get to talk with other callers - both new and experienced. And one real
treat is that they put out a syllabus including all the dances (as called)
and the names of the tunes that were played with them - so I don't have to
miss out on getting a partner for the next dance because I'm busy scribbling
something down that I liked that we just finished dancing.
I took the opportunity to call at the open mic last year. Since the dances I
normally call for have a high percentage of beginners, I took the
opportunity to call a dance that I love but is more complex than I would
dare to call at my home dances. Afterwards I got some really good
encouragements and tips for improvement from David Millstone (my calling was
a little late in a few places I hadn't even noticed! I notice it more easily
I look forward to participating in this list discussion.
Due to other commitments, I was unable to attend the full weekend.
However, I was able to attend the callers workshops and the open mic. I
also found time to talk to other callers and do some networking. Quite a
few of the callers I talked to had students who they thought would be
interested in the list, so I expect that we will have some new members
soon (beside the recent additions: Welcome Jeremy, Karen and Lynn). I
actually made up some business cards with the website address on them to
hand out. I attached a picture of it. I also put a small stack of them
on the flyer table before I left.
Tony's workshop was titled "Calling Squares Without Fear". I don't think
that I'll be interested in calling squares for a little while, but Tony
had some good things to say about calling in general. He talked about
the differences in a caller's rhythm (keeping the beat), timing (giving
the dancers enough time to do the call) and phrasing (prompting so the
dancers do the moves on the musical phrase) and how each could be good
or bad independently. He had an audio cassette that had examples of each
problem and asked us to identify each callers issue.
He also talked about preparing to call a square in the same way that you
prepare for a contra. Write the figure or break on a card, write the
words and phrasing down and practice calling it to recorded music. He
also suggested purchasing old recordings from the 50s of different
callers (on eBay) and listening to them to hear what they do well and
what they don't so you can learn what you want to include and listen for
in your own calling.
Mary's workshop was titled "Roots and Branches of Community Dance" and
was generally a discussion about organizing a dance and how to create
the environment that you want. There was a tangent discussion at one
point about our duty as an itinerant caller to serve and support the
vision that the organizer has for the dance and work creatively in that
framework when we program an evening.
During the discussion about community dances, we all introduced
ourselves and talked about our background. When I expressed an interest
in finding places to practice calling, I was told again about the Nelson
dance on Monday nights. Lisa Sieverts said that she offers to put people
up who travel to come to the dance. She asks for some warning, but said
that some people just let her know at the dance. Her e-mail is:
lisa(a)lisasieverts.com and her website is
http://www.lisasieverts.com/contra . Lisa expressed an interest in
joining the group along with her mentees. I was also told that the
fourth Friday in Milford, NH is an open mic. Milford is significantly
closer to the Boston area (and me!).
Another good tip that I picked up from the workshop was from a
discussion about communication between callers and musicians. Beth
Parkes talked about what a caller can do to learn about the music and
develop the lingo to talk to musicians. First, listen to music! Get as
many CD's and learn the tune names and listen for what you like and
write down your favorites. Talk with the musicians that you are going to
work with. Ask them to play tunes in their repertoire and describe the
"flavor" of the tune (smooth, bouncy, sultry, etc.), not just the
technical terminology (jig, reel, French-Canadian, etc.). There was also
a suggestion to have a metronome to provide a reference for tempo.
I can't express enough the importance of networking with callers and
organizers and putting yourself out there as an available caller. There
was a couple at the workshop who were talking about starting a dance in
Exeter, NH and were looking for people to call. He has the website and
may or may not contact the list. I ate lunch on Saturday with Lynn
Ackerman, David Millstone, his wife and his student and picked up a lot
of information and advice. David recommended a book called Chimes of
Dunkirk from the New England Dancing Masters Productions as a good
resource for easy dances for groups with a high percentage of beginners.
It has an accompanying DVD and CD (I only picked up the DVD). I met Lisa
Sieverts and several other callers there, too.
The best part of all of it, though, was the feeling of connection to the
tradition and history of traditional dancing. We were doing dances that
were popular 30-40 years ago and are still done in certain areas. We
were talking to callers who learned under the people who helped make
this a popular dance form again. Most of all, for me, was the reminder
that the modern, urban contra dancing that I do is not the only game in
town. It was a much needed reminder that the older forms are still out
there and I need to learn them to be able to call any dance gig that I
am offered (and accept) and succeed as a caller. The sad part of the
modern contra dance scene is that it is not as supportive of the new
caller in it's lack of tolerance for poor calling. The best
opportunities for learning are in the smaller, community dances where
the emphasis is on fun and interesting figures, not on partner swings
and duple minor formations. My eyes were also opened to the opportunity
and challenge in calling private parties. They require a totally
different repertoire and teaching skill set, but also pay more and are
potentially more satisfying. I don't know what I am going to do with
this information, but I am going to try and prepare myself to take on
whatever types of gigs that come my way.
I signed up for the open mic. on Sunday (today) and was rewarded with
the 7th slot out of 8 during the session. I signed up to call Mary Cay's
Reel by David Kaynor. One of my favorite dances and one that I hadn't
called yet. The crowd was very supportive and the band accommodating (I
am a little ashamed that the only person I knew in the band was Peter
Barnes. The others are probably pretty famous musicians that I should
know). Everything went smoothly, and I was treated to a personal
critique from Tony Parkes. He did a great job of listing the things that
I did well as well as the things that I could improve on. Some of the
things he liked were my clarity, my concise and efficient teaching, and
the fact that I asked the dancers to get into position before the four
potatoes were played. He noted that this was a philosophy of Larry
Jennings that asking the dancers to prepare for the next move was a
responsibility of the caller. My points for improvement mostly had to do
with energy, enthusiasm and confidence. He suggested that I needed to
express my excitement and love of the dance more (this will make up for
a lackluster band, though hardly necessary with the musicians at RPLW).
He also commented on my hesitancy in my calling. There was a note of
"asking" instead of "telling" the dancers what to do. He noted that
stage fright and excitement involved the exact same physical reaction.
The trick is to channel the energy from nervousness into the calling
instead of trying to suppress it. The last note had to do with putting
more of the beat and rhythm into my voice. He talked about it in terms
of letting the dancers know that I'm working with the music instead of
working against it. He suggested that I practice calling into a tape
recorder and listening to what I do right and wrong. He called the tape
recorder the "callers friend" and indicated that we might hate it
sometimes, but it's our friend, too. It was a very nice conversation and
Tony was very supportive. He indicated that everything I did fell into
the "acceptable" range for a caller, but that these things could be
improved to make me better.
Whew. I think that covers my experiences at Ralph Page. I would be
interested in hearing about other people's experiences, too.
This is Jeremy Korr from Los Angeles, bringing the West Coast into the
conversation. I echo everything Bob writes about the Ralph Page weekend. But
Bob is too modest in his comments below -- he forgets to mention that at
last year's Open Mike, he gave a clinic on calling triple-minors with his
precise and carefully-worded calling of Ted Sannella's wonderful "King of
Have a terrific time in Durham, for all who are going. I'm sidelined this
year (we're expecting a baby two days ago, who stubbornly hasn't arrived
yet), but hopefully Lynn Ackerson from the Bay Area will be there again to
>From: Robert Golder <robertgolder(a)comcast.net>
>to be considered for the Sunday Open Mike session, you'll be asked to write
>down the name and the formation of the dance you wish to call. If you've
>ever wanted to try calling one of the old triple-minor, proper contras
>as "British Sorrow," a nineteenth-century dance that Ralph Page
>rediscovered), this is the place to do it. Whatever you call, be well
>prepared! The dancers are friendly and patient, but you'll want to give
>your best when you're on stage.