A fellow dancer sent this question to me and thought it would be a good
thing to discuss. As dancers on the floor, how far do we go to protect
the friends that we bring from the less pleasant side of the contra
dance scene and provide them with a more pleasant experience?
>I was wondering if I could ask your both your thoughts
>and/or provoke a discussion on the callers discussion
>Last night I brought a guest to the VFW, who had never
>contra danced before. When I have done this before I
>have usually been able to teach them a few basic
>steps, dance the first couple of dances with them,
>then let them (and myself!) loose to dance with
>whomever. But last night I first went to the restroom,
>and came out to find someone teaching my friend the
>basics. I had no problem with this as such, but, as
>far as I could gather from everyone elses reaction, he
>wasnt a particularly good dancer, and I noticed from
>then on that my guest seemed to be quite a magnet for
>so-so dancers. So this leads to a question of - what
>should I have done? Made lots of booking for her with
>guys I know are good dancers? I also wasn't quite sure
>what to do about the person who was showing her the
>steps - I think it is a good part of the scene that
>people notice new faces and try to get them into the
>dance, but what can you do if you realise those same
>people aren't the best introduction, especially if you
>dont want to be rude by telling them they aren't a
>good enough dancer, etc. He was quite persistent about
>trying to dance with her later, which she was trying
>There is also the inherent problem of - I know who the
>good female dancers are, but who the good male dancers
>are is more from an impression or reputation.
>Any thoughts appreciated! Actually I had hoped to
>bring another couple of people last night, one of whom
>is truely statuesque, and would I am sure have
>produced a feeding frenzy amongst the male (and
>perhaps some of the female!) dancers...
re: chris's question:
speaking as a not-really-a-caller, but a very experienced
1) i always give friends who i'm bringing to their first dance a
basic tutorial before we go to the dance. i usually try to
include playing a dance tune so they have an idea of what to
expect. if they have any sort of musical inclination, i also
explain how dance tunes are arranged (4 parts of 16 beats) and
how dances are made up of figures that are in multiples of 4. i
explain giving weight *very carefully* since i'm convinced that
this is the key to most dance figures, and then i go through the
list of figures, trying to arrange things by similarities of
number of beats, eye contact, etc. i do swing last, and explain
that it takes a while to "get it". i tell them that the most
important things they can do (especially at the beginning) are
to smile, have fun, and remember that every single person they
see was a bumbling beginner at some point.
(i also sometimes tell my own sad beginner story: at NEFFA 1992,
i did my first two dances on saturday with friends; on sunday, i
did one dance with a stranger (who was very friendly) and got
-completely- confused by a ladies' chain on a diagonal, every
single time. i became convinced that people on the other side
of the hall had been screwed up by my continual screwing up, and
was so mortified that i refused to go back to a dance until i
was dragged back in october of 1994, whereupon i become hooked.)
2) once at the hall, i explain facing "up" or "down"; the
organization of the sets; the way that a #1 couple moves down
the set or a #2 couple moves up the set; etc.
3) i introduce them to a couple of good dancers, by which i mean
people who are competent, friendly, forgiving, and will give
appropriate feedback and *lots* of encouragement. i ask them
for the first, and usually also the second dance, and give
recommendations for who they might ask for the next dance.
4) and i check in with them throughout the night as much as
possible, and try to do another dance with them later in the
evening, and give them lots of compliments on how well they're
picking it up.
one other more general thing that i keep trying to remind myself
to do but don't always remember: if every experienced dancer
asked just *one* new person to dance one dance per night,
imagine how that new person's experience would be improved over
the course of the evening! they would be approached by all
kinds of wonderful people, given smiles and encouragement, and
have a really good chance at experiencing what contra dancing
can be all about, and their dancing would be improved
tremendously by having had dances with a wide variety of folks.
for the experienced folks, it would be one out of perhaps 10 or
12 dances in an evening, leaving plenty to be given to SOs,
something(s) to think about...
Yahoo! FareChase: Search multiple travel sites in one click.
1) If I want to introduce a friend to the pleasures of traditional contras and
squares, I'll think hard about which dance series I'd like them to experience
first. Some are more beginner-friendly than others. Similarly with callers--
some are more attentive to the presence of beginners in the midst and program
2) Having made that decision, when we arrive I'll make a point of introducing my
friend to several experienced dancers whom I know. "So-and-so is here for the
first time," I say, and the others fall right into line, each clamoring for the
honor of having the first dance. In short, there are several excellent dancers
who are going to be looking for opportunities to dance with this person.
Similarly, as a caller at my home dance, when I see a group of newcomers arrive,
in addition to greeting them myself if they come in the minutes before the dance
starts, I'll alert some of the experienced dancers of the presence of the new
folks and, if possible, will facilitate introductions.
And by "experienced" I don't mean hot-shot dancers or folks who simply know how
to do the figures, but rather dancers who have what I think of as a friendly,
welcoming and supportive attitude, who understand the community basis of this
kind of dancing.
3) And finally, it's worth telling your friend ahead of time that it's perfectly
acceptable to say "no" if she doesn't want to dance with someone.
> I know who the good female dancers are, but who the good male dancers are is
more from an impression or reputation.
Aha! An excellent argument for dancing the other sex's role from time to time!
In addition to making oneself a better dancer, it's a chance to interact with
the other half of the universe. When I dance the woman's role, for example,
there's nothing like going down the set in a dance with lots of swings to give
me a much better idea of dancers' skills and attitudes. Some guys simply smile
and swing in a welcoming manner, while others seem to take it as a personal
challenge to show how vigorous they can be. On a ladies chain, I quickly
discover who gives a friendly courtesy turn, and who insists on cranking me
around in twirls. I might even note particular individuals to speak with at a
later time about dance etiquette.
I was at David Millstones Callers wkshp in Oct. he handed out a flyer
with a list of Square Dance Breaks.
I have either misplaced that flyer or left it in Norwich.
If someone has that info and could fax it to me I will appreciate it.
My email address is gtwood(a)worldpath.net ;please write and I will send
you my phone #
If you are looking for a dance to attend this Friday there is a GOOD one
in Kingston NH featuring:
Old New England with Tony Parks calling, Tony will be calling Ted
Sennella dances, Well worth the trip
Over to hear a master caller at work (and the band is pretty damn GOOD
I am a new member of this group and have enjoyed the postings in the last
few weeks. I participated in David Millstone's calling workshops and look
forward to practicing more and getting up on stage to call some day.
The origin of my question comes from my role as a dance organizer, but I am
wondering what you all think a caller might have done to respond to this
At a recent dance, the sound was not working correctly. From the floor, we
could hear the caller and the one instrument that was plugged in. The two
other instruments that were unplugged were barely heard. The sound quality
was very poor.
I witnessed the caller notify the band of a sound problem and the band was
trying to solve the problem between dances, but it wasn't working. During
the break, they moved the speakers off the stage and onto the floor and the
problem was solved and the sound during the second half of the dance went
As the caller, what would you all have done in this situation?
Just a note to new callers...
When working with a new band it helps to very specific if you wish the
band to give you 4 beats as a setup
Before starting the actual dance. I worked with a fine band this past
weekend but unless I asked for four beats
Before each dance than they went right into the tunes and my timing was
In hindsight I should have coordinated this with the band before the
evening of dancing began.
Even with my slight gaffs the evening was a big success.
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Izzy Young <izzy.young(a)telia.com>
> Date: November 7, 2005 10:18:56 AM EST
> And besides that you said you would pass my name onto forty or
> so contradance callers with my request to find out their favorite 5
> or 6 dances, and, ALSO, to list 1 or 2 dances they used to love and
> do not teach any longer. This is part of my great project. If you
> can manage that can you put in the quote, the short paragraph on
> Ralph Page that I wrote in 1961.
Please respond directly to Izzy (izzy.young(a)telia.com) -- who is
fascinating guy. A former New Yorker, he's lived in Sweden for the
past 30 years and runs the "Folklore Center" in Stockholm. He calls
dances for Swedes and Danes on a regular basis.
Izzy says he only needs dance titles, not figures.
Here's the quote, which was an announcement that Izzy ran in his "The
Folklore Center Recommends" newsletter in 1961, when he still lived
"RALPH PAGE, Square Dance Caller from New Hampshire, leads the
dancers through their paces at the Metropolitan-Duane Hall. It is
such a pleasure to have a traditional caller with imagination in NYC
after listening to most of the modern callers around."
Thank you everyone for your kind words about the list. It's been a
pleasure watching this list evolve and I look forward to where it goes
But I want to make sure that my (mostly) silent partner gets his due.
Without Seth, this list wouldn't exist. Not only did he provide the
technical know-how and resources to set up the list, but he approached
me with the idea! I was (and still am) glad to add some enthusiasm and
effort to his.
Wow ! Chris, you sure have been busy calling ! Good for you.
And thanks for getting Shared Weight started.
Congrats on the anniversary of the group.
> Message: 1
> Date: Sun, 30 Oct 2005 17:10:27 -0500
> From: Chris Weiler <chris.weiler(a)weirdtable.org>
> Subject: [Callers] (long) Long overdue update
> To: Shared Weight <callers(a)sharedweight.net>
> Message-ID: <436544D3.2040801(a)weirdtable.org>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset=ISO-8859-1; format=flowed
> Hello everyone,
> It's been a long time since I sent an update and boy, has a lot happened
> since. ...... <snipped the details..>
> * North Whitefield, ME 5/27
> * MIT dances 6/7 and 8/9
> * Square Dance Callers Workshop 7/23-30 at Pinewoods during American Week
> * East Sandwich, MA 8/20
> * VFW hall, Cambridge, MA 9/1 NEFFA multi-caller night
> * Medway 10/1
> * Mystic 10/8
> * Saratoga, NY 10/15
> * Hawthorn Valley Farm Benefit Dance 10/29 Amble Dance Hall, Mellenville,
Just thought I'd send some follow up about the workshop that I ended up
doing ("Helping Hands 4") in the afternoon of Oct 29th. First, I wanted to
thank everyone for your comments. They were helpful.
I particularly appreciated David's comments about dancing without
embellishment. Coincidentally, we had a group of 20-25 new teenaged dancers
appear at the dance held one week before the workshop. One of the girls was
turning 19 and decided to bring her party to our dance. What a fabulous
thing for TCD ! We so needed a boost of contagious, infectious energy ! It
was wonderful. But I noticed that the intermediate dancers on the floor
didn't tone down the embellishments, and I saw evidence that it was
problematic for the newbies. I noticed the newbies twirling around in
dosidos and getting so dizzy, that we had to catch a few of them before they
fell over ! But they were just following the intermediate dancers who were
I also appreciated Karen's comment about the ladies chain to left hand star
and emphasized the connection between figures as a way to guide newbies. And
I really appreciated Melissa's comment that the best thing a more
experienced dancer can do is ask the newbie to dance and offer
encouragement. Absolutely agree there, and luckily, the Torontonians seem
to be pretty good at doing that.
Anyway, the workshop turnout was relatively low at 17 people. But it was an
absolutely glorious, sunny day after a week of rain and gloom and we figure
the good weather had an effect. However, as hoped and specifically
targeted, the dancers who came were mostly intermediate level dancers, many
of whom needed some refining of their own skills. The workshop was billed
as an interactive session and everyone got a chance to contribute in terms
of discussion. And I did ask them to "spread the word" to other
intermediate dancers who couldn't make it.
I talked about the better partner/dancer skills (giving weight, transitions
between figures, comfortable holds) sprinkled throughout the workshop. And
I used 8 dances in the 2 hour session, emphasizing the following in each
1. Breaking down a dance into individual phrases so people can really get a
sense of the actual timing for each figure. I asked the band to play an
individual phrase of the tune, up to speed, so that everyone could dance
each figure to the exact phrase of music. The point was for people to
understand exactly how much time they had for the figure without
And as an aside just to address Nathaniel's comment, no one at the workshop
(or any dance in Toronto) was discouraged or "looked down upon" for dancing
with embellishments. I *encouraged* intermediate dancers to consider dancing
without embellishments when they danced with a newbie, in order to help the
newbie learn phrasing and timing. And I do think there is a big difference
between the two statements, with the latter being positive.
2. Dancing a traditional dance with no embellishments and with the inactives
staying engaged. I used Chorus Jig and this was an interesting challenge for
the dancers. I asked the two's to follow the one's down the outside and
down the middle with their eyes so that they kept visual contact on them and
helped to draw them into the cast and then connect for the contra corners.
Even in the workshop, many of the intermediate dancers had trouble with the
contra corners figure once the dance got started, even though they had no
trouble through the walkthrough and explanation of the figure. Potentially
my teaching techniques needs refinement.
3. Communicating with eyes and gestures, no pulling/pushing. I really
believe it's possible to guide newbies gently and often without even having
to touch them. I set up the set and then asked all couple 2's to leave the
room ("step into our sound-proof, skill testing question booth !"). I taught
the dance to the 1's with ghost couples (which was lots of fun in and of
itself) and then invited the 2's back in and called it as a no walk thru.
The 2's were asked to act as newbies and the point was for the 1's to help
the 2's thru the dance. The set was so short that the one's became two's
pretty quickly and everyone was trying to out-newbie each other !
4. Communicating II - called Equality Jig (Steve Zakon- Anderson) where the
2's get to pick a 16 count figure on the fly for the B1 during the dance and
communicate it to the 1's with gestures. Again, the point was to communicate
the figure but the choice was made as a couple. Some very cool figured were
invented in that dance, and I also emphasized that mistakes were inevitable
but that the fixing them and being ready for the next figure was a sign of
great dancing. Someone in the workshop suggested "Better never than late"
which I also wholeheartedly agreed with.
5. Communicating III - called Hey Man (Paul Balliet) where the first figure
could be gents or ladies and they need to communicate to each other who was
going to dance it. Choice was made more as an individual.
6. Moving outside the minor set with beginners - reassuring them that they
will get back. Emphasis here was on guiding a newbie to the next figures and
bringing them back to their partner.
7. Then I called a more advanced dance because I wanted to try it and
mentioned that I wanted to test it with a more advanced set of dancers. I
chose White Water (Cary Ravitz) and talked a little bit about what to do on
the ends in an advanced dance. We talked about "going where you're needed"
instead of trying to teach end effects.
8. And I ended with a no walk through asking them to think about all of the
things that had been raised through the dances. I wish I'd seen Chris'
comment about adjusting ones dance style to each individual before the
workshop, because I think that's also a very valid point and I would have
emphasized it, had I thought of it.
I received very good feedback from both the dancers attending and the
organizers, so I was happy about that. Especially since it was the first
workshop like that I'd taught. We all went out for dinner and came back for
the Halloween Contra dance that night. And interestingly enough, there were
at least 10 - 15 newbies that night. Unfortunately, there were about 70-80
people at the dance and a few of the people that attended the workshop
didn't stay. It didn't seem to me that the "spread the word" approach for
the concepts discussed worked. But everyone seemed to have a great time at
the dance, which of course was the most important thing.
The Witful Turnip wturnip(a)sympatico.ca
"I'm 40-fucking-5, and I've got nothing to hide !"
- Samantha Jones (Sex in the City)